A Short History of Tea

This post is written by Linus Hammarstrand:

Tea is the by far most popular drink in China, even though more and more Chinese are taking to drinking coffee, particularly as Starbucks and various native knock-offs are gaining in popularity. The origin of tea can be traced back to the Middle Kingdom and the Chinese have been drinking tea for close to 5 000 years. According to the legend, tea was invented as a drink by Shen Nong, the Divine Farmer, around 3 000 BC. According to legend, Shen Nong was very health-conscious and personally tested thousands of medicinal herbs to see which ones could benefit his people. Among these herbs, he found that the tea plant had numerous benefits, aside from its pleasant taste.

The tea plant is called Camellia Sinensis and is related to our own camellia, Camellia Japonica. In the wilds, the plant can grow to a height of up to 20 meters. In most plantations however, it seldom grows beyond two meters. The tea plant is evergreen and is currently grown in more than 40 countries. About 90% of all tea that is grown is grown in Asia and China is the oldest tea growing nation on the planet, with a tea tradition stretching back more than 2 000 years.

The Chinese word for tea, cha, is encountered in numerous languages. In Nepal, India and in the Middle East, it is typically referred to as Chai, whereas in Japan it still goes by its original name of cha. Etymologically, the English word tea can be linked to cha.

Tea drinking is typically something one typically connects with Japan, but it was not until the 8th century AD when it was introduced to Japan and the imperial court in Nara, from Tang dynasty China. In the 17th century, tea drinking spread to Europe through the care of Portuguese and then Dutch merchants. From Europe it spread to the New world and to the colonies.

England was one of the last seafaring nations to succumb to tea drinking and it was only through the influence of King Charles II, who grew up in Amsterdam and later married a Portuguese princess, that tea became introduced to the British nobility. From the nobles, tea drinking spread to the lower classes and it was mainly due to the commoners appetite for tea that the East India companies were founded. Some historians claim that the later Industrial revolution was fueled by the worker’s sumptuous consumption of tea with milk and sugar in it, which allowed them to work for long hours in the factories.

Tea can be divided into a number of types: green tea, Oolong and black tea. The difference lies in the degree of oxidation and fermentation. Oxidation happens when the tea leaves turn brown from lack of sap. Oxidation can be artificially induced by rolling the tea leaves so that the sap and the enzymes are freed. Through subsequent heating of the leaves, the oxidation process can then be stopped at any time. Tea, and especially green tea is known to contain copious amounts of antioxidants, as well as numerous vitamins and minerals. It thus constitutes a healthy drink of choice. Thus, next time you sit down to relax with a nice cup of tea, bear in mind not only that it is healthy, but also that it is a drink with a long history!

A Short History of Tea0Martin Lindeskog2012-06-25 15:06:57This post is written by Linus Hammarstrand:

Tea is the by far most popular drink in China, even though more and more Chinese are taking to drinking…

Upcoming Post on Buddha Tea Shop

For your information, Linus Hammarstrand will write a post on Buddha Tea Shop in Thamel, Kathmandu, Nepal, in the near future.

Java Coffee House, Thamel, Kathmandu, Ne by shinyai, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  shinyai 

 

Upcoming Post on Buddha Tea Shop0Martin Lindeskog2012-06-12 00:23:19For your information, Linus Hammarstrand will write a post on Buddha Tea Shop in Thamel, Kathmandu, Nepal, in the near future.

  by  shinyai 

Rum Tea in the Himalayas

This post is written by Linus Hammarstrand:

Aside from Lemon Tea, Nepali Tea, Chai and the infamous butter tea, the inhabitants of the Himalayas frequently mix their tea with various other drinks. One of the more popular ones in the Nepali Himalayas is Rum Tea, where you mix the national favorite, Khukri Rum with black tea and add a few tea spoons of sugar for good measure.

rum and tea

Rum and Tea

Needless to say, this is a potent brew and not to be recommended for high altitude, although a good reward after a grueling trek or climb! Kick back with your local Gurung, Tamang or Sherpa friends and give yourself a warm treat!

Rum Tea in the Himalayas0Martin Lindeskog2012-05-01 03:46:40This post is written by Linus Hammarstrand:

Aside from Lemon Tea, Nepali Tea, Chai and the infamous butter tea, the inhabitants of the Himalayas f…

Lemon Tea in the Himalayas

This post is written by Linus Hammarstrand:

Nepal is home to some of the tallest peaks on the face of the planet, including Mount Everest, Makalu and Annapurna. Aside from being a destination for hardcore climbers, Nepal is also a paradise for trekkers of all kinds and stripes but no matter how much I would like to include myself in the former category, I am firmly rooted in the later. Trekking is typically hard work, even when doing the so-called easy ones, as Nepal is a very hilly country indeed. After a long day of sweat, blisters and insect bites (or frostbite if you are at a really high altitude), the thing to really look forward to is a cup of hot Lemon Tea.

Lemon Tea

Lemon Tea

This is typically made from one part lemon juice, a few spoonfuls of sugar and whatever bag tea that is available. It is not for the aficionado, but it is a well-deserved treat at the end of a grueling of day of hard work!

Linus Hammarstrand drinking Lemon Tea

Linus Hammarstrand drinking Lemon Tea

Lemon Tea in the Himalayas0Martin Lindeskog2012-04-17 06:09:03This post is written by Linus Hammarstrand:

Nepal is home to some of the tallest peaks on the face of the planet, including Mount Everest, Makalu a…

Cold Tea Drinks

This post is written by Linus Hammarstrand.

In the West we often drink our tea hot, preferably with some sugar and some milk. In Asia however, this is not always the case. One rather recent phenomena in the long history of tea is to serve it cold in a bottle, pretty much as we would soft drinks. Tea sold in this manner comes in many strange and wonderful flavors, ranging from more staid varieties such as Oolong Tea, Green Tea, Chrysanthemum Tea and Lemon Tea, to the positively outlandish, such as Coffee Tea, Bubble Black Tea and various strange Fruit Teas.

Cold tea is sold all over Asia, and is especially popular in summer (or year around in perpetually warm countries such as Singapore). Next time you are sweltering in the Singaporean or Hong Kong heat, instead of habitually grabbing a Coke, do as the locals and go for a Cold Tea!

cold tea drinks

Cold Tea Drinks

Cold Tea Drinks0Martin Lindeskog2012-03-13 01:17:55This post is written by Linus Hammarstrand.

In the West we often drink our tea hot, preferably with some sugar and some milk. In Asia however, this…

Coffee Green Tea Beverage

This post is written by Linus Hammarstrand:

The Final Fusion? The ultimate product for bringing coffee and tea lovers together for a refreshing brew. Strangely enough, it was not bad at all, a testament to Taiwanese ingenuity in finding new ways to consume tea!

Coffee Green Tea Beverage
Coffee Green Tea Beverage

Coffee Green Tea Beverage0Martin Lindeskog2012-01-17 01:27:04This post is written by Linus Hammarstrand:

The Final Fusion? The ultimate product for bringing coffee and tea lovers together for a refreshing bre…

Bubble Tea

This post is written by Linus Hammarstrand:

Linus Hammarstrand

Linus Hammarstrand

Taiwan is one of the most passionate tea-drinking nations in Asia; not because of the quantity of teas drunk or because of their exceptional quality (although they have that too though), but because of the sheer diversity of tea consumption. Fancy a cup of Oolong Tea, straight from the plantation? Or maybe tea-flavored crackers and cakes? Or why not eggs or meats boiled in tea, after you washed your hair with Green Tea-scented shampoo?

Bubble Tea
Bubble Tea

My personal favorite is however the famous Taiwanese Bubble Tea. This rather quaint drink originated in Taizhong, an industrial city in the north of Taiwan in the 1980s, and has since spread all over the world. There are many varieties of Bubble Tea in Taiwan but the most common one contains small balls of tapioca starch, as well as condensed milk, syrup and black tea. It is often sold in plastic mugs with an oversized straw (big enough for the “bubbles” to be sucked through) and cost about 1 $ US. Bubble teas can be found all over Taiwan and there are numerous shops and stalls that specializes in Bubble tea. These are often found in and around night markets and train stations.

Bubble Tea0Martin Lindeskog2012-01-10 04:20:03This post is written by Linus Hammarstrand:

Linus Hammarstrand

Taiwan is one of the most passionate tea-drinking nations in Asia; not becaus…

More Tibetan Tea

This post is written by Linus Hammarstrand:

Tea has been drunk in Tibet since time immemorial. Normally it is mixed with rancid yak-butter and salt, as well as with tsampa, roasted barley flour. Assaulting as it is on the taste-buds, it makes eminent sense to drink tea this way. In the harsh, high-altitude climate of the Tibetan plateau, with an average altitude of 4000 meters above sea-level, you will fast get dehydrated and subsequently suffer from altitude sickness, which is potentially lethal.

Tsampa
Tsampa

Butter tea provide you with both salt, calories and water, all of which are essential for survival in what many call the “Third pole”. The tea in the picture is the type of brick-tea used to make butter tea, here presented as an offering at a Buddhist shrine.

Brick Tea
Brick Tea

[Editor's note: Shout out to Lobsang Wangdu for Butter Tea — Recipe to Make Tibetan Tea: Po Cha.]

More Tibetan Tea0Martin Lindeskog2012-01-03 09:16:51This post is written by Linus Hammarstrand:

Tea has been drunk in Tibet since time immemorial. Normally it is mixed with rancid yak-butter and salt…

Butter Tea

This post is by Linus Hammarstrand:

There are many things you can do with tea; there are also many things you never should do. Mixing tea with, say, ketchup, or with gravel, are patently bad ideas. The same goes, tastewise, for the butter-tea, so beloved by the Tibetans. Most Tibetans, particularly the nomads, can drink up to 20 cups of this vile brew in any given day. It is made in a huge copper kettle, by mixing brick-tea with boiling water and then adding rancid yak-butter and salt to the brew. They often also mix it with tsampa, roasted barley flour and roll the mixture into little balls in their hands.

As a guest it is extremely impolite to decline a hearty cup of butter-tea. One cup is typically bad enough, but the problem is that your host will refill your cup, again and again, even after you have only taken a sip. When this happens, it is best to drink it straight away, when it is still warm. There is only one thing worse than warm butter-tea; cold butter-tea!

Butter tea
Butter tea

Butter Tea0Martin Lindeskog2011-12-27 05:40:00This post is by Linus Hammarstrand:

There are many things you can do with tea; there are also many things you never should do. Mixing tea with, say…

Tea Houses of Sichuan

This post is written by Linus Hammarstrand:

Sichuan, a province in Southwestern China, has a long and distinguished tradition of drinking tea. For hundreds of years, the tea trail that connected China and Tibet went through the mountainous province. Even today many Sichuanese cities, towns and villages boasts at least one tea-house. These tea-houses serve as the nexus of many communities and the locals come here to exchange news, gossip, relax and of course, enjoy a nice cup of tea. This picture was taken in a small village on route to the city of Meishan.

photo by Linus Hammarstrand

Tea break at the South Chinese Countryside

The author was at this time leading a biking expedition through Sichuan’s countryside and here we decided to stop for a tea-break, much to the enjoyment of the locals, who hadn’t seen many foreigners in their lives! I am pretty convinced that they are still talking about the day when the Laowais, foreigners, came to town in their strange biking clothes!

Tea Houses of Sichuan0Martin Lindeskog2011-12-12 08:32:39This post is written by Linus Hammarstrand:

Sichuan, a province in Southwestern China, has a long and distinguished tradition of drinking tea. For …