There are various legends in both China and Japan surrounding the birth of tea.
The first mention of tea is found in the 3rd century in Chinese writings promoting it as a replacement for wine. It went on to become a daily drink, prepared differently in the successive ruling dynasties.
Tea seems to have appeared in Japan between the 8th and 9th century, taken there by a Buddhist monk and purported to help with meditation. The tea ceremony took shape in the 12th century, and was different to the one practiced in China.
The Chinese took tea to all Asian countries from the 10th century onwards. We had to wait seven more centuries for it to arrive in Europe via the Dutch returning from their conquests in Asia. It was in 1606 that the first shipments of tea arrived in Amsterdam. In 1657, it arrived in England, thanks to Thomas Garraway, owner of a coffee house, and there it grew in popularity to become the national drink by the 18th century.
When they emigrated to the New World, the Dutch and the English took their precious tea with them. They subsequently had to import it, but it was subjected to such heavy taxes that the colonists in Boston rebelled. This revolt, forever remembered in history as the "Boston Tea Party", led to conflicts and reprisals which would go on to spark the American Revolutionary War.
The Chinese had a monopoly on tea production for a long time, until the 19th century. As demand outstripped supply and they saw it as a source of profit, the British, settled in India, which they had conquered a long time before, decided to develop the growth of tea plants in this country (where it grew wildly) and also in Ceylon.
This is how tea became the second most widely consumed drink in the world: around 500 million cups are drunk every day.
Teas are sold:
. in boxes or metal containers
. in zipped pouches
. in traditional muslin
. in 500 g blocks, made of compressed leaves
. in bags, sold under different brand names, available in supermarkets. This is often broken tea. They contain 2 g of tea in France, 1 g in the Netherlands, 1.5 g in Germany, and 3.125 g in England.
. as instant powder, which is stirred directly into either cold or hot water. It is mainly sold in the United States. Matcha green tea, a very special and quite rare tea, is also powdered.
. in capsule form (for use with the corresponding machine).
. liquid and in cans, always sweet and flavored in various ways.
Tea bags are produced industrially and therefore inferior to loose tea.
The choice is made depending on intended use.
Tea is perfect for making granita and sorbet. It is used to flavor certain desserts, cakes, and biscuits. Dried fruits are often left to swell in tea.
In Japan, ochazuke is a dish made by pouring tea over rice with a variety of toppings. Tofu is often seasoned with a sauce made of tea.
In China, poultry is sometimes smoked with tea.
A fish can be stuffed with tea leaves and meat can be marinated in an infusion. Matcha tea is used to flavor different dishes.
Tea should be stored in its original box or bag, and always in a dry place.
Tea is a complex product that containscaffeine, also called theine, in varying amounts depending on the type, and other stimulating substances (theobromine and theophylline),
and fluorine but no other minerals or vitamins.
It is very rich in antioxidant molecules, polyphenols, flavonoids, and tannins. Tea drinkers, and especially green tea drinkers, are seemingly less affected by cardiovascular disease. However, tea has no impact on cancer prevention.
Moreover, tea tannins inhibit the absorption of minerals, especially iron. This is why heavy drinkers are advised to drink a citrus drink rich in vitamin C at breakfast time, which helps the body absorb iron and thus counteracts this adverse effect.
Finally, tea is also rich in oxalic acid. Daily consumption of large quantities of tea may be the cause of urinary stones.
Good marketing has given green tea a reputation as being conducive to weight loss, but this is absolutely not true.
People sometimes develop an addiction to tea, called theism, similar to that induced by coffee.
The Camellia sinensis, the wild tea plant, comes from the mountainous regions straddling China and India. During propagation, it divided into two main varieties, which still grow wildly: the Camellia sinensis sinensis in China and the Camellia sinensis assamica, which, as its name implies, grows in the region of Assam, in India, and into southwestern Asia.
This has resulted in two main varieties of tea: tea from India and tea from China.
In each of these, there are a multitude of sub-varieties linked to the specific place of production, called “gardens”, much like the “cru” of wines.
Tea is always harvested in the same way: the tea plants are pruned at 1 m 20 cm from the ground to form a "plucking table". This is a continuous process and is always done by hand.
Only the buds from the very top of the plant, the flushes, are picked. The leaves are then picked, but in varying quantities depending on the quality of tea desired. The younger and more delicate, the better.
After harvesting, the tea leaves are processed in different ways. The processing method chosen affects the color of the finished product.
- Black tea
The leaves are withered on large, ventilated trays. They are then rolled (by hand or using machines), fermented, and dried.
Then they are sorted according to their size. Leaves that have broken naturally are put to one side. They are used to make "broken" tea, which is usually sold in tea bags (but under the same name as whole leaves).
Black tea accounts for about 98% of production.
- Green tea
It is free from fermentation. The leaves are steamed, rolled, and dried. It is produced mainly in China and Japan and is more astringent than black tea.
- Semi-fermented oolong tea
After withering in the sun, the leaves are stirred, but not for too long so that they do not ferment too much. They are then dried. These teas are mainly produced in China, in the Fujian Province and Taiwan.
- White tea
The flushes, the buds, are just wilted and dried. This tea is quite rare, produced only in the Fujian province of China.
There are two classifications, which reflects the complexity of the tea world.
- By size of leaves
. Orange pekoe: composed entirely of buds. This is the best kind.
. Pekoe: the shortest leaves and no buds
. Pekoe souchong: bigger and older leaves
. Souchong: even older leaves
. Broken: broken leaves
- By country of origin
. Ceylon teas, which make very strong infusions
. Indian teas, which are very fragrant. Darjeeling is the most prestigious.
. Chinese teas, some of which are smoked.
But there are also many teas flavored with spices or essential oils or flowers. The most popular is Earl Grey, created by the Earl of Grey (an English man of course!) who added bergamot oil to a non-smoked Chinese black tea.