What is tea?
Tea is made from the leaves of an evergreen plant called Camellia Sinensis which grows mainly in tropical and sub-tropical climates. It comes in many variations depending on its processing but the most popular are black, green and white blends. Tea contains high levels of antioxidants called polyphenols or flavonoids which are most prevalent in green and white tea but are also present in varying degrees in black tea too. To make green tea the leaves are briefly steamed, rolled and dried whereas with black tea the leaves are crushed and ‘sweated’ (a natural oxidation process which removes some of the polyphenols) and white tea comes from the delicate buds and younger leaves on the plant which are withered in natural sunlight and lightly processed to remove oxidation.
The legend of tea
This much-loved beverage has unsurprisingly conjured up many legends surrounding its discovery, here are three of our favourites:
Legend of tea number one
According to Chinese legend, tea was discovered accidentally by emperor Shen-Nung approximately 3,000 years BC when the emperor was setting up camp in the shade of a large tree. A fire was made and a pot with boiling water was prepared for dinner. Suddenly the wind got up and blew some of the leaves into the pot which turned golden and produced a delightful aroma. The emperor tried the drink and was immediately delighted by the refreshing taste and invigorating effect and let out the sound "T'sa", meaning godlike, so that, until today, "cha" is the name for tea in Chinese.
Legend of tea number two
According to Indian legend tea is supposedly a creation of Lord Buddha himself. During a pilgrimage to China Buddha was said to have taken a vow to meditate without rest for nine years but despite practicing he inevitably dozed off from time to time. Once upon awakening he was said to have torn off his eyelids and thrown them to the ground out of frustration. These eyelids took root and germinated into plants that sprouted leaves with an eyelid shape. When Buddha chewed the leaves of this plant his fatigue completely vanished. The plant, of course, was said to be the first tea plant, which he carried with him to China. However, it is important to note that there is no evidence that the Buddha ever went to China.
Legend of tea number three
According to another Chinese legend a famous herbalist who possessed the wealth of knowledge of 84,000 medicinal plants only passed on the knowledge of 62,000 to his son on his deathbed. During a dream one night the spirit of his father visited and told the son to go to his grave to receive the remaining knowledge. The son visited the next day expecting to find 22,000 different plants but instead he found one, one that miraculously possessed all the 22,000 qualities of all the lost plants . . . and that tree was tea!
The economics of tea . . .
Tea is the most popular drink in the world in terms of consumption and India is the world’s largest tea-drinking nation. Turkey, with 2.5kg of consumption per person per year, is the world’s greatest by capita consumer. World tea production in 2012 was 4528 million kg of which India’s share was 1126 million kg. The Tea industry in India provides employment to nearly 3.6 million people
Health Benefits of TEa
Tea contains high levels of antioxidants called polyphenols or flavonoids. They are most prevalent in green and white tea but are also present in varying degrees in black tea too.
The reported health benefits of tea are:
- Enhancing immune function
- Lowering LFL cholesterol levels
- Reducing blood pressure
- Thinning the blood and reducing the risk of heart attack
- Lowering stroke risk
- Lowering cancer risk
- Boosting longevity
- Aiding digestion
- Increasing metabolism
- Relieving stress