Since the discovery of the Tea plant (camellia sinensis) the imbibing of this aromatic beverage has created a world of it’s own. So potent is the pleasure of the drink itself and the time spent in it’s enjoyment, that whole nations have rendered their praise and skill of stewardship to the art and craft of Tea.
China is the first recorded land where tea was officially used and celebrated for it’s social and medicinal qualities. Portuguese Priests and merchants in the fifteen hundreds brought the substance to Europe where it was vibrantly traded to England by the early sixteen hundreds. In the seventeen hundreds, English speculators were growing tea in the highlands of India. By then, the story of enchantment with Tea was well established. The tea grown in India was within the province of the British Empire, so the general populace began to use tea as it became more abundant and reasonably priced.
The famous Earl Grey and English Breakfast teas were blends that had become signature teas for members of the aristocracy. Tea is delicate and easily absorbs other scents. It was found that flowers could be layered amongst the drying tealeaves and the aromatic oils would absorb into the tea. Hence blends such as Jasmine and Bergamot (Earl Grey).
The tea plant is an evergreen that grows in marine warmed elevated coastal areas and sub-tropical and tropical mountainous high elevations. The higher the elevation, the more refined the quality of the tealeaf flavor. Tea is not only delicate… but a delicacy. There have been and still are traditionally ‘first pick’ reserve teas that are only available to the Emperor. These are literally the first budding, tiny new leaves, picked before the dew of early morning descends taken from rare varietals. The delicacy of flavor is treasured beyond material wealth. In countries with mature tea cultures, the finest teas represent not only the rarity of first bloom, but also the sacredness of healing properties held within. Even today, in specialized markets around the world, tea sells for hundreds and even thousands of dollars per once.
The tea that is in any supermarket would be unrecognizable to the aficionado of fine tea. Wonderful, quality teas are available through importers who establish a relationship, not with exporters, but with the individual Tea Estates and Regional plantations. By visiting and understanding the specific programs each Estate establishes, the buyer is able to import the finest and freshest small batches. If Tea is considered a refined beverage and a medicinal drink, the best quality is important… for taste and for health benefits.
Tea is about 30% catechins; a very important and age defying antioxidant category. There are white, yellow, green, fermented and black teas available. The lighter the coloration, the earlier the tender tealeaves are picked and the more delicately, with no to very little added heat, they are dried.
Drying must start quickly as tealeaves wilt easily. Early morning sun drying allows the chlorophyll in the leaves to dissipate while the tannins mature. Only black tea is dried with heat applied throughout the process. Whereas black varietals (known as red tea in China because of the ruddy complexion of the liquid when brewed) have a lower percentage of catechin activity, all teas contain:
2) valuable minerals, some vitamins, natural plant sourced fluoride (this is healthy, does not accumulate or damage any part of the Human system, unlike the chemical by-product toxin available in water and oral products) for appropriate bone repair and oral health,
3) L-theanine, an amino acid (protein) that has a distinct calming effect and in the case of Pu-erh and Oolong (Wulong) (known as black tea in China),
4) fermentation after drying is an added dimension of healthful properties.
5) tannins (these are found in the stem/leaf/ skin/ root/ seed/ bud of most fruits, nuts, berries, legumes, herbs, spices, chocolate and any wood smoked or soaked foods or drinks). They are a form of poly-flavonoid that is protective against predators to the plant and it is assumed to have similar protective qualities for those who eat or drink plants with tannins.
Even though Tea has tannins which are astringent and therefore drying and clearing to the system, in China and Japan, Tea is considered to have the Umami taste. That is considered ‘bland’, indicating that Tea goes well with all foods and flavors. Tea is beneficial on it’s own and is an appropriate cleanser of the palate with meals. A pot of tea is called for at every table!
Tea is a wondrous plant with innumerable benefits.
Time taken for a cup of Tea is time well spent.
Good sources online are: