About Tea

About Tea

About Tea-The Naming of the Tea Tree

For several centuries Europeans drank tea without ever having seen a tea plant, because their traders were not allowed to travel inside China, the unique source of imported tea at that time. The first detailed study of tea published in Europe was written by Dr. Wilhelm ten Rhyne (1649-1700), a celebrated Dutch physician and botanist who also wrote the first account of acupuncture. He lived in the Dutch ‘factory’ (trading post) on the artificial island of Deshima in the harbor at Nagasaki from 1674 to 1676. His text on tea (written in Latin) was published in Danzig in 1678, as an appendix to Jacob Breyn’s Exoticarum plantarum centuria prima (First Century of Exotic Plants). It seems never to have been translated into English.

Some years later, in 1683, the great German scholar Engelbert Kaempfer set out on a journey through Russia, Persia, Arabia and India. From there he took ship to Java, Siam, and finally Japan, where he too lived for a time on Deshima before returning to Europe in 1693. Kaempfer wrote his own account of Japanese tea to complement that of ‘my much honored friend’ ten Rhyne. It was published in the third fascicle of his Amoenitates Exoticae (Exotic Pleasures; 1712). An English version of this has recently been published, translated and edited by Robert W. Carrubba in The Library of Renaissance Humanism. It covers every aspect of tea growing, making, and brewing. Kaempfer’s work in making Japan, and especially its botany, known in Europe, was hailed by the great botanist Linnaeus. The first edition of Linnaeus’s Species Plantarum published in 1753 suggested calling the tea plant Thea sinensis, taking the Latin name for tea from Kaempfer.

Chinese tea was basically divided between green tea and black tea (often called bohea) in the European mind. A rather fanciful English writer of the mid-18th century, John Hill, declared in his Treatise on Tea (1753), quite without proof, that they came from different varieties of plant. Linnaeus in the second edition of his Species duly distinguished between Thea viridis (green) and Thea bohea (black). Neither Kaempfer nor Linnaeus seem to have suspected that there might be a link between Thea and the genus later named Camellia (after a Moravian Jesuit called Kamel who studied Asian plants).

It was only in the early 19th century that tea plants and seeds were obtained, after the English decided to challenge China’s monopoly by trying to grow tea in India. Then it was found that in fact tea trees already grew wild, unrecognized, in the hills of Assam. A fierce debate raged as to whether these were identical with the Chinese variety, and whether Thea was a separate genus or part of the genus Camellia. It was finally settled by the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature in 1905 that the tea tree’s correct name, no matter where it grows, is Camellia sinensis (L.) O. Kuntze. The tea tree is native to the whole monsoon area of southeast Asia: Thailand, Burma, southwest China, Assam.

The first drinkers of tea

The raw leaves of the tea tree were surely used as food from very early times by the native populations of the regions where they grew. In Chinese legend, or myth, the qualities of tea are said to have been first discovered by the Second Emperor, Shen Nung (Divine Healer) (reputed to have reigned 2737- 2697 B.C.), who also discovered millet, medicinal herbs, and invented the plough. His predecessor, Fu-hsi, the First Emperor, had given humanity knowledge of fire, cooking, and music, while the Third Emperor completed the Promethean task of human happiness by revealing the secrets of the vine and astronomy.
There is an early mention of tea being prepared by servants in a Chinese text of 50 B.C.. Certainly tea was being cultivated in Szechwan by the third century A.D.. The first detailed description of tea-drinking is found in an ancient Chinese dictionary, noted by Kuo P’o in A.D. 350. At this time the fresh green leaves were picked, then pressed into cakes, that were roasted to a reddish hue. These were crumbled into water and boiled with the addition of onion, ginger, and orange to give a kind of herbal soup that must have been very bitter but was considered to be good as a remedy for stomach problems, bad eyesight, and many other diseases.

In A.D. 519 the great Indian master Bodhidharma, the traditional founder of the Zen school of Buddhism, came to China. The Japanese sometimes claim that he brought tea with him from India, which seems unlikely; another story says that when he found himself growing weary after staying awake for seven years, he plucked off his eyelids. He threw them to the ground and two tea trees sprang up that had the power to keep him awake and alert. There is certainly an ancient Buddhist tradition of drinking tea before an image of Bodhidharma. However, the same story is also told about the origins of opium!
A major turning-point in the history of tea came in the 8th century, with the composition of the Cha Ching, the Classic of Tea by Lu Yu in 780, which summarizes everything known at that time about every aspect of tea growing and preparation. This seems to have been commissioned by the tea merchants of the time to give a new impetus to the consumption of tea in the upper classes. It certainly succeeded.
The crumbled cakes (or bricks) of tea were now boiled with nothing but a little salt and this was the form of tea that became the national drink of the elite in China’s Tang dynasty (618-907). Moreover, since this kind of tea could be transported easily, a taste for it spread far beyond China, into Tibet, along the Silk Road to Turkey and India, and into Russia.

Tea drinking becomes a ceremony2-tea1

Lu Yu’s influence was enormous. He was the first to suggest that the ritual of preparing and drinking tea represented a code of symbolic harmony and order reflecting the ideals of cosmos and society. In his Classic of Tea, (see previous page) Lu Yu lists no less than twenty-four implements that are essential for the correct preparation of a cup of tea. These include the equipment needed for roasting and grinding the cakes of tea, as well as the stove for boiling the water, and the cups for drinking. Rich noblemen at once began to rival one another in acquiring beautifully crafted sets for making tea, while tea plantations spread across the southern part of China.
By 850 people were also beginning to prepare tea in the form of detatched leaves, not compressed into bricks. A great change came with the transition to the Sung dynasty (960-1279) when Chinese culture reached a new summit of refinement. Tea now began to be drunk in the form familiar to many from the Japanese tea ceremony, with dried blocks of green leaves ground to a fine powder and mixed with water by being whipped to a froth with a bamboo whisk in large, often dark- glazed bowls. In Korea today this is known as malch’a.
Tea culture reached its height under the emperor Kiasung (1101-1126) who was untiring in his search for new varieties of tea and qualities of taste. Then came the Mongols. Genghis Khan conquered Beijing in 1215, his grandson was Kublai Khan who overthrew the southern Sung in 1279. The Mongols liked to put cream in old- fashioned brick tea, which they treated as the soup in a meal. Kublai Khan founded the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) and it was at this time that Marco Polo visited China, returned to Italy, and wrote Europe’s first report about China, without ever mentioning tea.

The invention of the tea pot

The Ming dynasty (1368-1643) that followed, in reaction to the Tartar invasion, tried to restore former Chinese ways in a cultural renaissance. It was only during the Ming dynasty that the method of making the tea that is mostly drunk in Korea today, green tea, was invented, as well as the method of allowing the tea leaves to soak (steep) in hot water for a time before drinking.
In about 1500 the first teapots as we know them came into being, made at first of unglazed brown or red clay, the tiny Yixing teapots with their equally tiny cups that are still popular in southern China and Taiwan, and that are often used in Korea when Chinese tea is being drunk.
Finally, in 1644, the Manchus invaded China and took power as the Quing dynasty, that continued until 1912. It was only near the start of their rule the tea makers discovered the secrets of controlled “fermentation” or oxidation of the leaves before and during the drying process, which gave birth to the immense variety of tastes found in oolong (lightly oxidized) and red (black) teas (much more fully oxidized). The new methods of making tea demanded a cup that would emphasize the delicate colour of the brew. This is why so many more recent tea cups are white.

Tea comes to Europe

In 1516 the Portuguese landed in China, having discovered the sea route to the East. In 1557 they were allowed to establish a trading station at Macao in return for ridding the region of pirates, but the British and other nations had to wait until 1685 for permission to trade with China. So began the direct discovery of Chinese tea in the west, although the name had already been introduced through contact with the Turks, who enjoyed drinking brick tea brought along the Silk Road.
The first known reference to tea by an Englishman dates from 1615, when a certain Richard Wickham wrote to Macao asking for ‘a pot of the best sort of chaw’ The oldest name for tea recorded in China seems to have been Kia and the prounciation Ch’a is only found after 725 A.D.. In certain regions a ‘t’ took the place of the initial ‘ch’ and we find the variant pronunciations ta or tai. In Korea today we find both pronunciations, Ch’a and Ta, just as in England from the beginning people spoke of both cha and tay.

When did the English start to drink so much tea?

It is quite a mystery why England developed such an intense and widespread taste for tea, unparalleled in Europe. It was the Dutch merchants who first discovered the pleasures of tea, and began including a separate tea-room in their houses in the early 17th century. The first recorded Coffee House in England was in Oxford, open by 1650. The first known in London, at the Sign of Pasqua Rosee in St Michael’s Alley off Cornhill, was open by 1652. But after the Restoration in 1660 London began to fill with coffee shops, where tea was also served, and by 1683 there were reported to be over 2000 such shops in London. Their customers were so thirsty for the latest news that their owners began to provide ‘news-papers’ and modern journalism was born. The first regular daily paper was ‘Lloyd’s List’, so-called because it appeared in Mr Lloyd’s coffee house in 1734. It is still being published, now online. The others weren’t regular, or weren’t daily, and ‘Lloyd’s List’ is the oldest daily newspaper in the world. Later in the 18th century coffee houses declined as regular ‘gentlemen’s clubs’ arose, offering better facilities but tea and coffee continued to be drunk.
Tea was at first a luxury, enjoyed only by the rich, and for a time the government imposed a 200% tax on it. As a result, a thriving trade arose in tea smuggled from Europe. So much cheap smuggled tea entered every harbour in England that it soon became available to even the simplest homes. In the 18th century tea generally replaced the ale that had previously been the English people’s basic drink, and the Methodist campaigns against the Demon Drink were certainly helped by having tea to propose as a substitute. Finally the tax was abolished, smuggling ceased, but tea was in England to stay, with coffee only a pale second, at least until very recent decades.

But what about tea from India?

By the early 19th century, China was exporting some 15,000 metric tonnes of tea to England every year. When the English government realized that there was a very unfavorable trade balance, the Chinese buying very little from England in return, it decided to try to improve matters by introducing the Chinese to the expensive delights of Indian-grown opium; at the same time it set about establishing tea plantations in India. India now produces something in excess of 200,000 metric tonnes of tea each year.

Tea Processing :
The tender tea leaves collected from the plantations are withered in hot air at the factory and then sent to the rollers. After being rolled into particles and fermented, they are fed into dries before they are ready to be packed.
Medicinal value of tea :
Stimulates the central nervous system
Leads to increased period of awakening
Prevents drowsiness and dullness
Keeps alert the intellectual faculties.IN DETAIL BELOW……………..
The Tea Plant
Tea or Chai is the most widely drunk beverage in the whole world. The tea plant, Camellia Sinensis, is a cultivated variety of a tree that has its origins in an area between India and China. There are three main varieties of the tea plant – China, Assam, and Cambodia – and a number of hybrids between the varieties. The China variety grows as high as nine feet (2.75 metres). It is a hardy plant able to withstand cold winters and has an economic life of at least 100 years.The Assam variety, a single-stem tree ranging from 20 to 60 feet (6 to 18 metres) in height. Regular pruning keeps its height to a more manageable 4 to 5 feet tall. It has an economic life of 40 years with regular pruning and plucking. When grown at an altitude near that of Darjeeling (Assam) or Munnar (Kerala), it produces teas with fascinating flavours , sought after around the globe
The tender light-leaved Assam
The less tender dark-leaved Assam
The hardy Manipuri and Burma types
The very large-leaved Lushai
The dark-leaved Assam plant from Upper Assam.
The Cambodia variety, a single-stem tree growing to about 16 feet (five metres) in height, is not cultivated but has been naturally crossed with other varieties.
History of Tea

Behind this everyday brew lies a colorful and fascinating story that meanders its way through the social and cultural history of many nations. According to ancient legend, tea was discovered by chance by a Chinese Emperor in third millenium B.C. as some tea leaves floated into his boiling pot of water from somewhere.Whether this is fact or fiction, we will never know. In fact, there was no written reference to tea until the third century B.C., till a famous Chinese doctor recommended it for increasing one’s alertness. Most historians however agree that tea was used in China long before this date.

Tea entered its ‘golden age’ during the Tang Dynasty in the 7th century AD. Tea now entered the age of rituals and traditions. No longer drunk simply as a medicinal tonic, tea was taken as much for pleasure as for its restorative powers. The preparation and service of the liquor developed into an elaborate ceremony, while the cultivation and processing of the leaf were tightly controlled.

Tea became important enough during this period for a group of merchants to commission the writer, Lu Yu, to compile the first ever book on the subject – Classic of Tea. All tea produced in China was originally green.However, with an increase in trade during the Ming Dynasty (A.D. 1368 – 1644), the Chinese growers were challenged to preserve tea’s delicate qualities during its long journeys, as far afield as Europe. The solution was the invention of new processing methods to make black and flower-scented teas. Ming producers found that fermentation was able to preserve tea leaves, making them suitable for the long overseas journey. And though Europe’s first taste of tea was green, the fashion gradually changed to black as Chinese growers altered tea production methods to suit the logistics of distant trade.
When one looks at Europe, one is not sure who was responsible for introducing tea there – the Dutch or the Portuguese in the early seventeenth century, for both nations w e re then actively trading in the China Seas. The Portuguese shipped China teas to Lisbon, and from there the Dutch East India Company carried goods on to Holland, France and Germany.
Tea’s fate in Britain took a lucky turn in 1662 when King Charles II married a Portuguese princess. Britain’s new queen was addicted to tea and carried with her some tea as part of her dowry. As word of the new beverage spread, more and more people wished to try it. Soon tea became Britain’s most popular drink, replacing ale at break-fast and gin at any other time of day. Tea also became an essential part of people’s entertainment outside the home.Luxurious tea gardens appeared all over the country, where people from all walks of life, including royalty, could take fresh air, drink tea, and enjoy a variety of entertainment. The British tradition of ‘after-noon tea’ is normally ascribed to Anna, the Duchess of Bedford. She conceived the idea of having tea around four or five in the afternoon to ward off the hunger pangs between lunch and dinner. Soon all of fashionable London was indulging in these after-noon gatherings to drink tea, eat sandwiches, and exchange gossip and general conversation.
As tea consumption in Britain grew, the balance of payment turned in favour of the Chinese. Britain came up with an answer to correct the imbalance and trade in opium, which the Chinese wanted. But soon trade in opium became a serious international issue, and to secure monopoly, Britain declared war. China retaliated by placing an embargo on all export of tea. The Opium Wars had begun.
Its trade with China cut off, Britain began to seek other locations for the production of tea. Northern India was particularly promising due to its climate and altitudes. It is here that in 1823 the British East India Company’s first crop was planted. Its first shipment of Assam tea reached London fifteen years later, and the Company soon expanded into other areas, most notably Darjeeling and the hills of Munnar in Kerala. The Kannan Devan Tea was thus born.
It was inevitable that tea would find its way to North America along with the settlers from Europe. All over the New World, tea was drunk in the same elegant fashion as in Europe. In colonial America, tea and the complimentary silver and porcelain were symbols of wealth and social status. Even the less affluent families viewed the taking of tea as a display of their good manners. The Boston Tea Party ended America’s liking for both the British and their tea. The origins of the trouble lay in the passing of an Act of Parliament in 1767, which attempted to tax the American colonies.Within two years of its passing, most American ports were refusing to allow any dutiable goods ashore, and when the British sent seven shiploads of tea from London, feelings ran high. In New York and Philadelphia, demonstrations forced the ships to turn back. In Boston, general unrest over several weeks was followed by the boarding of the Dartmouth by a band of men disguised as Indians, to cries of “Boston harbor – a teapot tonight.”In the course of the next three hours, they threw 340 chests of tea overboard. The British government’s closure of Boston harbor and the arrival of British troops on American soil market the beginning of the War of Independence and America’s coffee-drinking tradition. World War II marked a final blow to America’s affinity for fine teas. Prior to the war, Americans were well versed in the many varieties of tea. Imported exclusively in the Orient, however, these teas became scarce during the war, and were replaced with lower quality black tea from Argentina and other open markets. Sadly, to this day, almost all tea consumed in the United States is low-grade black.
Growing Tea
Tea bushes are planted 1 metre to 1.5 metres apart to follow the natural contours of the landscape. Sometimes they are grown on specially prepared terraces to help irrigation and to prevent erosion. Fifty years ago tea plants were raised from tea seeds and they were known as seedlings. Each plantation grew its own seed bearers in tea trees which grew to a height of approximately 25 metres. Now young plants are raised from the cuttings obtained from a strong and rich bush. They are carefully tendered in special nursery beds until 12-15 months old and then planted in the tea gardens.Trees are often planted in between the tea plants to protect them against intense heat and light, particularly on the plains of Assam and Kenya, where sunshine is most intense. The trees also provide microclimatic and soil improvements. Geometric spacing are used, often in quite wide spacing. This, again, ensures uniform treatment (shade) and ease in mechanized operations. Common shade trees are Erythrina, Gliricidia, and Silver Oak.
When the tea plant is allowed to grow wild and unfettered it becomes 10 m high. To simplify cultivation and stimulate the production of leaf buds, they are regularly pruned and shaped into flat-topped bushes of about one metre in height. When the plant develops to a height of about half a metre above ground, it is cut back – pruned to within a few inches off the ground – to set it on course to develop into a flat-topped bush. Generally, a tea bush is 1 to 1.5 metres in height. Regular 2 to 3 year pruning cycles encourage the supply of shoots, the flush which is plucked every week to ten days, depending on where it is cultivated.
The tea leaves are mostly hand plucked. The tea plant is plucked every 5- 10 days, depending on where it grows. The length of time needed for the plucked shoot to redevelop a new shoot ready for plucking varies according to the plucking system and the climatic conditions. Intervals of between seventy and ninety days are common.When the tea plant is plucked two leaves and a bud are cut. An experienced plucker can pluck up to 30 kg tealeaves per day. To make one kg black tea, approx. 4 kg tea leaves are needed. One tea plant produces about 70 kg black tea a year. In a warm climate the plant is plucked for the first time after four years and it will produce tea for at least 50 years. A suitable climate for cultivation has a minimum annual rainfall of 1,140 to 1,270 millimetres. Tea soils must be acid; tea cannot be grown in alkaline soils.
A crop of 11,650 kilograms per hectare requires 3.7 to 4.9 workers per hectare to pluck the tea shoots and maintain the fields. Mechanical plucking has been tried, but because of its lack of selectivity, cannot replace hand plucking. Since 1900, advancements in tea cultivation have increased the average yield per acre in India from 180 to 450 kilograms, with many estates producing over 680 kilograms.

Source of information : Dr.Rajesh T. Eapen

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