Tea was an accidental discovery in 2737 BC. Legend has it that leaves from a tree dropped into Emperor Shen Nung’s cup of boiling water; the servant had boiled the water for hygienic reasons before the emperor was to drink it. But this time the water was turned brown by the wayward leaves. Being a scientist, the emperor was curious and decided to try some of this new liquid. He found the liquid aromatic and refreshing. Since that serendipitous beginning, tea has been part of many cultures down through the years. Tea moves to Japan via Buddhist Priests 2000 years after the beginnings of tea, Buddhist priests traveling between Japan and China introduced this drink to Japan. The priests brought tea seeds back to be cultivated in Japan. This was such a success that tea quickly became an integral part of Japanese life.

Japanese Tea Ceremony

The Japanese Tea Ceremony was soon perfected with the help of Ch’a Ching (The Tea Book, written by Chinese Scholar Lu Yu). Tea Leaps to Europe through Trade Tea reaches Europe during the 1600’s, with credit being claimed by both the Portuguese and the Dutch. The Portuguese with their advance navy, created trade routes to China and brought back tea to Portugal. From Lisbon, a seaport of Portugal, the Dutch East India Company transported the tea to Holland, France and Germany. Soon the Dutch were trading directly with the Chinese. This beverage was initially popular among the wealthy, but soon become prevalent in Russia and England as their beverage of choice. Tea in America In the mid 1600’s, the Dutch were actively involved in trade with the Western world. Peter Stuyvesant was the first to bring tea to the colonists of America. These settlers were heavy volume tea drinkers; they consumed more tea than all of England at that time. This fact led to one of America’s most famous events, the Boston Tea Party. The British Government mistakenly thought that they could excessively raise the tax on the importing of tea because many Americans were hooked on this drink. Instead, the result was the Boston Tea Party, an event that led to the American Revolution.

The Health Benefits of Tea

Scientific studies are finding that tea is rich in the plant substances known as flavonoids, which function as antioxidants that neutralize free radicals that can damage cells and lead to diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Researchers from several countries have presented evidence that suggests that black teas, green teas and oolong teas, have a protective capability against oral, lung, colon and other cancers. Green teas especially, with more than thirty polyphenols, have a unique beneficial effect on the human system. These polyphenols are also found in fruits and vegetables and act as antioxidants like vitamins C, E, and beta carotene and may reduce serum cholesterol and the risk of heart disease and stroke. Although the healthful effects of teas have been known to countless generations, recent research shows that drinking tea both black and green, can lead to a long and healthy life. In addition to being a soothing, calming beverage, tea is reported to aid digestion, strengthen the immune system, and reduce the risk of heart disease, all of which play a role in healthy aging. Recent studies in the United States, China and Japan found that drinking green tea inhibits esophageal cancer as well as other types of tumors. Other studies have shown that regular green tea consumption can result in lower incidence of several types of cancers. One possible explanation for this seems to be that the compounds in tea inhibit the formation action of cancer causing substances, such as nitrosamines, which are the by product of cooking meats and fish. In addition to other dietary and lifestyle factors, tea has been shown to contribute to a healthy heart. By inhibiting the absorption of cholesterol in the digestive tract, tea helps prevent the formation of unwanted clots which may cause a heart attack or stroke. All types of tea black, green and oolong, contain some caffeine, although the amounts vary. Green tea, which is not fermented, has about one-third the caffeine per cup of black tea, which is fully fermented. Oolong is semi-fermented and has about half as much caffeine as black tea. Coffee by contrast, has about twice as much caffeine as black tea. Tea Manufacturing Whether a tea leaf ends up being called black (fermented), green (unfermented), or Oolong (semi-fermented) is determined during the manufacturing process.

The Process of Making Tea

Tea manufacturing is a matter of skilled manual labor. BLACK TEA To create black tea (or red tea, as it is known in China for the beautiful liquor color it produces), the leaves are plucked and then treated in a four-step process:

Withering removes moisture from the freshly plucked leaf, so that it can be rolled. Leaves are spread uniformly on trays or racks in a cool room for 18 to 24 hours. By the end of this stage, the leaves have lost one-third to one-half of their weight through evaporation and are soft and pliable. Rolling the leaf, the second step, readies it for transformation. This breaks apart the cells in the leaf, releasing enzymes that will interact with air and cause oxidation, also known as fermentation.

Fermentation changes the chemical structure of the tea leaf, allowing key flavor characteristics to emerge. (It does not, however, make tea an alcoholic beverage.) The rolled leaves are spread on cement or tile floors and tables in a cool, humid room. They are carefully monitored for the next one to five hours for proper color and pungency. Firing is the step that stops fermentation. The leaves are placed in hot pans similar to woks, or in large modern dryers where a constant temperature of 120 degrees F can be maintained. The leaves turn black and lose all but three percent of their original moisture. Improper firing can cause off-color, a loss of flavor and aroma, blistering, mold, and spoilage. Finally, the tea is sorted, graded, and packed in wooden chests that have been lined with foil to prevent the intrusion of unwelcome flavors and aromas. GREEN TEA Leaves intended for green tea are plucked in the same manner as black tea. They are then manufactured in three stages completed in a single day:

Panfiring (or steaming) occurs immediately after the leaves are plucked. The leaves are placed in a metal pan over a hot flame to render them soft and pliable. The sudden exposure to heat destroys enzymes that would otherwise lead to oxidation.

Rolling the leaves on heated trays to reduce their moisture content is the next step. The process is done with the fingers and palms, and sometimes with the entire forearm up to the elbow.

Firing in large mechanical dryers is the final stage of drying. Fired green tea retains only two percent of its moisture. Some green teas produced for export are rolled and fired several times; although this increases their shelf life, it may also impair their taste and character. Green tea is then sorted by leaf size and packed. The finest and most delicate grades are often put into metal tins or vacuum-packed to preserve their freshness.

OOLONG This process, whose name in Chinese means “black dragon”, was developed in the Wuyi Mountains in the Fujian province. It combines elements of both fermented and unfermented processes. The leaves are picked just as they reach their peak and processed immediately. Withering and a brief fermentation are combined, for a total of four to five hours in direct sunlight. The leaves are spread three or four inches deep in large bamboo baskets and shaken frequently to bruise the leaf edges, making them oxidize faster than the centers. This stage is halted when the leaves give off a characteristic fragrance, often compared to apples, orchids, or peaches. Firing halts fermentation when it is about half complete. Baskets full of leaves are moved in and out of the flames of a charcoal fire. Finally, the tea is sorted for size and color and packed into foil lined wooden chests for transport. Loose leaf tea brewed in a teapot makes the best tasting tea. Warm the pot first. This helps the brewing process by maintaining the brewing temperature for longer, to extract more flavor from the tea. It is recommended to use one teaspoon of loose tea per person, plus one for the pot.

Preparing Your Tea

Use freshly drawn water and boiling water to make the tea. Water which is “off the boil” does not allow the tea to brew properly. When water is re-boiled, or stands for a while, it loses oxygen which prevents the full flavor of the tea being released. Brew for 3-5 minutes, shorter times will not reveal the full flavor and the quality of the tea. Longer brewing will result in a bitter tasting tea as the chemical tanning will start to be extracted from the tea leaves. Stir the tea in the pot once or twice while it is brewing. Using tea bags follow the same directions as for loose tea. You will get best results brewing in a pot. If you brew in a cup, brew for a much shorter time, 1 – 2 minutes.