Amazing Tea Traveling. Tea History and Tea Traditions
Tea traditions have become a part of many people’s cultural background and also daily routine. It seems tea has always been there and always will be, like a true cultural and gastronomic wonder of the history which still has some magic to uncover.
Nowadays the tea industry around the world is one of the richest, though we are all aware of the financial issues which still haunt us. More than three billion dollars a year represents the estimate profit of the tea industry. Tea is grown and produced in more than 40 countries worldwide. Every year, more than 3 million tons of tea is produced around the world, most of it in Asian countries, of course.
Misconceptions about tea
Most of us are accustomed to one big mistake when it comes to tea and we aren’t really aware that we are doing it. We tend to call “tea” every hot or cold drink made of boiled water and all sorts of medicinal or aromatic plants. Well, to be precise and correct all those drinks are called infusions and tea is actually made from only one plant, generally known as the tea plant.
There are about 200 different species of the tea plant around the world, the most common ones being: Camellia Sinensis (China tea) and Camellia Assamica (Assam tea, Indian tea). I guess you are all curious to find out what are the main differences between the two tea plant varieties. Camellia Sinensis is actually the small leaf version of the tea plant. Its home is in the high mountain regions of China and Japan. And of course you guessed it that Camellia Assamica is the large leaf version of the tea plant. This variety prefers the moist, tropical areas of Northeast India and the Szechuan and Yunnan provinces of China.
How do we recognize the famous tea plant? Well it is that simple: The plant produces dark green, shiny leaves and small, white blossoms.
Tea’s Origins and Birth Myths
The Chinese people originally called tea with another three letters word and that first version was “Kia”. It isn’t too familiar, isn’t it? The first name for tea didn’t remain exactly the same as the time and history rolled ahead. During the course of the 6th century AD the tea name evolved into “Cha” and, on its arrival in the West it became “Té”, which is still used in many countries worldwide.
Tea traditions tell us a story about how this wonderful beverage was discovered. It was discovered by accident by the Chinese Emperor, Shan Nong, in 2737 B.C. The Emperor had a habit of boiling his drinking water. One day while he was relaxing in his garden, a few tea leaves fell by chance into his boiling water which then gave the water a rich, alluring aroma. After drinking it, the emperor discovered it to be refreshing and energizing. He immediately gave the order that tea bushes should be planted in the gardens of his palace. That seems to be the birth of the custom of brewing fresh tea leaves in hot water.The story quickly spread and drinking tea became a tradition appreciated by the Chinese aristocracy at the time.
In fact before the tea tradition of infusing leaves as a drink came into practice, indigenous tribes in the mountains southwest of China used to chew tea leaves for medicinal purposes. In Thailand, boiled or steamed tea leaves were seasoned with garlic and salt and served with foods like dried fish or pork.
As navigators, sailors, and missionaries traveled to China in search of its amazing treasures which the old legends and myths were spreading around, the custom of taking and consuming tea began to slowly impact those in Western Europe, especially those in England. Tea was gaining more and more land without war or anything of that sordid violence other customs were introduced in and made popular worldwide. Tea became number one drink for English people and from them it traveled to other parts of the world.
Tea Traditions in Japan
Let’s travel a little more close to China, in Japan where tea was first served in the Buddhist temples to monks, priests, and the ruling class who attended special religious and purification rituals. These temple tea practices were gradually adapted to incorporate aspects of Japanese culture as they were passed down from generation to generation during several hundred years, these temple tea practices were gradually adapted to incorporate aspects of Japanese culture, becoming one of the most known tea traditions around the world. Eventually these ceremonies were codified by the priest Sen Rikyu in the mid 1500′s. Today he is regarded as the founder of the Japanese Tea Ceremony and three of its schools.
India and the Birth of the Darjeeling Tea Variety
India is actually the second greatest exporter of tea in the world, so tea traditions are part of this country’s cultural background. Many varieties of tea are produced in India. Darjeeling, known as “the champagne of teas” grows in the foothills of the Himalayas. Only at this altitude and micro climate it is possible to produce a slow growth of leaves which will enhance flavor, featuring such delicate, complex power. Assam teas, more malty and full–bodied, are grown in the Northeast of India. The Nilgiri highlands of southern India are known for fine, fragrant, fruity teas.
Tea Traditions in the United Kingdom
Leaving China aside, Ireland and the United Kingdom are the among the most important tea consumers in the world. Tea time soon became a well established tradition in the English society. The tea tradition comes from the early nineteenth century, when a typical day’s dining for English aristocracy consisted of two meals per day – a late breakfast and a late dinner, both accompanied by this wonderful beverage. Middle and lower classes have a “high” tea later in the day, at 5:00 or 6:00. The names derive from the actual height of the tables on which the typical English meals are served. Low tea is served on low and small tables which we would call “coffee tables.” High tea is served on higher tables, known as working tables.
Tea Traditions in the USA
We can say that tea was an important contributor to the American war of independence. Paradoxically the English tea tradition was the one which actually terminated UK’s connections with its colonies in North America. At the famous Boston Tea Party in 1773, three shiploads of tea were dumped into the harbor in protest against the high taxes the British Government imposed for all the tea imported into the colonies.
Ice tea is one of the most appreciated beverages in USA. The summer heat and humidity has determined tea producers and sellers to serve the beverage with ice, just to get people to try it. In the 100 years since this first marketing attempt of selling cold tea with ice, consumption of iced tea in the US has grown to over 40 billion cups per year.
Tea has traveled a lot until becoming what we know of it today. It has made people share stories, myths, legends, traditions and it has stir history into a direction or another. Tea is tasty, tea represents tradition and tea was and still is very much popular. I myself cannot really picture a day without my usual cup of tea and biscuit. What about you? Share with us your favorite story about tea.
We’ll soon launch our new incredible tasty tea blends. Join us, there are lots of special gifts waiting for you.