History of Tea

Originating from Southeast Asia and the Yunnan province of China, tea was mentioned in a Chinese
dictionary around A.D. 350. Tea processing is believed to date to around A.D. 500.
Tea was brought to imperial China from Southeast Asia about A.D. 900. It became popular during
Tang dynasty, when it was associated with Buddhism (monks reportedly used it to stay awake while
meditating). During this period of time, tea was not prepared like it is today. The leaves were first
steamed and compressed and then dried and pounded in a mortar. China still produces more
varieties of tea than any other nation.
The consumption of tea spread from China to Japan and India between around A.D. 1000 or 1100,
perhaps by Buddhist monks. It was originally brought over as a medicine not drink. It did not become
popular in Japan with the aristocracy until the 17th century and did not really catch on with ordinary
people until the 18th century.
In 1609 tea reached Europe via Amsterdam. The first tea to arrive in Britain came from China in
1652. The tea carried on ships in the Boston Tea Party came from China. The British established the
tea industries in India and Sri Lanka.
Iced tea was invented in 1904 by an Englishman in St. Louis. He tried to introduce hot tea to the
United States and had little success. Out of desperation he poured it over ice. The drink was an
immediate success. The same year the same man came up with he novel of idea of selling tea in
bags so that it could be dropped in the water.
Kinds of Tea
There are at least eight major types of tea. They include hundreds of well-known varieties of green
tea, oolong, black and puer. There are different preparation methods. Green tea is prepared using
fresh tea leaves that are first stir-fried; black tea is made from fermented fresh leaves; oolong tea is
both fried and fermented in a process that makes the leaves green in the middle and red at the
edges.
True teas (excluding so called "teas" from other plants) are divided into four categories according to methods of processing: 1) unfermented; 2) slightly fermented; 3) semi-fermented; and 4) fermented.
The reference to fermentation is misleading because tea undergoes oxidation not fermentation.
There are thousands of different kinds of tea. Different soils, different climates, different altitude,
different drying methods can all affect the flavor and look of a tea. Many companies blend teas and
produce teas that favorable to people in certain regions.
Teas are also categorized by size, quality and the elevation they are grown. Tea particle sizes range
from “dust," to fannings and broken grades to “leaf” tea. Quality is described with words like flowery
and pekoe (Orange Pekoe is a quality name that has nothing to do with the color of the tea or
oranges).
Low-grown teas (those grown under 600 meters) are full bodied but lacking in flavor. High-grown
teas (those grown above 1,200 600 meters) grow more slowly and are known their subtle flavor.
Mid-grown teas are between the two. Most commercials teas are blends with some high-grown
leaves for flavor and low-grown leaves for body.
There are at least 800 different types of Chinese tea. Chinese rank their teas and recognize their
places of origin. They classify tea according to six colors: green tea, blue tea, red tea, white tea,
yellow tea and dark green tea. The main varieties known in the West are green tea, black tea (the
same as Chinese red tea) and oolong tea.
Bubble milk tea is a strong, milky iced tea with chewy tapioca balls. It is popular with the shopping
mall crowd.
Green Tea and Black Tea
Green teas are the least processed of all teas. They are steamed, rolled and dried (in Japan) or pan
fried (in China) soon after picking to kill the enzymes and prevent oxidation before drying. Green tea has a slightly bitter, grassy flavor. The fragrance at first is grassy but later becomes sweet. The taste
has been described as ";fresh, energetic and sweet.";
Green teas are popular in Japan, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan. They have become more
popular in the West since the discovery of possible health benefits associated with them. The most
prized green tea---longjin---is produced mainly in the Hangzhou area of east China.
When making green tea, the water should ideally be cooled to 158̊F to 176̊F (boiling is 212̊F) and
made in a broad-bottomed pot preferably made of stoneware that allows heat to escape and
exposes the maximum amount of tea-leaf surface to the water. Longjin and other green teas are
made in lidded white cup called a chung from which the tea is poured into smaller cups.
Black teas (red teas) are highly processed and oxidized. After they are picked the leaves are
exposed to air, then crushed and stored in temperature- and moisture-controlled rooms, where they
oxidize ("ferment"), which turns the leaves deep brown and intensifies their flavor. Grown primarily in
India and Sri Lanka, these are the teas most familiar to Westerners and are the mostly widely
consumed in Europe, North America, Russia and the Middle East Black teas are made in a slightly
larger pot with water that is near boilng temperature.
Other Kinds of Teas
Dark green or black oolong teas are 30 to 70 percent oxidized. Most common in China, they are
exposed to heat and light and crushed for less time than black tea. Their level of processing is about
half way between green and black tea. They have a strong and sometime flowery fragrance and a
fruity, mellow flavor. Common mainland oolong teas include Tikuanyin, Shuxian and Dahongpao.
Taiwan oolong tends to be milder than mainland teas with an emphasis on fragrance over flavor.
Oolong teas are infused with nearly boiling water in very small round-bottomed pots that are almost
filled to the top with leaves that expand in the water. A tea connoisseur told the New York Times,
"Oolong is bitter and sweet, with good memories, sometimes quite uncomfortable. But only when you have seen the vicissitudes of life will you understand the meaning of it.";
Relatively uncommon white teas are slightly oxidized and have a light, flowery fragrance. The leaves
of white teas are light to medium brown and sometimes are covered by furry silvery hairs. Silver
needles, white peony and shoumei are common white teas. White teas should be infused in water
around 170̊F.
Scented teas, such as jasmine tea, and compressed teas in cake form are made both from oolong
and red teas.
Herbal teas are made from a variety of plants. They are not true teas because they are not made
with the tea plant. Red tea sometimes refers to herbal teas made from the South African rooibos
shrub. It has a strong taste and smells earthy. It is high in antioxidants and is caffeine free.
Non-drink products made from tea include Green Tea Cooling Bubbles Foot Lotion and Green Tea
Radiant Body Foam made by Elizabeth Arden. A French fragrance company has introduced a tea-
scented perfume spray made with Chinese Lapsang Souchong, Indian Darjeeling and Sri Lankan
Orange Pekoe. Super-model Claudia Schiffer and actresses Michelle Pfeifer and Isabelle Adjani are
among those who are said to use it.
Asians Losing Interest in Tea
In 2007, Reuters reported: “From Beijing to Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong and Taipei, fast-paced modern
life means that tea has little appeal for Asian youth who don't have the patience to wait the 10
minutes it takes to brew tea in the traditional way. "Consumption of traditional tea is declining
because it's not being passed down,"Taiwan tea expert Yang Hai-chuan told Reuters. "Basically there's no one promoting it." [Source: Reuters, 15 October 2007]
Yang teaches tea brewing classes to a handful of students. He sells sachets of mixed oolong and
green tea leaves at teahouses across Taipei, marketing them as hip flavored beverages rather than
the traditional teas that have been drunk for centuries. Determined to restore tea to its exalted status
in Asia, tea lovers are trying to repackage tea as a funky new-age brew to a young generation more
inclined to slurp down a can of artificially-flavored tea than to sip the real thing. They cater to
younger people's fixations on their health and a thirst for novelty. In Japan, a new tea line is winning
fans among young Japanese with its claims to reduce body fat, while a South Korean brand called
"17 Tea"; is popular for its claims to blend teas that cure a host of ills.
The elaborate tea making ceremonies of past centuries are largely defunct across North Asia,
although traditional drinkers avoid Western tea bags and devoutly adhere to tea-making customs by
pouring hot water from clay pots over tea leaves. Teahouses across the region, from airport waiting
halls in China to parks and temples in Taiwan, continue the tradition but mostly to the older
generation who are willing to pay up to $1 per gram for prime tea leaves.
Younger drinkers prefer canned tea, powdered tea, soft drinks and coffee. They increasingly refer to
traditional tea as "old people's drink";. Minoru Takano, director of the Japanese Association of Tea
Production, admits that canned flavored teas have helped keep consumption levels up in Japan.
"But we are concerned that tea culture will not be nurtured by these drinks"; Takano said. "We are trying to promote making tea by the pot. There are some households that do not (even) have a pot.
We are concerned that the tradition and culture may disappear."; Tea is so embedded in Taiwan culture that tea lovers can argue for hours about the merits of tea
grades and water temperatures for preparation of the brew. But Taiwan youngsters won't have a bar
of it. "Our children don't want to carry on the traditions, so in the future it will be forgotten";
complained Wang Cheng-long, a life-long bulk leaf seller in Taiwan's historic tea-growing region of
Pinglin. Many of those attending Yang's classes sign up mostly because of the coffee-making
section in the course. "I don't have any time or relevant tea culture," says Becca Liu, a 25-year-old college graduate in Taipei. "I'm more curious to know how to make coffee";
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The
Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street
Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign
Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.


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