Thinking about the ancient origins of tea, it is easy to conjure up the archetypal image of an idyllic Far East, beautifully robed people gathered around low tables among the cherry trees. Legend has it that it all started in China, when the leaf of a tree fell into the emperor’s boiling water. He tasted it and found it quite pleasing indeed.
As all good things are eventually shared, so too was this excellent concoction that soon spread throughout the world. So in demand this herb became that, in 1773, protests over its excessive taxation eventually led to the American Revolutionary War, which led to the United States gaining independence from Great Britain. And it wasn’t the only war to be fought over tea. The British engaged in two more disputes with China over the tea trade.
Types of tea
There are many types of tea, all of which can be grouped into two categories: those that contain theine (similar to caffeine, still a stimulant but with different properties) and those that do not, which are called herbal teas. They are made not from leaves, but rather from dried herbs, fruits, and flowers. The theine group includes green tea, black tea, oolong tea, white tea, and rooibos (red) tea. They all come from the Camellia sinensis tea plant. White tea is derived from the young leaves of this tree, while black tea is made from the dried leaves. The drier the leaves, the more theine it contains.
Each culture that has adopted tea has also made its own contribution to the rituals of this great beverage. For example, India gave us chai tea, which consists of black tea, star anise, vanilla, cardamom, ginger, pepper, and cloves. The English popularized Earl Gray, which is black tea flavored with bergamot oil. The Japanese have turned the service of tea into an artform in itself.
There is an endless universe of fascinating details to explore. Perhaps this article will find you just like that little leaf found the emperor’s cup, and spark a bit of curiosity and enthusiasm for tea.