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The Origin of Tea, Its History and Varieties

A short history of tea

The Chinese Emperor, Chen Nung, is believed to have discovered tea several thousand years ago. According to legend, some leaves from a nearby bush blew into his bowl of boiling water as he was resting in its shade. Tempted by the fragrance of the tea-infused water, the Emperor took a sip. And thus, tea was born.

In the early days, tea was used by the Chinese as a herbal remedy. By the third century BC, the people of China had started to drink it for pleasure. They began to cultivate it, and introduced processing methods as a means of preserving the fresh leaves.

In around 780 BC, the Chinese started experimenting with the fermentation of green tea, in an attempt to find new varieties. The result was the discovery of black tea: a drink that rose to fame when it was later rediscovered and cultivated in India.

Different Varieties

In many respects, tea resembles wine. In a similar way to wine, tea’s characteristics can vary a great deal depending on how and where it is produced. Altitude, soil and climate all play 養生花茶 their part, as do the shape of the leaf, the production methods used, and the time of the harvest.

Green tea

Green tea is typically produced from a tea plant’s youngest leaves. Its colour is understated, and its taste revitalising.

When a tea leaf is destined to become green tea, its natural oxidation process has to be stopped soon after harvesting. This produces a beverage that is full of minerals, antioxidants and vitamins.

Green tea exists in a number of varieties, including:

  • Japanese green – Japanese tea leaves are, traditionally, steamed to arrest the fermentation process. They are steamed for a minimum of two minutes, before being rolled and dried. This practice of steaming enables the leaves to retain their bright green colour, and results in a flavour that is tart and fresh.
  • Chinese green – Once harvested, Chinese tea leaves are pan-roasted to halt fermentation. They are laid in large iron drums or pans, and heated to 280 degrees for roughly ten seconds. This makes them less bright in colour than their Japanese counterparts, and gives Chinese green tea a sweeter, more delicate flavour.
  • Formosan green – Green tea has been grown in Taiwan (formerly Formosa) since the 1850s, following the immigration of Chinese tea growers to the island. Its Chinese origins mean that Formosan green tea is pan roasted, rather than steamed.

Black tea

Black tea is produced from the same leaves as green tea. Their differences in appearance and taste lie solely in the way in which they are processed. In the case of black tea, the plucked leaves are left to oxidise completely before being rolled and dried. This produces a tea that is higher in caffeine, stronger in flavour, and darker in colour than green tea.

This apart, the characteristics of black tea can vary a great deal. Black teas exist in a variety of flavours and colours – all reflecting the conditions and the region in which they are produced.

  • Assam – The Indian state of Assam is the biggest tea-growing region in the world. Positioned on low-lying land on the banks of the Brahmaputra River, its teas are dark in colour and have a malty, strong flavour. Assam tea can be brewed using even the hardest water, and tastes wonderful with a dash of milk and brown sugar, if desired.
  • Darjeeling – Situated among the Himalayan foothills, Darjeeling offers the perfect geography and climate for the production of tea. Each spring, the first tea shoots of the growing season are used to make first flush Darjeeling: a flowery, exotically flavoured tea of the very best quality. Second flush Darjeelings are produced later on in spring, and are characterised by a more full-bodied, intense flavour.
  • Ceylon – Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) is the world’s largest exporter of black tea. It is cultivated in three districts: Dimbula in the west, Uva in the east, and Nuwara Eliya in between. Ceylon teas are characterised by a crisp, citrus taste. They are delicious as single estate teas, or as part of a black tea blend.
  • Nepal – Tea has been grown in Nepal since 1920. The geography and climate of the country’s Himalayan hills produce an aromatic tea that resembles Darjeeling.
  • China – Chinese black tea has its origins in the southern regions of China. It is recognisable by its mild, earthy flavour, and is typically low in caffeine and tannin.

As a nation, the Chinese prefer to drink green tea. This means that Chinese black tea is produced solely for export.