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Tea is a beverage made by steeping processed leaves, buds, or twigs of the tea bush, Camellia sinensis, in hot water for a few minutes. The processing can include oxidation, heating, drying, and the addition of other herbs, flowers, spices, and fruits. The four basic types of true tea are (in order from most to least processed): black tea, oolong tea, green tea, and white tea. The term "herbal tea" usually refers to infusions of fruit or of herbs (such as rosehip, chamomile, or jiaogulan) that contain no Camellia sinensis . (Alternative terms for herbal tea that avoid the word "tea" are tisane and herbal infusion.) This article is concerned exclusively with preparations and uses of the tea plant C. sinensis.
Tea is a natural source of the amino acid theanine, methylxanthines such as caffeine and theobromine, and polyphenolic antioxidant catechins. It has almost no carbohydrates, fat, or protein. It has a cooling, slightly bitter, and astringent flavor.
Additional recommended knowledge
Camellia sinensis is an evergreen plant and grows in tropical to sub-tropical climates. In addition to tropical climates (at least 50 inches of rainfall a year), it also prefers acidic soils. Many high quality tea plants grow at elevations up to 1500 meters (5,000 ft), as the plants grow more slowly and acquire a better flavor. Only the top 1-2 inches of the mature plant are picked. These buds and leaves are called flushes, and a plant will grow a new flush every seven to ten days during the growing season.
Tea is commercially cultivated as far north as Tregothnan in Cornwall on the UK mainland.
Tea plants will grow into a tree if left undisturbed, but cultivated plants are pruned to waist height for ease of plucking.
Two principal varieties are used, the small-leaved China plant (C. sinensis sinensis) and the large-leaved Assam plant (C. sinensis assamica).
Processing and classification
These types of tea are distinguished by the processing they undergo. Leaves of Camellia sinensis soon begin to wilt and oxidize if not dried quickly after picking. The leaves turn progressively darker because chlorophyll breaks down and tannins are released. This process, enzymatic oxidation, is called fermentation in the tea industry although it is not a true fermentation: it is not caused by micro-organisms, and is not an anaerobic process. The next step in processing is to stop the oxidation process at a predetermined stage by heating, which deactivates the enzymes responsible. With black tea this is done simultaneously with drying. Without careful moisture and temperature control during its manufacture and thereafter, fungi will grow on tea. This form of fungus causes real fermentation that will contaminate the tea with toxic and sometimes carcinogenic substances and off-flavours, rendering the tea unfit for consumption.
Tea is traditionally classified based on producing technique:
Blending and additives
Almost all teas in bags and most other teas sold in the West are blends. Blending may occur in the tea-planting area (as in the case of Assam), or teas from many areas may be blended. The aim is to obtain better taste, better price or both, as more expensive, better-tasting tea may cover the inferior taste of cheaper varieties. Blending may also achieve more consistent taste of the blend, regardless of the variation of taste among pure teas.
Various teas, as sold, are not pure varieties but have been enhanced through additives or special processing. Tea is indeed highly receptive to inclusion of various aromas; this may cause problems in processing, transportation and storage, but also allows for the design of an almost endless range of scented variants, such as vanilla-flavored, caramel-flavored and many others.
Tea contains catechins, a type of antioxidant. In a fresh tea leaf, catechins can be up to 30% of the dry weight. Catechins are highest in concentration in white and green teas, while black tea has substantially less due to its oxidative preparation. Tea contains theanine, and the stimulant caffeine at about 3% of its dry weight, translating to between 30mg and 90mg per 8oz (or 0.25 L) cup depending on type and brand and brewing method. Tea also contains small amounts of theobromine and theophylline. Tea also contains fluoride, with certain types of brick tea made from old leaves and stems having the highest levels.
Origin and history
Teas have been cultivated for thousands of years in Asia. Based on differences in morphology between Camellia sinensis var. assamica and Camellia sinensis var. sinensis, botanists have long asserted a dual botanical origin for tea. Camellia sinensis var. assamica is native to the area from Yunnan province, China to the northern region of Burma and the state of Assam in India. Camellia sinensis var. sinensis is native to eastern and southeastern China.
However, recent research questions this. The same chromosome number (2n=30) for the two varieties, easy hybridization, and various types of intermediate hybrids and spontaneous polyploids all appear to demonstrate a single place of origin for Camellia sinensis — the area including the northern part of Myanmar and Yunnan and Sichuan provinces of China.
In one popular Chinese legend, Shennong, the legendary Emperor of China, inventor of agriculture and Chinese medicine, was drinking a bowl of boiling water, some time around 2737 BC. The wind blew and a few leaves from a nearby tree fell into his water and began to change its colour. The ever inquisitive and curious monarch took a sip of the brew and was pleasantly surprised by its flavour and its restorative properties. A variant of the legend tells that the emperor tested the medical properties of various herbs on himself, some of them poisonous, and found tea to work as an antidote. Shennong is also mentioned in Lu Yu's famous early work on the subject, Cha Jing.
A Tang Dynasty legend regarding tea spread along with Buddhism and Bodhidharma, founder of the Zen school of Buddhism based on meditation known as "Chan". After meditating in front of a wall for nine years, he accidentally fell asleep. He woke up in such disgust at his weakness, he cut off his eyelids and they fell to the ground and took root, growing into tea bushes. Sometimes, the second story is retold with Gautama Buddha in place of Bodhidharma In another variant of the first mentioned myth, Gautama Buddha discovered tea when some leaves had fallen into boiling water.
However, a lot of histories about the origins of foods refer to an 'accident' with enjoyable consequences, and while entertaining, are almost certainly untrue.
Whether or not these legends have any basis in fact, tea has played a significant role in Asian culture for centuries as a staple beverage, a curative, and a symbol of status. For these reasons, perhaps it is not surprising that its discovery is ascribed to religious or royal origins.
The Chinese have enjoyed tea for thousands of years. While historically the use of tea as a medicinal herb useful for staying awake is unclear, China is considered to have the earliest records of tea drinking, with recorded tea use in its history dating back to the first millennium BC. The Han Dynasty used tea as medicine.
Laozi (ca. 600-517 BC), the classical Chinese philosopher, described tea as "the froth of the liquid jade" and named it an indispensable ingredient to the elixir of life. Legend has it, master Lao was disgusted at his nation's immoral way of life, so he fled westward to Ta Chin. While passing through the Han Pass, he was offered tea by a customs inspector named Yin Hsi. Yin Hsi may have inspired the writers of the Dao De Jing, a collection of Laozi's sayings. Yin's generosity helped many people and thus began a national custom of offering tea to guests, in China.
In 220, a famed physician and surgeon named Hua Tuo wrote Shin Lun, in which he describes tea's ability to improve mental functions: "to drink k'u t'u [bitter tea] constantly makes one think better"
In 59 BC, Wang Bao wrote the first known book providing instructions on buying and preparing tea, establishing that, at this time, tea was not only a medicine but an important part of diet.
During the Sui Dynasty (589-618 AD) tea was introduced to Japan by Buddhist monks.
The Tang Dynasty writer Lu Yu's 陸羽 (729-804 AD) Cha Jing 茶經 is an early work on the subject. (See also Tea Classics) According to Cha Jing writing, around 760 AD, tea drinking was widespread. The book describes how tea plants were grown, the leaves processed, and tea prepared as a beverage. It also describes how tea was evaluated. The book also discusses where the best tea leaves were produced. Teas produced in this period were mainly tea bricks which were often used as currency, especially further from the center of the empire where coins lost their value.
During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), production and preparation of all tea changed. The tea of Song included many loose-leaf styles (to preserve the delicate character favoured by the court society), but a new powdered form of tea emerged. Steaming tea leaves was the primary process used for centuries in the preparation of tea. After the transition from compressed tea to the powdered form, the production of tea for trade and distribution changed once again. The Chinese learned to process tea in a different way in the mid-13th century. Tea leaves were roasted and then crumbled rather than steamed. This is the origin of today's loose teas and the practice of brewed tea. In some villages people still use the ancient technology of trained monkeys to pick tea. Monkeys pick the hardest to get tea leaves from mountains and cliffs.
In 1391, the Ming court issued a decree that only loose tea would be accepted as a "tribute." As a result, loose tea production increased and processing techniques advanced. Soon, most tea was distributed in full-leaf, loose form and steeped in earthenware vessels.
Tea cultivation flourished in India under the British, and today China and India are the largest producers of tea in the world.  After Europe adopted tea as its main hot beverage and China imposed restrictions on its export to the outside world, the British established tea cultivation in the north eastern parts of India. Organised cultivation spread to South India during the first world war years and later to Sri Lanka.
Many features of tea cultivation and processing were standardized during this period, including the undertaking of mechanisation of crops in order to handle ever-increasing global demands. Green tea, which was normally made in China, was improved upon and Black tea manufacturing was set up which enhanced shelf life of tea. This allowed tea to be transported increasingly longer periods in order to reach distant areas.
Darjeeling tea is grown in the foothills of the Himalayas, and is a prized Indian black tea. This tea was marketed with vigorous campaigning by the Royal family and it is still accepted among the best teas of the world.
Assam teas are known for their malty liquors and promoted as "milk teas." A newer process called CTC (Crush, Tear and Curl) was established to handle the huge bulk of the crop harvested during India's rainy season.
Indian teas generally came to be known worldwide as "milk teas," and were in many markets dominant over the lighter green teas coming out of China. The Indian Tea Board took various programmes to protect the interests of the Indian Tea industry and recently GI registration process was taken up by first establishing the Darjeeling CTM (Certification Trade Mark).
The East India Company also had interests along the routes to India from Great Britain. The company cultivated the production of tea in India. Its products were the basis of the Boston Tea Party in Colonial America.
The plantations started by the British were initially taken over by the government in the 1960s but has again being privatised and are now run by 'plantation companies' which own a few 'estates' or tea plantations each.
Sri Lanka is renowned for its high quality tea and as the 3rd biggest tea producing country globally, has a production share of 9% in the international sphere, and one of the world's leading exporters with a share of around 19% of the global demand. The total extent of land under tea cultivation has been assessed at approximately 187,309 hectares.
Ceylon tea is divided into 3 groups as Upcountry, Mid country and Low country tea based on the geography of the land on which it is grown.
The earliest known references to green tea in Japan are in a text written by a Buddhist monk in the 9th century. Tea became a drink of the religious classes in Japan when Japanese priests and envoys, sent to China to learn about its culture, brought tea to Japan. Ancient recordings indicate the first batch of tea seeds were brought by a priest named Saichō (最澄? 767-822) in 805 and then by another named Kūkai (空海? 774-835) in 806. It became a drink of the royal classes when Emperor Saga (嵯峨天皇?), the Japanese emperor, encouraged the growth of tea plants. Seeds were imported from China, and cultivation in Japan began.
In 1191, the famous Zen priest Eisai (栄西? 1141-1215) brought back tea seeds to Kyoto. Some of the tea seeds were given to the priest Myoe Shonin, and became the basis for Uji tea. The oldest tea specialty book in Japan, Kissa Yōjōki (喫茶養生記? How to Stay Healthy by Drinking Tea), was written by Eisai. Eisai was also instrumental in introducing tea consumption to the warrior class, which rose to political prominence after the Heian Period.
Green tea became a staple among cultured people in Japan -- a brew for the gentry and the Buddhist priesthood alike. Production grew and tea became increasingly accessible, though still a privilege enjoyed mostly by the upper classes. The modern tea ceremony developed over several centuries by Zen Buddhist monks under the original guidance of the monk Sen no Rikyū (千 利休? 1522-1591). In fact, both the beverage and the ceremony surrounding it played a prominent role in feudal diplomacy.
In 1738, Soen Nagatani developed Japanese sencha (煎茶?), literally roasted tea, which is an unfermented form of green tea. It is the most popular form of tea in Japan today. In 1835, Kahei Yamamoto developed gyokuro (玉露?), literally jewel dew, by shading tea trees during the weeks leading up to harvesting. At the end of the Meiji period (1868-1912), machine manufacturing of green tea was introduced and began replacing handmade tea.
The first historical record documenting the offering of tea to an ancestral god describes a rite in the year 661 in which a tea offering was made to the spirit of King Suro, the founder of the Geumgwan Gaya Kingdom (42-562). Records from the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) show that tea offerings were made in Buddhist temples to the spirits of revered monks.
The latitude of Korea is high and the climate is unsuitable for tea growing; production of tea is slight, the quality was bad and the taste was unpalatable. The Koreans therefore imported tea leaf, chiefly from Beijing.
During the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), the royal Yi family and the aristocracy used tea for simple rites. The "Day Tea Rite" was a common daytime ceremony, whereas the "Special Tea Rite" was reserved for specific occasions. These terms are not found in other countries. Toward the end of the Joseon Dynasty, commoners joined the trend and used tea for ancestral rites, following the Chinese example based on Zhu Xi's text formalities of Family.
Stoneware was common, ceramic more frequent, mostly made in provincial kilns, with porcelain rare, imperial porcelain with dragons the rarest. The earliest kinds of tea used in tea ceremonies were heavily pressed cakes of black tea, the equivalent of aged pu-erh tea still popular in China. However, importation of tea plants by Buddhist monks brought a more delicate series of teas into Korea, and the tea ceremony. Green tea, "chaksol" or "chugno," is most often served. However other teas such as "Byeoksoryung" Chunhachoon, Woojeon, Jakseol, Jookro, Okcheon, as well as native chrysanthemum tea, persimmon leaf tea, or mugwort tea may be served at different times of the year.
Taiwan is famous for the making of Oolong tea and green tea, as well as many western-styled tea and milk tea with tapioca.
The importation of tea into Britain began in 1660 with the marriage of King Charles II with the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza where she brought to the court the habit of drinking tea . In the same year Samuel Pepys records drinking "a china drink of which I had never drunk before" . It is probable that early imports came via Amsterdam or through sailors on eastern boats .
Regular trade began in Guangzhou (Canton) . Trade was controlled by two monopolies: the Chinese Hongs (trading companies) and the British East India Company . The Hongs acquired tea from 'the tea men' who had an elaborate supply chain into the mountains and provinces where the tea was grown .
The East India Company brought back many products, of which tea was just one, but it was to prove one of the most successful . It was initially promoted as a medicinal beverage or tonic . By the end of the seventeenth century tea was a drink taken by a narrow part of British society, the aristocratic elite . In 1690 nobody would have predicted that by 1750 tea would be the national drink .
The escalation of tea importation and sales over the period 1690 to 1750 is mirrored closely by the increase in importation and sales of cane sugar: the British were not drinking just tea but sweet tea. Thus, two of Britain's trading triangles were to meet within the cup: the sugar sourced from Britain's trading triangle encompassing Britain, Africa and the West Indies and the tea from the triangle encompassing Britain, India and China .
Britain had to pay China for its tea, but China had little need of British goods, so much of it was paid for with silver bullion. Critics of tea at this time would point to the damage caused to Britain's wealth by this loss of bullion . As an alternative, Britain began producing Opium in India and forced China to trade tea for Opium as part of several treaties after the infamous Opium wars. Tea became an important lubricant of Britain's global trade, contributing to Britain's global dominance by the end of the eighteenth century. To this day tea is seen as a symbol of 'Britishness' but also, as well and ironically, a symbol of British Colonialism.
Tea spreads to the world
The earliest record of tea in a more occidental writing is said to be found in the statement of an Arabian traveler, that after the year 879 the main sources of revenue in Canton were the duties on salt and tea. Marco Polo records the deposition of a Chinese minister of finance in 1285 for his arbitrary augmentation of the tea taxes. The travelers Giovanni Batista Ramusio (1559), L. Almeida (1576), Maffei (1588), and Taxiera (1610) also mentioned tea. In 1557, Portugal established a trading port in Macao and word of the Chinese drink "ch'a" spread quickly, but there is no mention of them bringing any samples home. In the early 17th century, a ship of the Dutch East India Company brought the first green tea leaves to Amsterdam from China. Tea was known in France by 1636. It enjoyed a brief period of popularity in Paris around 1648. The history of tea in Russia can also be traced back to the seventeenth century. Tea was first offered by China as a gift to Czar Michael I in 1618. The Russian ambassador tried the drink; he did not care for it and rejected the offer, delaying tea's Russian introduction by fifty years. In 1689, tea was regularly imported from China to Russia via a caravan of hundreds of camels traveling the year-long journey, making it a precious commodity at the time. Tea was appearing in German apothecaries by 1657 but never gained much esteem except in coastal areas such as Ostfriesland. Tea first appeared publicly in England during the 1650s, where it was introduced through coffee houses. From there it was introduced to British Colonies in America and elsewhere.
Potential effects of tea on health
Several health benefits have been claimed and some are supported by independent research.
Etymology and cognates in other languages
The Chinese character for tea is 茶, but it is pronounced differently in the various Chinese dialects. Two pronunciations have made their way into other languages around the world. One is tê, which comes from the Amoy Min Nan dialect, spoken around the port of Xiamen (Amoy). This pronunciation is believed to come from the old words for tea 梌 (tú) or 荼 (tú). The other is chá, used by the Cantonese dialect spoken around the ports of Guangzhou (Canton), Hong Kong, Macau, and in overseas Chinese communities, as well as in the Mandarin dialect of northern China. This term was used in ancient times to describe the first flush harvest of tea. Yet another different pronunciation is zu, used in the Wu dialect spoken around Shanghai.
The derivatives from tê
The derivatives from cha or chai
The Polish word for a tea-kettle is czajnik, which could be derived directly from cha or from the cognate Russian word. However, tea in Polish is herbata, which, as well as Lithuanian arbata, was derived from the Latin herba thea, meaning "tea herb".
It is tempting to correlate these names with the route that was used to deliver tea to these cultures, although the relation is far from simple at times. As an example, the first tea to reach Britain was traded by the Dutch from Fujian, which uses te, and although later most British trade went through Canton, which uses cha, the Fujianese pronunciation continued to be the more popular.
In Ireland, or at least in Dublin, the term cha is sometimes used for "tea", with "tay" as a common pronunciation throughout the land (derived from the Irish Gaelic tae), and char was a common slang term for tea throughout British Empire and Commonwealth military forces in the 19th and 20th centuries, crossing over into civilian usage.
In North America, the word chai is used to refer almost exclusively to the Indian masala chai beverage.
The original pronunciation "cha" in the Cantonese and Mandarin languages has no [j] ending. Therefore it is merely an adaptation of the Mandarin and Cantonese word "cha" in mainly Eurasian languages that do not usually tolerate a syllable that openly ends in "[a]". The different articulations of the word for tea into the two main groups: "teh-derived" (Min Chinese dialects) and "cha-derived" (Mandarin, Cantonese and other non-Min Chinese dialects) is an interesting one, as it reveals the particular Chinese local cultures where non-Chinese nations acquired their tea and "tea cultures". Not surprisingly, India and the Arab world most likely got their tea cultures from the Cantonese or the Southwestern Mandarin speakers, whereas the Russians got theirs from the northern Mandarin speakers. On the contrary, the Western Europeans who copied the Min articulation "teh" probably traded with the Hokkienese while in Southeast Asia. Quite recently, no more than 20 years ago, "chai" entered North American English with a particular meaning: Indian masala black tea. Of course this is not the case in other languages, where "chai" usually just means black tea (as people traditionally drink more black tea than green outside of East Asia). English is thus one of the few languages that allow for the dual articulations of "tea" into a "teh-derived" word and a "cha-derived" one, such as Moroccan colloquial Arabic (Darija): in the case of Moroccan Arabic, "ash-shay" means "generic, or black Middle Eastern tea" whereas "atay" means a specialty tea: Zhejiang or Fujian green tea with fresh mint leaves. The Moroccans are said to have acquired a unique penchant in the Arab world for East Chinese green tea after the ruler Mulay Hassan exchanged some European hostages captured by the Barbary Pirates for a whole ship of Chinese tea. They have thus acquired a word for this special tea different from the generic "ash-shay". see Moroccan tea culture
Perhaps the only place in which a word unrelated to tea is used to describe the beverage is South America (particularly Andean countries), because a similar stimulant beverage, yerba mate, was consumed there long before tea arrived.
In many cultures, tea is often had at social events, such as afternoon tea and the tea party. It may be consumed early in the day to heighten alertness; it contains theophylline and bound caffeine (sometimes called "theine"), although there are also decaffeinated teas. In many cultures such as Arab culture tea is a focal point for social gatherings.
There are tea ceremonies which have arisen in different cultures, Japan's complex, formal and serene one being one of the most well known. Other examples are the Chinese tea ceremony which uses some traditional ways of brewing tea. One form of Chinese tea ceremony is the Gongfu tea ceremony, which typically uses small Yi Xing clay pots and oolong tea.
The traditional method of making a cup of tea is with loose tea placed either directly, or in a tea infuser, into a tea pot and pouring boiling (or very hot depending on the type of tea) water over the tea. In the second half of the 20th century the use of teabags has largely supplanted the use of loose tea in the Western world; this has enabled brewing directly in a cup or mug.
Historically in China, tea is divided into a number of infusions. The first infusion is immediately poured out to wash the tea, and then the second and further infusions are drunk. The third through fifth are nearly always considered the best infusions of tea, although different teas open up differently and may require more infusions of boiling water to bring them to life.
Typically, the best temperature for brewing tea can be determined by its type. Teas that have little or no oxidation period, such as a green or white tea, are best brewed at lower temperatures around 80 °C, while teas with longer oxidation periods should be brewed at higher temperatures around 100 °C.
The amount of tea to be used per amount of water is obviously of critical importance, yet is the subject of some confusion. One reason is to do with knowledge in popular culture (one spoon per person and one for the pot etc), another to do with the varying nature and quality amongst different teas and within the same garden from season to season. One basic recipe may be one slightly heaped teaspoon of tea (about 5 ml) for each 200 ml of water prepared as above. This may be varied according to tea and taste, with a stronger Assam to be drunk with milk prepared with more leaf, and a more delicate high grown tea such as a Darjeeling prepared with a little less (as the stronger mid-flavours will overwhelm the champagne notes).
Another way to taste a tea, throughout its entire process, is to add hot water to a cup containing the leaves and after about 30 seconds to taste the tea. As the tea leaves unfold ("the Agony of the Leaves") they give up various parts of themselves to the water and thus the taste evolves. Continuing this from the very first flavours to the time beyond which the tea is quite stewed will allow an appreciation of the tea throughout its entire length.
Premium or delicate tea
Adding milk to tea
The addition of milk to tea was first mentioned in 1680 by the epistolist Madame de Sévigné. Many teas are traditionally drunk with milk. These include Indian chai, and British tea blends. These teas tend to be very hearty varieties which can be tasted through the milk, such as Assams, or the East Friesian blend. Milk is thought to neutralise remaining tannins and reduce acidity.
The order in which to make a cup of tea is a much-debated area. Some say that it is preferable to add the milk before the tea, as the high temperature of freshly brewed tea can denature the proteins found in fresh milk, similar to the change in taste of UHT milk, resulting in an inferior tasting beverage. Others insist that it is better to add the milk after brewing the tea, as most teas need to be brewed as close to boiling as possible. The addition of milk chills the beverage during the crucial brewing phase, meaning that the delicate flavour of a good tea cannot be fully appreciated. By adding the milk afterwards, it is easier to dissolve sugar in the tea and also to ensure that the desired amount of milk is added, as the colour of the tea can be observed.
In Britain and some Commonwealth countries, the order in which the milk and the tea enter the cup is often considered an indicator of social class. Persons of working class background are supposedly more likely to add the milk first and pour the tea in afterwards, whereas persons of middle and upper class backgrounds are more likely to pour the tea in first and then add milk. This is said to be a continuing practice from a time when porcelain (the only ceramic which could withstand boiling water) was only within the purchasing range of the rich - the less wealthy had access only to poor quality earthenware, which would crack unless milk was added first in order to lower the temperature of the tea as it was poured in.
A recent medical study found that many healthful effects of tea are lost through the addition of milk.
Other popular additives to tea include sugar or honey, lemon, and fruit jams. In colder regions such as Mongolia, Tibet and Nepal, butter is added to provide necessary calories. Tibetan butter tea contains rock salt and dre (yak) butter, which is then churned vigorously in a cylindrical vessel closely resembling a butter churn. The flavour of this beverage is more akin to a rich broth than to tea, and may be described as an acquired taste to those unused to drinking it. The same may be said for salt tea, which is consumed in some cultures in the Hindu-Kush region of northern Pakistan, and probably in other areas as well.
The flavour of the tea can also be altered by pouring it from different heights, resulting in varying degrees of oxidisation. This high-altitude pouring is used principally by people in Northern Africa (e.g. Morocco, Mali, ...) and serves to positively alter the flavour of the tea. In certain cultures the tea is given different names depending on the height it was poured form, e.g. in Mali, when depending on the amount of oxidation done the tea is called respectively "la vie", "l'amour", "la mort".
Economics of Tea
Most tea consumed outside East Asia is produced on large plantations in India or Sri Lanka, destined to be sold to large businesses. Opposite this large-scale industrial production there are many small "gardens", sometimes minuscule plantations, that produce highly sought-after teas prized by gourmets. These teas are both rare and expensive, and can be compared to some of the most expensive wines in this respect.
In 2003, world tea production was 3.15 million tonnes annually. The primary producer was India, followed by China (the order has since reversed), followed by Sri Lanka and Kenya. China is the only country today to produce in industrial quantaties all different kinds of tea (white tea, yellow tea, green tea, blue-green tea, red tea and black tea)
Organic Tea production
Production of organic tea is rising ; 3,500 tonnes of organic tea were grown in 2003. The majority of this tea (about 75%)is sold in France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States
The amount of tea produced is rising but exports are declining. In 2003, 1.4 million tonnes of tea were exported, a decline of 2.6% compared to 2002. This is primarily due to the strong drop in exports from India and Indonesia.
The principal importers are the CIS, the EU, Pakistan, the United States, Egypt and Japan. In 2003, 1.39 million tons were imported – an increase of 1% over 2002.
The large quantaties produced in 2003 did not greatly affect the prices, relatively stable in that year.
In 1907, American tea merchant Thomas Sullivan began distributing samples of his tea in small silk bags with a drawstring. Consumers noticed that they could simply leave the tea in the bag, and better still re-use it with fresh tea. However, the potential of this distribution/packaging method would not be fully realized until later on. During World War II, tea was rationed. In 1953 (after rationing in the UK ended), Tetley launched the tea bag to the UK and it was an immediate success. The convenience of the tea bag revolutionized how the British drink their tea: the traditional tea pot has given way to making tea in a cup with a tea bag.
Tea leaves are packed into a small (usually paper) tea bag. It is easy and convenient, making tea bags popular for many people today. However, the tea used in tea bags has an industry name - it is called "fannings" or "dust" and is the waste product produced from the sorting of higher quality loose leaf tea. It is commonly held among tea aficionados that this method provides an inferior taste and experience. The paper used for the bag can also be tasted by many, which can detract from the tea's flavor. Because fannings and dust are a lower quality of the tea to begin with, the tea found in tea bags is less finicky when it comes to brewing time and temperature.
Additional reasons why bag tea is considered less well-flavored include:
Pyramid tea bags
The "pyramid tea bag" has an unusual design that addresses two of connoisseurs' arguments against paper tea bags. Its three-dimensional, pyramidal shape allows more room for tea leaves to expand while steeping, and because the bags are made of nylon mesh, they do not leave flavours (such as paper) in the tea. These characteristics let the delicate flavors of gourmet selections (such as white teas) shine through; however, the bags have been criticized as being environmentally unfriendly, since the synthetic material does not break down in landfills as loose tea leaves and paper tea bags do.
The tea leaves are packaged loosely in a canister or other container. Rolled gunpowder tea leaves, which resist crumbling, are commonly vacuum packed for freshness in aluminized packaging for storage and retail. The portions must be individually measured by the consumer for use in a cup, mug, or teapot. This allows greater flexibility, letting the consumer brew weaker or stronger tea as desired, but convenience is sacrificed. Strainers, "tea presses", filtered teapots, and infusion bags are available commercially to avoid having to drink the floating loose leaves and to prevent over-brewing. A more traditional, yet perhaps more effective way around this problem is to use a three-piece lidded teacup, called a gaiwan. The lid of the gaiwan can be tilted to decant the leaves while pouring the tea into a different cup for consumption.
A lot of tea such as Pu-erh tea is still compressed for transport, storage, and aging convenience. The tea is prepared and steeped by first loosening leaves off the compressed cake using a small knife. Compressed teas can usually be stored for longer periods of time without "spoilage" when compared with loose leaf tea.
In recent times, "instant teas" are becoming popular, similar to freeze dried instant coffee. Instant tea was developed in the 1930s, but not commercialized until the late 1950s, and is only more recently becoming popular. These products often come with added flavours, such as vanilla, honey or fruit, and may also contain powdered milk. Similar products also exist for instant iced tea, due to the convenience of not requiring boiling water. Tea connoisseurs tend to criticise these products for sacrificing the delicacies of tea flavor in exchange for convenience.
This latest method of marketing tea was first launched in 1981 in Japan.
Tea has a shelf-life that varies with storage conditions and type of tea. Black tea has a longer shelf-life than green tea. Some teas such as flower teas may go bad in a month or so. An exception, Pu-erh tea improves with age. Tea stays freshest when stored in a dry, cool, dark place in an air-tight container. Black tea stored in a bag inside a sealed opaque canister may keep for two years. Green tea loses its freshness more quickly, usually in less than a year. Gunpowder tea, its leaves being tightly rolled, keeps longer than the more open-leafed Chun Mee tea. Storage life for all teas can be extended by using desiccant packets or oxygen absorbing packets, and by vacuum sealing.
When storing green tea, discreet use of refrigeration or freezing is recommended. In particular, drinkers need to take precautions against temperature variation.
Improperly stored tea may lose flavor, acquire disagreeable flavors or odors from other foods, or become moldy.
- The United Kingdom Tea Council
- Tea FAQ (rec.food.drink.tea)
- The Tea Man's Tea Talk
- International Tea Day-December 15
- Main Sorts Of Tea Discovered
- Tea Leaves, Francis Leggett & Co., 1900, from Project Gutenberg
- The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura from Project Gutenberg and a PDF version (2.8 MB) typeset in TeX
- The Little Tea Book, by Arthur Gray, 1903, from Project Gutenberg
Tea history, culture and local specifics
- Tea News - Discover the health benefits of tea with a compilation of latest news
- Green Tea - Discover the health benefits of Green Tea
- Turkish Tea
- The Industrial Revolution and Tea-drinking
- Russian Tea How to describes the Russian method for making tea and elaborates on the surrounding culture and equipment (notably samovar)
- British Standard 6008:1980 (aka ISO 3103:1980) Method for preparation of a liquor of tea for use in sensory tests.
- George Orwell: A Nice Cup of Tea An essay by author George Orwell describing his own methods of making tea.
- How to make a perfect cup of tea News Release from Royal Society of Chemistry
- A humorous article on making tea An excerpt from The Salmon of Doubt by Douglas Adams
- Tea, In Our Time (BBC Radio 4), 29 April 2004.
- A 45 minute programme hosted by Melvyn Bragg and with three academic guests discussing tea as the British national drink. The programme is available to listen to in Real Audio format.be-x-old:Гарбата