Below is a brief summary of tea history, origins, processing and classifications, quality, presumed health benefits and caffeine. Liif provides more detailed information on tea at our customized destination events.
A popular myth says that the legendary emperor of China and Father of Chinese Agriculture, Shen Nung (or Shennong), accidentally discovered tea around 2737 BC when the wind blew tea leaves into the bowl of boiled water he was drinking. The flavor and rejuvenating properties were unlike anything he had tried before, and through his influence tea cultivation and consumption spread across the country. In the late 500s, Japanese monks introduced tea to Japan at the same time as Buddhism. In both countries, tea was at first rare, costly, and reserved for male aristocrats and important Buddhist priests.
Tea reached Europe in the early 1600s and was all the rage for the well-to-do and eventually other classes. When the Dutch introduced tea to the American Colonists, it became equally as popular until the locals became frustrated with Britain's tax on tea and other goods. On December 16, 1773 a secret organization called the Sons of Liberty protested by dressing as indians and throwing 45 tons of the British East India Company's tea from ships into the Boston Harbor. The Boston Tea Party is perhaps the largest in the world, valued at $1.87 million in USD 2007 and thought to have sparked the American Revolution.
While tea continued to grow more popular in Asia, Europe and America, tea cultivation in Bhutan and India began in the late 1700s and a different variety of the tea plant was discovered in India. Tea was then introduced in Sri Lanka during the 1840s and 50s, just in time to replace the island’s coffee industry that a blight destroyed during the 1870s.
Iced tea and tea bags were both accidental hits created in the United States. An Englishman named Richard Blechynden at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair found fame and fortune by adding ice to the hot black tea he was trying to promote during a heat wave. Sweet (iced) tea wasn’t entirely new but he made it popular. Around 1908, Thomas Sullivan, a New York City importer, began sending his clients tea samples in small silk muslin bags rather than more expensive tins to save money, but his clients steeped the tea right in the bags - and asked for more.
While iced tea and tea bags were being mass produced, tea parties were also growing in popularity in England and the United States. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, finer hotels like the Plaza in New York and the Ritz in Boston began offering elegant tea services and later afternoon dances that became hot spots for younger ladies and gentle- men to meet and socialize.
Intriguing traditions, modern conveniences and health trends have been key to growing tea consumption in many parts of the world, including the United States. We see this ongoing growth as a positive lifestyle evolution with enough variety for all to enjoy.
All tea comes from the plant Camellia sinensis which grows in roughly three dozen countries’ tropical and subtropical climates. Thanks to their unique locations and climate conditions, each region within each country produces teas with unique colors, flavors and aromas. Four of the most renowned tea-growing countries are China, India, Japan, and Sri Lanka. Though any classification of tea can be produced in each of these countries, China and Japan are known more for their green teas while India and Sri Lanka are known for their blacks.
Processing and Classifications
Teas are typically classified as being white, yellow, green, blue or black, depending on how the leaves and buds are processed. Green teas are minimally processed with the leaves typically being plucked, steamed, heated, dried and rolled. Black tea manufacturing is more elaborate; once plucked, the leaves are typically withered, dried, rolled/ crushed/broken and fired. This black process promotes oxidation (not fermentation) for a very different color and flavor than that of green tea. Other classifications of teas are partially oxidized and involve modified productions steps that fall between those of greens and blacks. Some teas are made into different forms such as matcha (a power- like tea) or cakes (a hard, brick-like mass), but they still fit into one of the classifications.
Like wine or art, tea quality is really about personal taste. There are certain factors that influence quality, however, such as:
Presumed Health Benefits
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not issued a qualified health claim for tea. Since its discovery, many have considered tea a healthful drink and thousands of studies examining its affects on cancers, cardiovascular diseases, neurological disorders, oral health, immune function, osteoporosis, obesity, skin and other ailments have had positive results. Many reputable research organizations around the world continue to examine the possible healthful benefits of tea and are optimistic about finding even stronger links to health. At Liif, we stay apprised of such research and discuss the exciting developments at our tea events.
Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant found in over 60 beans, leaves and fruit. It has been consumed since the Stone Age for mental stimulation, easing fatigue and mood elevation. Today, it is the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive substance and remains legal and unregulated in most populations, including the U.S.
The amount of caffeine in tea can vary significantly depending on numerous factors related to the tea bush, leaves, harvest, processing and preparation. A very general guideline to consider is that tea often has between five and nine milligrams of caffeine per ounce, while coffee has about 22. In addition, green leaf tea typically has less caffeine than black.
To remove approximately 50% of the caffeine from tea, steep the leaves for 30 seconds, dispose of the prepared tea water (liquor) and then re-steep the same leaves to taste. Herbal drinks have no caffeine and may a good option for those that are very sensitive to the stimulant.