“Winston, if I was your wife, I’d poison your tea,” Lady Nancy Astor said to Winston Churchill, coldly. “Nancy, if I were your husband, I’d drink it,” he said.
“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” C. S. Lewis told a friend.
“I am in no way interested in immortality, but only in the taste of tea,” Lu T’ung told his disciples.
And it took Albert Einstein to figure out why tea settles in the centre of your cup when swirled instead of at the edges where you’d expect from centripetal force. He solved this centuries old philosophers’ enigma in 1926. And now, his “tea-theory” is saving the lives of thousands through applied red blood cell and plasma centrifugation.
Throughout history, princesses were married to tea. Buddhas reached enlightenment to tea. And warring nations and enemy emperors made peace to a cup of the same. Each drop represents, not only a journey of many physical miles, but the endeavour and tradition of generations of families and dynasties that, as legend has it, began as early as 2737 BC, entirely by accident.
The ancient Emperor Shen Nong was a wise leader, known for his knowledge and passion for science, the arts, and herbalism. He advocated the boiling of water prior to drinking for the preservation of good health- thousands of years before western science recognised the benefits of the practise- and, when resting upon a long journey, had several of his men boil some water for consumption. As Shen Nong’s men were boiling the water, a leaf from a nearby camellia bush fell into the water infusing it with colour and a pleasing aroma.
The Emperor, curious about the mixture’s properties, and confident of its safety due to his experience as a herbalist, drank the fluid and revered it for its taste and invigorating qualities. Though this story may largely be attributed to myth, largely redolent of similar stories regarding the birth of many Chinese spiritual sects, cultures and martial arts, it underlies the drink’s primacy in China’s culture and traditions.
In spite of many sophisticated advancements in the manufacture, preparation and agriculture, the final drink remains a combination of water and two basic types of the Camellia bush indigenous to both China and India. And, is seems, the wisdom of the ancient Chinese has finally been appreciated by the modern scientists of the west.
Although tea had been simply regarded as a daily pleasure, often drunk socially for over a thousand years, the story of Shen Nong imbibing the plant for his health seems incredibly prescient. Now, tea, in each and of all of its forms, has been proven in innumerable scientific studies to have profound and varied health benefits. Even the common, processed, black tea drunk in huge quantities across Europe and the United States has been shown to help protect the lungs from cancers and to lower blood pressure.
It is with elegant inevitability, however, that the modern scientific method has demonstrated that the most potent health benefits are derived from those teas which have been subjected to the least processing. “White Tea” in particular has been demonstrated to have powerful anti-cancer properties, whereas the “Oolong” tea, has proved to be beneficial in lowering cholesterol, and the meticulously prepared “Pu-erh” tea is not only able to help manage cholesterol, but has shown potential weight-control properties.
What is consistent across all forms of tea, however, is that hand-picked, organic, whole leaf teas, not only provide vastly superior flavour to mass processed brands, but are also more effective and natural healers of the human body.
Such premium grade teas are, then, not merely an intoxicating sensual pleasure, they are a link to the wisdom of generations; to countless families and healers; to the fortune and genius of an Emperor, millennia before we were born. An opportunity to share in their experience, even in the most hectic of lives, and stand atop the silent mountain of the history of tea.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, “I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.”