You probably drink tea on a daily basis. After all, it is the world’s most popular beverage after water! Whether it is from the traditional tea set or the tea bag, it is an essential in many people’s lives. Here’s what you need to know about the story of the cup of tea on your study desk:
How Tea was Discovered
The history of tea has evolved over numerous countries and many years. A good place to start would be East Asia, where tea is native to. Tea-drinking finds its origins in traditional Chinese and Western culture. It all began with a myth about Shen Nong, an emperor and herbalist who accidentally discovered tea. While he was in the garden, a leaf from an overhanging tea tree drifted into his pot of boiling water. He tasted the infused water and enjoyed it so much that he was compelled to find out more about it.
In ancient China, people consumed tea as a stimulating drink due to its caffeine content, just like how many people do so today to start their day right. After being discovered for its medicinal properties, tea leaves were used as herbal medicine added to food to provide nutrients. Soon, tea culture spread to Western and East-Asian countries, and was popularised as a recreational drink. Today, tea exists in many different variations, and is undoubtedly a universal language across the world.
How Tea is Made
These tea variations are distinguished based on the level of fermentation tea leaves are treated with. Scientifically, tea leaves come from the same Camellia sinensis species, but the method in which they are processed yields different categories of tea. This involves an oxidation process that breaks down chlorophyll in tea leaves, varying the tea’s colour, strength and briskness.
White, green and yellow tea are produced by steaming tea leaves directly after plucking, without going through the oxidation process. Oolong tea leaves are produced from a short period of oxidation, while black tea leaves would have been oxidized for the longest time for green leaves to turn black.
What are the Types of Tea?
Tea-drinking plays a key role in Chinese culture, and China is well-known for its expertise in planting and making tea. As mentioned, there are several types of Chinese tea, which vary in degree of fermentation and processing.
- White tea has a subtle and delicate flavor, and is lighter in colour than other types of tea. One popular example of white tea is Silver Needle tea (白毫銀針) that originates from Fujian Province.
- Green tea is the oldest and most popular type of tea that has consistently been enjoyed by many around the world. It is made from the new shoots of the tea plant, and the tea leaves are dried and processed according to the type of tea desired. An example is Long Jing tea (龙井茶) that has a sweet and gentle taste.
- Yellow tea has a flavour similar to green and white teas, but is also unique in its aroma and texture. It is appreciated by influential patrons in China, and is significant in traditional Chinese tea making. Well-known yellow teas include Jun Shan Yin Zhen tea (君山銀針) and Meng Ding Huang Ya tea (蒙頂黃芽).
- Oolong tea boasts a unique combination of the fresh fragrance of green tea and the mellow taste of black tea. Tie Guan Yin (铁观音) is a type of oolong tea that originated from Fujian Province that is well-loved by many tea fans alike.
- Black tea is one for the lovers of strong flavour. It develops its taste after being refined through a series of withering, kneading, fermentation and drying processes. Congou also known as Gongfu black tea (工夫红茶) is China’s most representative black tea.
- Dark tea, also known as post fermented tea or Hei Cha (黑茶), is made to gear towards the taste buds of the everyday man in the olden days. One example is Pu Er tea (普洱茶), a Chinese specialty that has wonderful flavours with its leaves being fermented for a considerable period of time.
From leaf to cup, the process of tea-making is a combination of patience and labour – with long roasting, boiling and preparation processes. Being an art form on its own, tea has also been adapted to modern ways of life, in which many tea lovers learn from other countries’ ways of preparing and drinking it.
Tea-drinking is nourishing and soothing in many ways. When we are stressed out by a hectic lifestyle, there’s nothing as refreshing and relaxing as taking a break with a cup of tea. The reasons to drink tea are abundant with so many selections available. Whether it is a light green tea or a distinct black tea, there is one for every occasion and individual.