We like our blog to address tea drinkers at all levels – from those who have been lifelong imbibers to those who are just beginning their exploration of this popular beverage. So, we are presenting some little known tea facts for those new to tea. We understand that some tea drinkers may already be aware of most of these details already.
Dutch First Brought Tea to North America
The story of the Boston Tea Party makes people think that it was the British who first brought tea to North America. However, the Dutch not only introduced tea to their country and other European countries, they also brought tea with them to their “New World” settlements, including the one originally called New Amsterdam (renamed by the British to New York City).
Lapsang Souchong Came About Thanks to Soldiers
The origin of Lapsang Souchong, a favorite tea for many, is a bit fuzzy, sort of like genmaicha, with stories abounding. One story says that tea farmers in the Xingcu village had harvested leaves and were in the middle of processing them in their “tea factory” (not quite what we would call a factory — no big machinery) when the Emperor’s soldiers came through their village on the way to battle. They needed a place to camp for awhile and took over the building where the tea leaves were sitting. After they left, the tea farmers rushed in to try to save their tea crop from total destruction. They needed to finish the drying process more quickly than usual and so lit wood fires using pine logs and “smoked” the tea leaves. The tea went to market and became a big hit! Well, that’s what the story says, anyway.
Tea as a Form of Currency
Money hasn’t always been gold, silver, copper, and nickel coins, or specially printed pieces of paper, or those plastic cards, or even things like PayPal and Bitcoin. Sometimes, actually products that were in sufficient high demand were used. Salt was one such product. So was tea. In Siberia, Mongolia, Tibet, China, and nearby areas, bricks of tea were used as a means of exchange, making them in effect a form of currency. They were more practical than metal coins since they could be consumed if needed. This practice continued up to World War II. One drawback was a condition called fluorosis (where fluorine in the tea bricks got into the body and attacked bones and teeth). (About the same time, salt was used for currency in Africa.)
One Plant, Many Teas
There are hundreds of tea types out there, in about five or six categories (white, yellow, green, oolong, black, pu-erh, and others according to the different tea vendors), and they all come from the same basic plant: Camellia sinensis. This plant is related to what we know as camellias, rhododendrons, and azaleas. It bears a similar blossom. There are two main varietals: Camellia sinensis sinensis and Camellia sinensis assamica. There are hundreds of sub-varietals, clonals, and even what some consider to be a third main varietal (Camellia sinensis cambodiensis, aka “the Java bush”).
Tea Leaf Reading Is a Lasting Art
In Asia, readers of tea leaves are just as respected as astrologers. Reading tea leaves (or in some places coffee grounds) has traditionally been practiced in many countries by the women in the family, most often at gatherings of family and friends. The shapes of the tea leaf pieces left in the bottom of the tea cups (dating way back before teabags and strainers were in vogue) would draw the imaginations of tea drinkers. They could see images in those leaf configurations and wondered if they had meaning. Things developed from there. Gypsies brought tea leaf reading to Europe but with such flamboyancy that the art achieved a reputation as more entertainment. Modern readers have brought a more serious air back to the art.
Contrary to what an article headline stated not too long ago, tea drinking is not making people fat. Tea is mostly water and therefore has practically zero calories. Of course, the article itself made the point that people add things to their tea such as milk, sugar, honey, and various fruits — all of which do add calories. They also tend to eat sweet treats as part of their tea time. However, overindulging with additives such as milk, sugar and honey can be a source of weight gain. If you want to drink tea all day, consider teas that are served just as they are without the additives, or use a low-cal additive such as a little lemon.
Tea’s Bleach: Lemon
Speaking of lemons (probably the fruit used most often to enhance tea flavor), they can tend to make colors appear lighter since they have bleaching capabilities. You can find an array of articles online showing how lemon juice can be used to light your skin and hair color. So, it’s no surprise that an ordinarily dark reddish brown tea such as Assam will lighten to more of an orangey hue when lemon is added. Something to show your kids. Maybe they can use it as a science project!
Closest to Fresh-Picked
One of the long-standing stories about tea is that of the tea leaves falling off of a Camellia Sinensis bush in a pot of boiling water of a Chinese scholar named Shennong. Since then tea leaves have been processed in an increasing number of ways, some coming about through happenstance and others by design. Even so, there are some teas that are as close to fresh-picked as you can get without harvesting them yourself. White teas fall into this category. They are handled delicately to preserve the tiny silvery “hairs” on the tender shoots. What you taste is what nature put there for the most part.
Moisture In, Moisture Out!
Tea plants need moisture (from rain, dew, and irrigation) to grow, as any plant does, but most of this water is removed out of the leaves during a processing stage called “withering” and even more during “drying” (pan-fired, roasted, etc.). I have seen some claims that as much as 92% of the moisture is removed. Then, you put moisture back in the tea leaves during steeping. Sort of a moisture revolving door. Full leaf teas can put on quite a show this way, with the leaves plumping back to their original shape.
There you have it. Some tea knowledge to store away for later in the recesses of your mind. We hope it helps you enjoy your teas more fully. Cheers!
See the links on our blog to our store to shop for many fine teas.