Tea is among the eldest and most revered beverage in all of history. In our modern world, it is the most popular drink, next to water. Today, there are more than 1,500 types of teas to choose from, due to the fact that over 25 countries cultivate tea as a plantation crop.
For nearly 5,000 years Tea has been a source of medicine, meditation, piracy, political upheaval, social order, congregation, and superstition. While Tea has played many roles in Eastern and Western civilization, it is derived from a plant native to Central and Eastern Asia.
There are few basic types of Tea; Black (known as “Red” Tea in China), Green, White, Oolong and Pu-erh. The process used to prepare the leaves establishes the Tea’s further classification. Oxidation determines its colour, body, and flavour.
For example, in Black Teas, the leaves are withered, rolled, sifted, and fermented. This creates a hearty flavor and rich amber colour.
Green Tea leaves are fired shortly after harvesting to prevent fermentation, yielding a greenish gold colour and a delicate taste.
White Tea is a selection of the youngest and most tender leaves and buds. They are covered in fine white hairs and have a very delicate flavour. White tea is lightly fermented.
Pu-erh Tea is the strongest and most bold flavour tea. It is aged for many years and is referred to as a true “black” or “post-fermented.” Good quality pu-erh comes in cakes or bricks. Usually cakes are the higher quality because the Chinese preferred the aesthetics and auspiciousness of the round shape. The bricks usually contain more broader tea leaves, since broader leaved produce a nice, full flavour.
Finally, Oolong Tea leaves are withered, rolled, twisted, and semi-fermented, producing a colour and flavour that falls between that of black and green teas.
Though designated as Teas, Herbal teas are not actually made from any tea leaves. Instead, these contain peels, flavourings, grasses, berries, flowers and leaves from a variety of plants.
There are many Health Benefits of Tea, it can;
- Stimulate mental clarity
- Reduce the risk of certain cancers
- Reduce the risk of heart disease
- Lower blood sugar levels
- Help prevent viral infections
- Help prevent bad breath
- Help prevent tooth decay
However, Tea can have detrimental effects on those who have a fibrocystic disease or have high blood pressure. It’s best to keep the ingestion of Tea to a minimum in these cases.
When and who “discovered it?
This is a complex question.
According to Chinese legend, Emperor Shen Nong who revered for his knowledge of agriculture and medicine, decreed (presumably for health reasons.) that his subjects boil water before drinking it.
While a servant prepared his water one day, a light wind deposited several tea leaves into his boiling pot.
The aroma enticed Shen Nong to sample the pot’s contents.
At once he found the flavor to his liking and his body rejuvenated. (Other versions of the tale cite that the source of the tea leaves was not from a tree above the pot, but rather from a camellia branch which was fueling the flames below it.)
Others attempting to validate the authenticity of the event by affixing a date to Shen Nong’s experience, assert that it occurred in either 2737 BC or 2690 BC.
The Buddhist chronicle of the creation of tea follows the religious pilgrimage of Siddhartha Gautama. ( A Nepalese prince and historic founder of Buddhism.)
Siddhartha who was eager to prove his faith travelled to China, pledging to forego sleep during his travels.
Exhausted after days of travel, Siddhartha breached his vow and slept.
When he awoke he cursed his eyelids and promptly removed them and threw them to the ground.
The eyelids quickly buried into the soil and within moments sprouted a tea bush. Siddhartha partook in the leaves of the bush, and immediately his tired body was replete with energy.
It is very well possible that neither story is in fact correct, and that these events didn’t occur. The important thing to be noted, is that both the Chinese and Buddhists respectively, regarded Tea to such a high standard that they both formulated creation stories around it.
Considering Tea initially used as an antidote to the effects of alcohol, it is not surprising that such mythical tales of tea’s beginnings were formed.
Why is this so important?
Tea can be a wonderful addition to a story. It can show a serenity of a character, or a habit that adds to the tapestry of a characterisation.
However, many people are used to drinking Tea from Teabags. While this is common, and even typical for a character who lives in a modern age, a character who lives in a different age will make Tea in a completely different way. In fact, a character from a different age will also have different effects that our modern Life usually negates.
- Tea can stain your teeth. (Although Tea contains fluoride,which creates stronger, healthier teeth, it won’t make them sparkling white. The extent of this depends on the type of tea, and the quality.) As a result, characters who drink alot of tea will generally have stained teeth.
- Tea contains caffeine. The blacker the Tea, the more caffeine it contains. As a result, white and green Teas contain much less caffeine. Use this in the right situations.
- Tea should be stored in airtight, opaque containers away from Heat and Light.
- Tea and tealeaves are naturally antimicrobial and are shown to improve microflora in the oral cavity. ( Which means that they kill off germs that cause bad breath and plaque.) White and green teas are best for fighting bacteria, while Oolong is best for fluoride. You can use unused brewed tea or a brew made with used leaves to rinse after brushing.
- Tea is a mild antiseptic and antimicrobial. Some people also apply moist tealeaves to their minor cuts to prevent infection. It also keeps your skin soft.
- “Chagra” (Dried Tea leaves which have been previously used.) is a natural bug repellent for common pests like mosquitoes and flies. Place compressed dry leaves on a nonflammable incense burner.
- Tea can prevent Rust. The tannin in tea binds to iron, creating a thin, rust-protective coating. Black tea is best for this use. You can use it for steel knives, iron pots, swords, and stirrups e.c.t. Just wipe on, leave for a minute, and wipe off. Repeat as needed. (The more wear the item gets, the more often you need to repeat.)
- Tea is a deodorizer. Use this as you will.
- Tea aids in digestion. (Which is why many Chinese prefer to consume it after their meal.)
- An interesting side effect for smokers is that tea hastens the discharge of nicotine from the body.
A you can see, there are many dual uses for Tea, which many societies have taken advantage of. This is a form of recycling, and convenience that are incredibly useful.
The way that a character prefers their Tea, the process and equipment they use and their attitude towards it, is incredibly important. Every part of this can directly be related back to their experiences, family and customs. Without using an entire book, you can give an insight about a society.
What do you mean?
For a dedicated Tea Drinker that arises from a society that places a great importance on Tea, considerations such as size and shape of the pot needs to be matched to the size and shape and behaviour of a type of tea. This will make a difference in maximizing the flavour.
Having a separate pot exclusively for each kind of tea is also recommended, for example, a green tea pot, a black tea pot, an oolong pot, etc.
This is the Chinese method of making tea. This is due to the way they make Tea, which is often in quick steepings. This method maximizes the flavour and cost of your tea. By using steeping quickly (5-30 seconds, depending on the tea) and using many drawings (7-20, depending on the tea).
Sipping tea in small cups is also recommended for greater quality and appreciation of flavour. For those who wish to drink tea from a larger mug, you can do two or three quick steepings into your mug and save the leaves for more drawings later.
With most Western tea drinkers, the norm is steeping in a large teapot or mug. Unfortunately, you also need more hot water in order to draw any flavour from the leaves, and increasing the steeping time. The chances of oversteeping is increased, and the potential for extra drawings from the leaves are decreased.
The Porous nature of clay, makes Clay Teapots ideal. Each drawing leaves the tea dry and fresh, so moisture and mold does not make the tea taste stale. Because you are steeping for a shorter period of time, (even with bold teas like pu-erh) there is less of a danger of producing a bitter taste due to oversteeping.
Glazed pots, porcelain pots and metal tea pots are also a challenge in “authentic” tea making since they are non-porous materials.
Heat retention and control is difficult. Great tasting tea needs oxygen and Non-porous tea pots reduce the amount of oxygen that tea can absorb, thereby reducing flavour.
Traditional Tea making Techniques
1. Warm and sterilize the pot, strainer and drinking cups – starting with all your tea supplies on your tea tray, pour your hot water into your yixing tea pot full and overflowing, including the lid, to warm the pot. Douse the entire outside of the pot as well. Also douse the strainer and drinking cups. Discard all the hot water onto the tray.
2. Rinse the tea – put your measured amount of tea leaves (1-3 tablespoons, depending on the type of tea) into your tea pot and fill with hot water, overflowing the brim until the water runs clear. Place the lid on and pour out the rinse tea water. Open the lid to let heat escape so it doesn’t cook the leaves.
3. The first steeping – pour hot water into the tea pot until overflowing. Place on the lid. Steep for 5-10 seconds, depending on the type of tea being made. While it’s steeping with the lid on, pour a little more hot water over the outside of the tea pot to retain the heat. When ready, pour the steeped tea into a “fair cup” through a strainer. The fair cup will be used to pour the tea into the drinking cups.
The fair cup evenly distributes tea to your guests. Since pouring for multiple drinkers results in the first guest receiving tea quite weak and the last guest receiving tea quite strong with varying degrees of strength in between, the fair cup is where the entire drawing from the pot is poured into. From the fair cup, you have a homogenous strength of tea for everyone to enjoy, thereby making it “fair” for everyone.
4. Repeat steepings many times. As I’ve mentioned, good quality tea might cost more upfront, but using quick steeping methods really helps you get your money’s worth from your tea since you can do many drawings. You can do about seven drawings for green tea and 15-20 for black teas.
- Loose Tea leaves are better than Teabags. Tea needs room to move around and hydrate during the steeping process. Some manufacturers pack their teabags with the poor-quality, crumbly stuff that remains after using the good tea for loose tea sales. Since you can’t see inside of the bag, you can’t tell whether the tea is nice hardy chunks or dust. Some teas also expand so much that they can’t realistically be made in teabag format.
- However, in the end, People should drink the tea that they enjoy, in the manner that they prefer to prepare it. There are more and less effective ways of preparing tea, to be sure, but a lot simply depends on taste.
- Water is important to taste. Ideally, you want clear fresh good tasting water. The idea is that the water should still have lots of oxygen still dissolved in it. The oxygen is crucial to the tea developing it’s full flavour. Water to avoid is Bottled water, Distilled water, Water that has been boiling for awhile and Water that was previously boiled
- Most teas yield multiple infusions. (Just add more water to the leaves and steep for about 10 seconds longer than the prior infusion.) It should be noted that the Tea’s taste will change with every Infusion. In China, many people say the second or third infusion is usually best. (Generally, whenever the Tea starts tasting less good to you, it’s time to move on to fresher Tea.)
- Between infusions, keep your leaves out of heat, light, and water. Personally I reuse a batch of leaves over the course of the day, then retire them.