Green tea’s fabulous story
January 20th 2017
Long-time known but recently adopted in the Occident, green tea is growing in popularity and is now on top the list of miracle-food we must include into our diet. Following recommendations of doctors, scientists and health bloggers, many of us choose to replace coffee with this infusion, known to release all the toxins from the body. Several virtues are denoted; help prevent cancer, be a powerful antioxidant, clean out the residues of alcohol, promote body’s rehydration, etc… Will green tea be the silver bullet we need to help our bodies to confront all environmental intolerances? Maybe! Certainly, green tea deserves all the excitement it causes because for ages it's been consumed by different people and occupies an important place in their history and rituals.
For 2000 years, green tea has been a vital industry for some 55 people who regularly consume it. Indeed, for the producing countries, tea can be as important as food. It is not only a delicious and invigorating drink but it also forms the base for mechanisms of socialization, rituals and habits retained from several generations.
From prehistoric time, tea was consumed in the Yunnan forests, the Southwest China of today, in the Assam, India, and also in Laos, Vietnam and Thailand. Green tea’s known origins are mainly recorded in China’s history since the beginning of Chinese dynasties. At that time, the tea leaves were chewed and then were consumed as a medicinal solution. With time, fresh leaves were brewed and dipped in boiling water. Served as a stimulating drink, it became an important Chinese tradition for which China is recognized today. Through the Chinese dynasties, the process of making tea was developed, from simple drying process; people began to produce small cubes of compressed tea using a steam process, which were cooked before being immersed in hot water, a technique used to remove the tea’s bitter taste.
Religions, especially Buddhism, contributed a lot to integrate the rituals of tea in China, they said it would give rejuvenating benefits. Tea’s preparation time was also a precious moment of relaxation. During the Tang dynasty, the ritual of tea has gained refinement and sophistication. A "Tea Master" present in all families was necessary to ensure that making tea was made according to the rules of art. A variety of cups and teapots were also introduced into daily life.
Green tea arrived in Japan during the Heian Period (194 until 1185) with the rise of the samurai and the expansion of Buddhism from China. Its use was therefore also greatly encouraged by Buddhism’ accession to the Japanese people because the religion strongly presents green tea in its practices. Over generations, the Japanese, as their culture tend to, produced a quality tea that today stands out from Chinese tea.
The Portuguese were the first to import green tea and spices from the East world. When in 1661 Charles II married Catherine of Baganza, a Portuguese princess and a tea enthusiast, tea became a new trend for all the English ladies. High society instituted the Teatime, new phenomenon of socialization, and made it to their taste by adding milk into it. This was the beginning of the English taste for tea and their reach for it.
In the early 19th century, while the long explorations to India began, a rumor claim that there was in Assam, wild plants which look like Chinese tea, and were used by locals to prepare food and drink. When the British discovered the plant, they thought it was an inferior kind of Chinese tea. Obstinate to bring back this last one to their country, they imported the best seeds and the largest Chinese tea bushes in the territory of Assam, hoping they would cultivate it and thus get rid of their dependence on Chinese’s production. However, the plants did not adapt to the warm, humid and rainy weather. It was not until 1847 that a new manager, Mr. Williamson decided to cultivate the local plants, now known as green tea from Assam. This judicious decision gave birth to a new industry which became successfull.
There is now over a hundred species of green tea, but mostly we consider: the Chinese specie, Camilla sinensis var. sinensis; the variety of Assam, Camilla sinensis var assamica, and Camilla sinensis var. jav, a hybrid founded in Indonesia that comes from the Assam plant but is classified separately by biologists because of its flowering and properties.
We can realize that the tea grown in India is very different from that of China even though biologically they are both from the same plant. Chinese tea is milder, fresh and delicate while India’s is the leader of a mixed production. Japanese tea is known for being cultivated with care, it developed a more astringent taste and is very refined. Besides its origins, several factors can give tea its taste and smell: the soil, the environment, the harvesting period, method of cultivation, the temperature during the harvest and of course the farmer’s experience.
Several manufacturing processes will also give tea various colors, even if it comes from the same plant, the camilla sinensis. In addition to green tea, we find black, red, yellow, white and oolong teas. For green tea, the leaves are usually only heated to remove moisture. Black tea is actually the green tea which has been through a complete oxidation, a similar process for red tea. For yellow tea, leaves are picked very early and have been through fermentation.. White tea is composed of young leaves and buds which are simply withered and dried. Oolong tea has been through a partial oxidation, shorter than black tea’s making.
The tea enthusiasts can now enjoy a wide selection of tea, nearly 1 500 varieties are offered, some at incredibly low prices and others at exorbitant prices. Tea is often blended with all kinds of flavours such as mint, lemon and jasmine. Green tea is also the most non-alcoholic beverage drunk all over the world, after water. Even if green tea has been now popularized by its virtues and benefits, it has retained its role so essential and closely linked to culture. It allows us to take a break, an opportunity to relax and also share with others.
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