The legendary puff of wind that blew those leaves into the Chinese Emperor’s bowl of hot water in 2737 B.C. has been felt around the world and down through the centuries. By 479 A.D., Turkish traders were already bargaining for tea on the border of Mongolia, beginning tea’s journey westward. In 593 A.D Japanese priests acquired the habit of tea drinking while studying in China. When they returned to Japan, they took a supply of tea and seeds home with them. It was the Japanese who developed the idea of teahouses and the tea ceremony, which started as a spiritual experience but became so wildly popular that for a time much of the original meaning was lost.
Tea did not reach England until the seventeenth century. Soon after its arrival, tea drinking became a fashionable and rather exclusive ritual. Considered too delicate and expensive to trust to servants’ hands, tea was prepared in the parlour by the mistress of the house using special equipment: a dainty kettle that could be heated on the parlour hearth, one of the new teapots for infusing the fragrant leaves and delicate round cups without handles. Tea was so treasured that it was locked away in a special box called a tea caddy to which only the mistress of the house had a key.
“Below stairs,” the servants drank a weaker brew made from the used tea leaves of their employers. They also dried and resold the used leaves to those who could not otherwise afford to purchase tea. This was illegal, but it no doubt helped to establish tea drinking among all classes of English society. Within decades, tea had become so popular that it displaced ale as the English drink. By 1705, annual tea imports to England had reached an incredible 800,000 pounds.
Brewers, faced with dropping sales, pressured the English government for a tax on tea that put it out of the reach of the common people. Along with other imported and heavily taxed luxuries such as French brandy and silk, it fuelled a thriving smuggling trade along the English seacoast. People who had become accustomed to the comfort of a “nice cup of tea” resented the heavy excise tax and many had no qualms about buying and using the smuggled product.
In Colonial America, the tax on tea was one of many hotly disputed taxes and played its own role in bringing about the War of Independence. As a protest against “taxation without representation,” a party of New Englanders dumped a whole cargo of tea from England into the Boston harbour – the incident known to this day as The Boston Tea Party. It became an act of patriotism in the Thirteen Colonies to refuse to buy tea and to drink instead infusions of Oswego tea (“bee-balm” or Monarda fistulosa) and New Jersey tea (“mountain tea” or Ceanothus americanus) as well as garden herbs such as mint and sage.
Eventually, in 1784, the English government repealed the tax on tea in an effort to curtail smuggling. Tea became affordable to everyone and popular in all levels of society. Eleven million pounds of tea were imported the following year.
In England around 1840, Anna, 7th Duchess of Bedford ordered that tea be served to her every afternoon to prevent “that sinking feeling” she encountered during the long gap between breakfast and dinner. Soon she began inviting guests to join her for a cup of tea and some sweets and savouries in the afternoon. The ritual caught on in England and afternoon tea soon became a tradition that remains popular today.
During the American Civil War, when trade embargoes curtailed importation of tea, and in Britain during World War II when tea was rationed, people turned to herbal teas to supplement or replace “real” tea. During the “back to the land” movement of the 1970s, herbal teas again made a comeback as both beverages and medicines, and in recent years, as a chic and delicious alternative to traditional teas.
Tea arrived in North America, at the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam in the year 1650, seven years before it reached England. The Dutch were among the earliest importers of tea.
The first tea shipment to arrive in Canada was imported by the Hudson Bay Company in 1716. It took more than a year to arrive.
Tea was first served as a health beverage in Garway’s Coffee House in London, England in 1657.
In 1706, Thomas Twining served tea in Tom’s Coffee House in London for the first time. Only men patronized coffee houses and by 1717 Tom’s Coffee House had become London’s first teashop called the Golden Lyon. Finally women too could respectably enjoy tea in a public place.
Iced tea was introduced on a hot humid day at the 1904 World’s Fair in Saint Louis, Missouri. An enterprising Englishman named Richard Blechynden added ice cubes to his hot brewed tea in order to attract customers. At this same World’s Fair, the ice cream cone was also introduced. Both were instant hits.
In 1908, New York tea merchant Thomas Sullivan sent samples of tea to his customers in small silken bags. Some of them assumed that these were supposed to be used in the same way as the metal infusers, by putting the entire bag into the pot, rather than emptying out the contents. In response to customer comments that the silk was too finely woven to allow proper infusion, Sullivan developed sachets made of gauze - the first purpose-made tea bags.
In 1946, Nestle USA. introduced Nestea, the first powdered instant tea.
Far Too Good For Ordinary People??? Not quite! These letters are part of a complex tea grading system and stand for “Fancy Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe”.
High tea and low tea do not refer to the “class” of people consuming them, but to the height of the table from which they are served. Traditionally, “low” or afternoon tea, consisting of crustless sandwiches, biscuits and cake is served at around 4 p.m. on low tables, which in Canada would be called “coffee tables”. High tea is a more substantial meal, served around 5 p.m. or later. It includes bread, meats, scones and cake and is served at a dinner table. Here at Fine Thymes, anytime is Tea Thyme!!!
Green tea is loaded with ECCG, an antioxidant that reduces inflammation and relieves pain. Brew green tea, chill it, then apply the tea to your sunburn with a washcloth. Sencha Kyoto Cherry Rose will make you smell the best!
The word tea in most of mainland China (and also in Japan) is ‘cha’. But the word for tea in Fujian province is ‘te’ (pronounced approximately ‘tay’). The first mass marketers of tea in the West were the Dutch, whose contacts were in Fujian. They adopted this name, and handed it on to most other European countries. The two exceptions are Russia and Portugal, which had independent trade links to China. The Portuguese call it ‘cha’ and the Russians ‘chai’. ‘Tay’ was the pronunciation when the word first entered English, and it still is in Scotland and Ireland. For unknown reasons, at some time in the early eighteenth century the English changed their pronunciation to ‘tee’. Virtually every other European language, however, retains the original pronunciation of ‘tay’.
More About Tea
The first step in tea production is the harvest. Most harvesting is still done by hand, which is very labour-intensive. Some growers have had success using a machine that acts much like a vacuum cleaner, sucking the leaves off the branch. This method is used for the cheaper varieties of tea, as it is not capable of discriminating between the high-quality tip leaves and the coarser leaves toward the bottom of the branch.
The harvested leaves can be processed in two ways: CTC or orthodox. CTC, which stands for “crush, tear, curl” is used primarily for lower-quality leaves. CTC processing is done by machine; its name is actually fairly descriptive. The machines rapidly compress withered tea leaves, forcing out most of their sap; they then tear the leaves and curl them tightly into balls that look something like instant coffee crystals. The leaves are then ‘fired’, or dehydrated.
Most tea connoisseurs are not very interested in CTC tea, since this process does not allow for the careful treatment that high quality leaves merit. But CTC has an important and legitimate role in the tea industry: since it is a mechanized process, it allows for the rapid processing of a high volume of leaves which otherwise would go to waste. It is also good for producing a strong, robust flavour from leaves of middling quality; in fact, for many varieties of leaf, CTC is the preferred processing method.
The orthodox method is a bit more complex, and is usually done mostly by hand. The process differs for black, green, and oolong teas. The basic steps in the production of black tea are withering, rolling, oxidation, and firing. First, the leaves are spread out in the open (preferably in the shade) until they wither and become limp. This is so that they can be rolled without breaking. Rolling is the next step and is usually done by machine. Rolling helps mix together a variety of chemicals found naturally within the leaves, enhancing oxidation. After rolling, the clumped leaves are broken up and set to oxidize.
Oxidation, which starts during rolling, is allowed to proceed for an amount of time that depends on the variety of the leaf. Longer oxidation usually produces a less flavourful but more pungent tea. Finally, the leaves are heated, or “fired”, to end the oxidation process and dehydrate them so they can be stored.
Oolong tea is produced just like black tea, except the leaves are oxidized for less time.
Green tea is not oxidized at all. Some varieties are not even withered, but simply harvested, fired, and packaged.
In the Orient, tea drinking has been linked to good health for nearly 5000 years. Recent research not only supports the idea that tea is healthy; it takes tea out of the realm of folk medicine. Tea contains components that may prevent certain cancers, reduce blood pressure, lower blood cholesterol levels, and regulate intestinal function and regularity and help ward off heart disease.
Tea leaves are unusually rich in natural phytochemical compounds called polyphenols. Significantly present in black, green and oolong teas, these are thought to counteract destructive oxygen molecules known as free radicals. Catechins, a class of polyphenols found in tea, are seen as most beneficial to health. Green tea contains the highest levels of catechins, but black and oolong teas also contain significant amounts.
Drinking tea may also reduce tooth decay and gum disease. As a rich source of fluoride, tea may strengthen tooth enamel. It also appears that tea drinking reduces plaque formation and bacterial infections in the mouth, as tea polyphenols are selectively bactericidal. For many of the world’s people, drinking tea plays a major role in maintaining fluid balance. Proper hydration is crucial for the body’s normal functioning.
The caffeine content in tea can vary, depending on the blend, the method of brewing, and the brewing time. A 170 ml. (6 ounce) cup of tea contains, on average, 34 mg. of caffeine. This compares to 99 mg of caffeine in a similar sized serving of coffee, and 37 mg. in a 355 ml. (12 ounce) can of cola. For people wishing to avoid caffeine, we suggest our selection of tisanes, which are naturally caffeine-free. Health authorities are in agreement that tea poses no health risks in the typical Canadian diet and new understanding of the apparent health benefits of this popular beverage is expanding throughout the world.