Origin of Tea
Tea is believed to have been discovered by the Chinese Emperor, Chen Nung, in 2737 BC. Legend has it that he was resting in the shelter of a tea plant one day, when some of its leaves blew into a nearby bowl of boiling water. Tempted by the aroma of the now-infused water, the Emperor took a sip... and the rest is history.
Initially, the Chinese took tea as a herbal remedy. But, by the third century BC, they had started to drink it simply for pleasure. The Chinese began to cultivate the plant to meet increasing demand, and introduced processing methods as a way of drying and preserving the fresh leaves.
In around 780 BC, the Chinese began fermenting green tea in a quest to discover new variations. This led to the discovery of black tea: a drink whose popularity soared when it was rediscovered and cultivated in India, more than two thousand years later.
In many respects, tea is much like wine. This is because its characteristics can vary considerably, depending on how and where it is grown and produced. Soil, climate and altitude all play their part, as do the shape of the leaf, the time of the harvest, and the production methods used.
Green tea is usually produced from the youngest leaves of the plant. Its colour is subtle, its aroma mellow, and its flavours invigorating.
When a leaf is destined to become green tea, its natural fermentation process needs to be arrested soon after plucking. This results in a drink that is full of nutrients.
Green tea exists in a number of varieties, including:
Traditionally, Japanese leaves are steamed to halt the fermentation process. They are placed in large drums, and blanched for at least two minutes. After this, they are rolled to break down their cells, and ‘cooked' to remove their moisture.
This steaming process helps the leaves to retain their grassy green colour, and produces a flavour that is fresh and tart.
Once picked, Chinese leaves are pan-roasted to stop oxidation. They are placed in large iron pans or drums, and heated to 280 degrees for around 10 seconds. This makes them slightly paler in colour than their Japanese counterparts, and gives Chinese green tea a milder, sweeter flavour.
Green tea has been produced in Formosa (now Taiwan) since the 1850s, when Chinese growers migrated to the island. Its Chinese roots mean that Formosan green tea is pan roasted, rather than steamed, to halt fermentation.
As surprising as it may sound, both black and green teas are produced from the same leaves. So why do they look and taste so different?
The distinction lies in the method of processing. During black tea production, the harvested leaves are left to ferment completely before they are rolled and dried. This results in an infusion that is darker in colour, stronger in taste and higher in caffeine than the green equivilent.
Beyond this, black teas are far from uniform. They come in an array of colours and flavours - all reflecting the region and conditions in which they are grown.
Nestled among the foothills of the Himalayas, Darjeeling offers the ideal geography and climate for tea cultivation.
Every spring, the first shoots of the season are used to produce first flush Darjeeling: a flowery, delicately-flavoured drink of the very finest quality. Second flush Darjeelings are harvested later in the spring, and boast a more intense, full-bodied flavour.
The Indian state of Assam is the largest tea-growing region in the world. Situated on low-lying land adjoining the Brahmaputra River, its leaves infuse to a dark reddy colour and have a strong, malty flavour.
Assam is suitable for even the hardest water, and goes well with brown sugar and a dash of milk.
Tea has been cultivated in Nepal since 1920. The geography and climate of the country's Himalayan slopes produce a delightfully aromatic brew that is reminiscent of Darjeeling.
Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) is one of the world's largest exporters of black tea. It is produced in three districts: Uva in the east, Dimbula in the west, and Nuwara Eliya on the centre of the island.
Ceylon's are defined by crisp, citrus flavours. They are delicious either as single estate teas, or as part of a blend.
Chinese black tea originates from the southern regions of China. It is characterised by a mild, earthy flavour, and is typically low in tannin and caffeine.
As the Chinese themselves prefer to drink green, Chinese black tea is mainly produced for export alone.
Although similar in it's production to green, white tea is very mild with delicate, fruity flavours and a beautifully subtle aroma.
It is produced from the unopened buds of the plant, whose silvery hairs give its white appearance. The buds are carefully picked by hand, before being gently steamed or dried in the sun.
Produced almost exclusively in the Fujian province of China, white tea is widely regarded as one of the finest in the world.
Oolong originates from the Fujian province of China, and is now produced principally in southern China and Taiwan.
Oolong is a semi-fermented tea. This means that, after plucking, the leaves are allowed to ferment - but only partially. The fermentation process can be stopped at any point from five to 90 per cent. As a result, there are thousands of varieties of oolong, each with a distinctive flavour of its own. Lightly fermented oolongs resemble green tea in their colour and flavour, while highly fermented oolongs are reminiscent of black tea. Then there are the varieties that sit somewhere in between - completing a veritable smorgasbord of taste, colour and aroma.
Fruit and herbal infusions provide a healthy alternative to traditional teas. They are naturally caffeine-free, and contain many of the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants needed to support good health.
Herbal infusions can be created from flowers, leaves, or any other part of a plant. Some are designed to relax you, while others are intended to give you a boost.
Fruit infusions may contain fruit peels, roots, petals, leaves, or the fruits themselves. They are tasty and thirst-quenching, and delicious either hot or cold.
Tea easily absorbs other tastes and aromas - making it the perfect candidate for flavouring.
Both green and black tea lend themselves well to the addition of complementary flavours. Blossoms, herbs, fruits and spices: all have a role to play, and, when added in the right quantities, all play it fantastically well.
Well-known flavoured teas include Earl Grey - a delicious tea produced from Chinese black tea and bergamot oil, and Chai - an Indian black tea mixed with spices including cardamom, cinnamon and pepper.
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