Just before Christmas I went of a tea blending course in London as I’m really interested in creating my own flavours of tea in the coming year. Tea is my daily drink of choice, and even when working for coffee shops, a nice cuppa is always what I long for. Here are some facts that I learned from the day:
Tea comes from the Camellia Sinensis plant, which is naturally a 40/50 foot tree but over countless generations has been pruned to more of a waist height bush for ease of plucking the top green shoots, which make the best brews.
Tea is good for you, but there is no ostensible difference between green tea and black tea in terms of health benefits. The only variance is a period of oxidisation during production, which allows the black tea to wilt and change colour, making it brown rather than green.
In the 16th century tea made its way over to Europe from China via Dutch and Portuguese sailors who had exclusive trading rights with the Chinese at the time. Smugglers frequently brought tea into the UK, where they diluted it with among other things, copper carbonate (highly toxic) and sheep’s droppings (highly icky) to make their smuggled bounty go further.
During the British colonial occupation of India, soldiers stole tea bushes from China and took them to India, only to realise that the same plant had already been flourishing there for many years without cultivation. The flavours from Indian-grown tea are said to be heavier and earthier than traditional Chinese tea and this very much suited a British palette. The Indian population then did what they do best and took to drinking tea with milk, sugar and spices, such as cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and cloves, and in essence created masala chai which is one of my favourite blends to drink.
60% of the tea drunk in Britain today is grown in East Africa, which is another hang-over from our colonial past.
The two world wars played a huge part in the British adopting tea as our national beverage. During the First World War tea was rationed, meaning that all British people were given an allowance of tea per week, and it quickly became a staple part of our culture.
During the Second World War the invention of tea bags revolutionised how Brits enjoyed their daily cuppas, with presently 97% of all tea drunk in the UK today being bag tea varieties.
More recently, loose leaf tea is enjoying a resurgence in popularity, especially in bespoke blends from small brands.
Looking forward to hopefully tasting and blending some new and flavoursome brews in 2015!
Photo by Tristan.