If you only knew 5 things about tea that would give you a well rounded foundational knowledge on the subject what would they be? We have compiled a list below that while it won’t make you a tea expert will give you some fun facts to throw out the next time you’re drinking tea with friends.
5 Things You Should Know About Tea
There are many legends around the discovery of tea as a drink. Chinese Emperor Shen Nung is said to have discovered tea when a leaf fell into a pot of water he was boiling. Another story says that a Buddhist Monk became so enraged that he fell asleep while meditating that he cut off his eyelids and threw them to the ground. The following day he found two tea bushes in the exact spot that he threw his eyelids.
Both of these stories are mythical although I’m pretty sure you already knew the monk story. The fact is we don’t know and likely never will know who first discovered tea, only that it has been consumed for well over 3,000 years first in China.
All tea is derived from the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant. This means White, Yellow, Green, Oolong, Black and Pu Erh teas all come from the Camellia Sinensis. There are two main varietals of this plant, the Camellia Sinensis var. Sinensis (which is a smaller leaf camellia originating from China) and the Camellia Sinensis var. Assamica (which is a larger leaf camellia originating from the Assam region of Northern India).
A 2008 Oxford Journal study found that there is no correlation between tea type and caffeine content. This means the long held belief that black teas always have more caffeine than white tea (or vise-versa) is incorrect. So what controls caffeine in tea?
- The Camellia Sinensis var. Assamica generally contains more caffeine than the var. Sinensis.
- Amount of tea used during steeping (more tea = stronger brew + more caffeine)
- Young shoots of the Camellia Sinensis contain the most caffeine, which is used as a defense mechanism for the plant. If your tea is one that contains more new growth shoots chances are it will have more caffeine.
- Soil & Fertilization techniques used by grower. More nitrogen in the soil = More caffeine in the tea.
For a few thousand years the Chinese held the secrets to producing tea. They jealously guarded the production process as it resulted in massive revenues to the Emperor due to the virtual monopoly they held on the worlds tea supply. Foreigners simply weren’t allowed beyond very small areas of most trading ports, much less inland to see the actual tea plantations.
The British, in desperation to turn around growing trade imbalances sent a series of spies into China to learn the secrets of growing and producing quality tea. Robert Fortune, the most well known of these spies was able to acquire enough tea seed and knowledge to help the British Empire begin growing tea in their colony of India.
Want to brew up a great glass of tea? Follow these general guidelines..
- Start with Fresh, filtered water (tea is almost entirely water, water quality is critical to taste).
- More Tea = Stronger Brew (Want a stronger tea? Use more tea when you steep).
- Proper Steeping Time (Follow the recommended steeping times from the tea maker for the type of tea you are brewing. Steeping too long will result in an often bitter tasting tea).
- Proper Water Temperature (Black tea handles boiling water well, more delicate teas such as white or green tea need less temperature to brew properly. Again check with the tea maker for exact temps).
There you have it 5 Things you should know about tea, or at least 5 things I think you should know about tea. If you want to go more in depth and become a full on tea nerd we have a list of recommended books for tea lovers that you absolutely should look into. I want to see what your list of 5 is, go ahead and leave them in the comments.
For all the Tea in China – Sarah Rose