Tea is a wonderful drink to have any time of the year and there are countless ways to enjoy it. Each one has its own characteristics and is brewed differently. Here are several types of teas:
Originally a medicine, tea has become the second most frequently consumed beverage in the world. Most tea is made from the leaves of the tea plant, Camellia sinensis, and was one of the first plants to be cultivated. Camellia sinensis (China tea) is a tree that can grows up to 30 feet tall. Commercially cultivated plants are pruned into shrubs about six feet tall, and the harvesting of the leaves keeps them closely clipped. Assamica (India tea) is a variation of Camellia sinensis and is the other main type of commercially grown tea. It has larger leaves and grows up to 60 feet. The leaves of both are a glossy dark green, and the plant produces small, fragrant white flowers.
The Chinese first learned the use of tea from observing aboriginal tribesmen living in the hills southwest of the Chinese border, now Southeast Asia. Tribesmen made a brew by boiling the green leaves of the wild trees in ancient kettles over a fire as early as 2700 B.C.E. Many credit the Chinese emperor Shen Nung with the discovery of tea. According to legend, he was resting under a tea tree when some leaves fell into his cup of hot water. He liked the flavor and ensured that tea trees would be cultivated in China from then on. China developed a banking system using tea as currency before the western world was civilized. Bricks of tea were used as payment to aboriginal tribesmen, farmers, and herdsmen. China monopolized tea growing until the nineteenth century.
Elaborate ceremonies have often accompanied the serving and drinking of tea. In ancient China, “tea masters” served tea in tea rooms and were judged on the quality of the tea they brewed. In Japan, a very precise tea ceremony was developed, often nearly four hours long. Special tools are used and every action is carefully planned. The tea ceremony represents harmony, respect, purity and tranquility which are important values in the Japanese culture.
After the Dutch began shipping tea to Europe in the early 1600s, it became a very popular drink among the wealthy: the only ones who could afford it. Catherine of Braganza, a Portuguese princess who married King Charles II of England, is credited with making tea popular in that country, which is now the greatest consumer of tea in the world. In the early 1800s, the Duchess of Bedford, Anna Maria Stanhope, decided to invite friends to share a pot of tea and small cakes and sandwiches with her. They so loved the idea that it quickly became popular with other hostesses and the “English tea” was born. It remained only among the upper classes but as tea became more affordable, all classes enjoyed it.
As in Japan, the English developed rules about the proper way to serve tea. It was usually served in porcelain teapots and poured into porcelain cups, often from China. In the mid 1800s, beautiful silver tea sets were available. The tea itself was stored in airtight wood, china or silver tea caddies. In 1864 the first tea shop opened in England. Patrons could shop, but also sit down and enjoy a cup of tea and refreshments. In America, tearooms, which served not only tea but also lunch and dinner, opened in department stores and hotels. They were designed to be places for light-hearted socializing. Tea rooms were usually decorated whimsically and were often run by women. Their popularity was highest in the 1920s, during Prohibition.
Peter Stuyvesant brought the first teas to the American colonies in 1650. Soon the high taxes the British imposed on it became a point of contention as tensions between the colonists and the king increased. On December 17, 1773, ships carrying a heavily taxed tea cargo were not allowed to unload at Boston Harbor. During the night, disgruntled colonists heaved 342 tea chests into the harbor, and this became known as the Boston Tea Party. After this, drinking tea was considered unpatriotic, and herbal teas began to be used as a replacement for Chinese tea. By 1775, a person’s patriotism was measured by how much he or she enjoyed herbal teas, sometimes referred to as “liberty tea.” It often took the slow ships of the East India Company nearly a year to carry tea from China to London. After the American Revolution ended, the American clipper ships, which were much faster and lighter, began to be used because they could go from New York to China and back in just eight months.
Eighty-five percent of the tea drunk in the United States is iced tea—more than two billion cups per year. The first iced tea was served in 1904 at the St. Louis World’s Fair. Richard Blechynden, a tea plantation owner, originally planned to give free samples of hot tea to the Fair visitors; but when a heat wave hit the site, no one was interested in hot tea. Blechynden quickly improvised by dumping ice cubes into the brew. While he was probably not the first person to drop an ice cube in a cup of tea, he does seem to have been the first to do it in such a large and public way. In 1908, Thomas Sullivan, a tea merchant, wrapped tea samples in small silk bags and delivered them to restaurants around New York. When he called on them later, he was amazed to find that they were brewing the tea in the bags. This gave people the option of loose-leaf tea or tea bags.
The British tradition of morning and afternoon tea has spread around the world, ancient Chinese and Japanese traditional tea ceremonies are still commonly practiced, and modern tea shops have sprung up across America offering these services and tea tastings. Many five-star hotels in America still serve afternoon tea in the traditional English style. After a long stressful week or before the start of a day, a cup of tea offers something that cannot be found anywhere else even today.
Campbell, D. (2008). The Perfect Cup. Black Enterprise, 38(11), 198. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=32482688&site=ehost-live
Reich, A. (2010). Coffee & Tea History in a Cup. Herbarist, (76), 8-15. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=79329980&site=ehost-live