Suddenly, the world is full of tea. Everybody with something to sell has leapt onto the tea bandwagon, infusing everything from cosmetics and tonics with the essence of tea to plain old brewing of the leaves in boiled water. Health claims abound as researchers discover that the natural components of tea ward off cancer and heart disease, as well as offering relief from stress and depression.
This ancient and esteemed beverage has been enjoyed by people for 5,000 years. According to Chinese legend, Emperor Shen Nung (divine healer) was revered as a great teacher of agriculture and herbal medicine. He took pride in teaching his people the value of cultivating the land and the wisdom in boiling water to make it safer to drink. One day, while working in his own garden, Shen Nung was enjoying a cup of steaming water when he noticed that a few leaves of a nearby camellia-like bush had blown into the imperial cup. Sipping the concoction he discovered a drink that was refreshing and relaxing yet exhilarating and increased his sense of well being. And so tea was born.
Camellia sinensis is an evergreen native of China. It takes a variety of forms and gives rise to 3,000 varieties of tea worldwide. Tea comes in white, green, black and oolong. The largest tea producing country is India with one third of the world’s tea production. Most Indian teas are black.
China comes in second, producing the most types of specialty teas in the world, nearly 70% of which are green.
Sri Lanka produces Ceylon teas (Ceylon is the colonial name of Sri Lanka) and is the third largest producer of tea in the world.
Japan produces mostly green tea, but it exports less than 2% of it due to the cultural importance of tea to the Japanese people. It is part of their history and philosophy so they keep most of it for their own use.
Taiwan, otherwise known as Formosa, the “beautiful island”, is the home of oolong teas, a kind of cross between green and black teas. Oolongs are some of the rarest and most expensive teas in the world. According to the Medical College of Wisconsin, studies suggest there are health benefits to drinking tea. Green, black and oolong teas contain antioxidants called polyphenols. Research studies indicate that drinking tea may protect against cancer, heart disease and stroke. Tea drinkers in this particular study consumed between 1 and 8 cups of tea a day, though 1 to 2 cups a day is considered a healthy part of anyone’s diet. So, now you know enough about tea to tell others some history about tea, as well as the major types: black, green, white and oolong. You also know where tea comes from and where to find the best and most rare.
If you really want to impress people, you can tell them about the polyphenols and how much their health will improve in as few as two cups of tea a day.