The Secret Life of Tea: From Goodness to Glamour By Trella
In the beginning, there was light and it was good. Next came the land and seas. Then when they were perfect, came Camellia sinensis – commonly known as, tea. While you will be hard pressed to find any religion, ancient or modern with such a beginning, I do hope over the next few minutes to provide you with a story of one of the worlds true super food plants and its story; for the humble tea plant has shaped the destinies of medicine, the arts, culture, Eastern religions, great leaders, global empires and the creation of modern dating.
You can’t really talk about tea without talking about China. Tea has been a powerful medicinal, economic, artistic, cultural, spiritual and gastronomic influence throughout all of China’s recorded history. It all started off when it is written in 2737 BCE that Emperor Shen Nung, the herbalist emperor, after a long day of riding stopped to rest under a tree. As he was famous for teaching medicinal and healing practices to his people, he required all citizens to boil water before being consumed. As he waited for his own water to boil, unbeknownst a leaf from the tree he sat under had fallen into the water pot. Upon tasting the resulting brew, the Emperor knew he had discovered a great and delicious elixir for health, longevity and vitality. Whether tea’s beginning is fact or fiction is up for debate, what is known is that tea has been documented in ancient Chinese texts as a tonic herb that has been cultivated for various uses non-stop to the present day. Tea is has a wide variety of medicinal uses:
• Maintain heart health; supports bone density
• Prevent rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases
• Acts as a powerful antioxidant
• Provide protection against certain kinds of cancer (Polyphenols and Catechins)
• Increase metabolism, alertness and mood (L-theanine component)
• Boost immune system strength and function
• Reduce stress; while increasing energy without coffee’s “jitters”
• Improve skin texture and act as strong detoxifier (High Chlorophyll content)
• Acts as an anti-bacterial and possibly an anti-viral agent
• Reduces fat, lowers LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and help control blood sugar levels
• Healthy way to hydrate body
• Provides a natural source of fluoride; and wards off plaque causing bacteria and bad breath
This list is not complete by far and as more and more modern research on tea is developed and published, it time and time again supports what the ancient Chinese have known and said all along.
Tea made its way out of China to first the Mongolians as trade for horses and to the Tibetians as tribute, which started the transport of goods overland by horse and camel, otherwise known as the Silk Road. This cross land trade eventually extended into Turkey and the Middle East, where to this day Chinese green tea called “Gunpowder” is often mixed with mint and is more consumed than coffee. China trade reached as far as Greece in the 2nd c. AD. By the 6th c. Arabs had control over the China tea trade into the West. As tea developed into an international commodity it also became one of the first international currencies in the form of tea bricks. It is like having a ten dollar bill that breaks off into 1 dollar bill pieces as you can see. [Show brick]
Tea made its way to Japan through the spread of Buddhism, as tea was a core component in aiding with prayer and meditation in helping to create the calm alertness desired to reach higher spiritual states. Because you can’t become too enlightened if you keep falling asleep. In the early 9th c., the Japanese Buddhist Monk, Dengyo Daishi brought tea seeds to Japan and cultivated the first garden. Later in 1191, another Japanese Monk, Yeisai-zenji, returned from studying in China with the practice of consuming tea whole by means of creating a powder of the dried leaves. This Chinese practice survives today in Japan as the powdered tea style called Matcha with a preparation that has become its own meditative art form.
Tea made its way to Europe with the Dutch 1606 and not long thereafter the Portuguese started trading with Japan and China as well. It is through this connection that the Portuguese princess, Catherine of Braganza, helped cement the British interest in tea when she become wife of England’s King Charles II in 1662. Tea was really only a luxury of nobility and others who could afford it, and until 1669 with the birth of the English East India Company, tea came to England only by the Dutch.
Catherine and her courtly ladies had social time over tea, meanwhile their menfolk went off to drink much hardier fair at pubs and private meeting halls. With the progression of tea culture more firmly in development from the feminine side, a whole glamorous world of furnishings, equipage and stylish living evolved along with it. With more and more of the wealthier classes buying tea, the poorer classes began to get a taste for the brew too, as well as taste for the lifestyle (think of the wait-staff of a fashionable tea gathering or a wealthy manor as today’s modern celebrity/entertainment reporters). There was a brisk (ha ha ha) market in already steeped leaves – with price based on how many times the leaves had already been used. The invention of the tea chest or stash was so that only the lady of house had the key to the small decorative chest that held the supply of tea leaves.
Even though King Charles II had a nice habit of tea drinking, he unfortunately had the nasty habit of heavily taxing everything including tea. So not long after the tax on tea in England, it created a booming black market trade as well as the creation of fake tea made from all kinds of nefarious materials, like licorice, plum leaves or used leaves which were dried and re-stained by all manner of nasty things. Because it was easier to pollute green teas, more consumers switched to black teas. This plus the fact that black teas traveled the distance from China to England better set the legacy of England and the Common Wealth being avid black tea drinkers to this day.
All that taxation was not just at home, until the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1767 and the Townshend Act thereafter, the American colonies were forced to pay various taxes on British goods without representation. With the repeal of these Acts, the only British merchant item left that levied tax in the American colonies was … tea.
The colonists responded by smuggling in Dutch tea to both boycott British tea and protest against the government. Well the English East India Company was rather put out by this and did not want to loose its revenues or trade to some wily colonial up-starts. It ended up getting the English Parliament to pass the Tea Act of 1773, thus forcing a monopoly on providing the cheapest tea. I think you are familiar where the story picks up next, later that year on a December night …. in Boston harbor …
So enough of stories of large multi-national companies who wield irresponsible and untold amounts of influence in their governments, and back to the dating scene.
By about 1750, tea had become the preferred drink of all classes in England. “Afternoon Tea” was “officially” started in the 1840’s by Anna Maria, wife of the 7th Duke of Bedford. Custom at the time dictated two large meals, a breakfast and then a dinner were eaten as the servants were off-duty part of the midday. To ease her “sinking feeling”, the duchess ordered tea and cakes at 5 o’clock when the servants came back on duty; in actuality she did not invent this new meal but merely renamed a social occasion that was already evolving because of changing mealtimes and social interactions.
And so the current institution of “Afternoon Tea” is now typically served from around two to four o'clock. Many mistake Afternoon Tea or High Tea for what was originally called “Low Tea”. High Tea, also known as Meat Tea, is originally what was traditionally served at six o'clock and was used as a light supper and was more of a working-class affair. High Tea became a formal get-together and one of the for-runners of the “Happy Hour”.
Before there were fondue parties, cocktail clubs, or Match.com, the quintessential and respectable socializer, meet-n-greet and love connection was over tea. Romance, debutant balls, first dates, distinguished business meetings, the outdoor gathering, dance parties, ladies who lunch, men who discuss things and socials were all around one thing: tea. Children’s tea sets came about not just as simple playthings, but as social teaching tools. A dapper gentleman would have had personal blends from both his tobacconist and his tea purveyor. The Darjeeling Man came along before the Marlboro Man.
Even with the Revolutionary bump-on-the-road for tea in America, by the turn of the last century up until the 1930’s, tea culture was very much alive, sophisticated and well-versed. Many Americans were familiar with Green and Oolong teas as US import records show that each made about 1/3 of all tea imports with the final third made of black teas. Americans are fairly unique around the world in that we consume the vast majority of our tea iced. The earliest American Iced Teas were made primarily with green tea, but by the end of Second World War, it was made entirely with Black Tea due to the influence of British tastes and the difficulty in acquiring Eastern tea as Japan had invaded much of the Far East and trade was nil. Other significant factors in the popularity of Iced Tea is that it parallels the development of refrigeration and the commercial manufacture of pure ice, both of which were in place by the middle of the nineteenth century. But Iced Tea really owes its ubiquity to the Prohibition of the 1920’s, when the ban of alcohol sales put it on every American dinner table and every legal salon. It is no co-incidence that there were a quite a number of romantic popular tea-themed tunes, the most enduring which you have likely heard is 1925’s “Tea for Two”.
The last decade has seen an enormous change in the tea industry from one of stagnation, monopoly and cheapest possible product production (most of American black tea comes from Argentina) to one where there is a plethora of experienced, credible and very high-end tea purveyors offering some of the best from around the world.
Tastes and quality levels of tea are created by climate, soil, altitude, flushing season and the all-important method of processing. There are a few main categories of tea: White, Green, Pouchong, Oolong, Black, Scented/Flavored and Pu-erh (the only tea that is aged). Black tea is the green tea leaf that has been fully oxidized, while Green has no oxidation and Oolong is partially oxidized. White tea is made from the new buds that are plucked before opening. Premium teas are exclusively loose leaf and have a very specific pedigree. And as a Reiki Master Healer, which is a person attuned to work on healing the subtle energies of the body, I can tell you that the vibration or level of positive energy of premium tea from an ethical source beats the pants off any of those over-processed, sugar filled sports/vitamin water drinks EVERYDAY of the week.
Premium tea is literally the best luxury value on the market today. Considering that quality loose leaf tea brews around 200 cups to the pound, you could buy a $100 a pound tea (which might sound outrageous), and it comes out to be only $.50 a cup! Try going to the vending machine for that! Life is too short for cheap tea my friends. So drink well, be happy and fall in love! … AGAIN!
In conclusion I would love to invite you to the tea tasting being held immediately afterward by my company Exotic Tea Room. Thank You!
The Secret Life of Tea: From Goodness to Glamour By Trella
The following Posts are authored by varoius people (including myself) with the common thread being that they all had something powerful, supportive, inspiring and healing to say.