London Lantern

Putting the Spotlight on London

Tea - A Lovely Cuppa

25/10/2005, By David McIntosh

Reader Rating: 2.9 from 19840 votes

Mention a hot cup of tea and with most people the thought that will come to mind is one of England; an England of tradition of civility, and taking a few moments to savour the small pleasantries that add so much to life. Things like clotted cream, scones, cucumber sandwiches and a good, properly made cup of tea (or cuppa) enjoyed in the company of friends.

Over the next few moments we will examine what makes a good cup of team; learn a bit about the different kinds of tea and delve into the fascinating history of what is, next to water, probably the most popular beverage in the world.

Some estimates put the number of varieties of tea in the world today at nearly 3,000 with over 31 countries engaging in the production of tea. The taste, colour and other qualities of tea can be affected by the soil and climate of the region where it is grown as well as the way it is produced and processed. In this way tea is much like wine.

The first recorded example of man drinking tea was around 350 B.C. in China though it is thought by some that tea could have been consumed as far back as 2000 B.C. By 590 B.C. tea had come to the shores of Japan. From Asia tea made its way to Europe. There is mention tea being brought to the British Isles in 1557 by a monk although another source puts the date of tea’s arrival in Britain at 1559.

This much is known however, before the reign of Charles II in the 17th century the drinking of tea was not commonplace in England. Soon afterwards it was an established tradition, as much a part of English life as the Beefeaters at the Tower of London. The reason? His wife, who was a Portuguese lady just happened to be very fond of tea and the custom quickly spread through the Court as well as the rest of society. Today a ‘cuppa’ is one of those things that people consider quintessentially English.

Before we take up the matter of how to brew a proper cup of tea it might be helpful to learn just a bit about tea itself. The plant is actually an evergreen shrub and its botanical name is Camellia snennis. It is similar to the fragrant plant popular with gardeners. Tea can be divided into three types: black, green or oolong. In Europe and America black teas are the most popular.

Allowing the fresh, rolled tea leaves to darken in the air is how black tea gets its dark colour. Although the process is called fermentation by tea manufacturers it really is more of a process of oxidation and is a result of the chemical reaction of tannins in the tea. The tannins give the tea its robust flavour and aroma.

In Asia the most popular type of tea is green tea which is made by preventing the tea leaves from undergoing fermentation or oxidation. This is done by steaming the tea leaves after the withering process which is the process of taking out moisture right after the harvest. Steaming destroys the enzymes which would otherwise darken the tea thus the tea leaves stay green. Green tea has a more bitter taste than black tea.

The third type are oolong and pouchongs teas which are a semi-fermented teas. Here, the tea is allowed to darken somewhat; in the case of pouch the oxidation process last about fourth as long as with black tea and with oolong the oxidation time is about half that of black tea. (to be continued)

David McIntosh

Images kindly supplied by The Tea Council

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