The Wide World of Tea
Consumed as a beverage for the past two to three thousand years in southeast China, tea has an extensive past (Eden 1). The first Chinese tea leaves were believed to be brewed in open pans, however during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD) it was discovered steeping the leaves in hot water produced the most flavorful drink (Tillberg). Since the heat of the water was an essential component to producing a desirable beverage, a lidded vessel was created to contain the heat during the steeping process. This vessel evolved into the teapot most of us are familiar with today.
The cultivation of tea plants is believed to have originated in China, but it soon spread to other areas of Asia. Green tea was brought to Japan in the eighth century to be used for medicinal purposes (Yamamoto, et al. 1). By the 15th century it had progressed to a drink for people of a certain social status. Now green tea is an integral part of the daily lives of the Japanese people. Between 1818 and 1834 the British in India, both in the private and governmental sectors, began looking into the possibility of starting tea cultivation in the northeast region of the country. Their drive was mainly based on possible revenues, but the trade relationship with China was shaky and tea trade was suspended from time to time. Local “wild” tea plants were discovered in the region and used to begin cultivation in India. From this point forward, Chinese imports were discontinued (Eden 2). Tea is now grown in 20 countries around the world, ranging from the Republic of Georgia to New Zealand (Yamamoto 4). However, its roots will always remain in Asia.
Three main varieties of the tea plant, Camellia Sinensis, are cultivated throughout the world (Tillberg). The hardy China variety, grown in China, Tibet, and Japan, is able to withstand cold temperatures and spring droughts. It is a many-stemmed bush that only reaches heights around 2.75 meters high, yet it has a long economic life. The reason for this is that this variety continuously sends up fresh stems so the plants can grow to at least 100 years old and still produce good quality yields of leaves. When this variety is grown at a higher altitude, like Darjeeling, it produces tea with a coveted, valuable flavor (Harler 2-3).
The second variety, Assam, is a single stemmed tree that can reach heights of twenty to sixty feet in height. It is found in northeast India and has an economic life of approximately forty years with regular plucking and pruning. This variety has five main subcategories; Manipuri, Lushai, Burma, light-leaf Assam, and finally dark-leaf Assam. The dark-leaf Assam is highly prized for the fine quality “golden tip” teas it produces (Harler 3).
The final variety, the Cambodian variety is also known as the Indo-China variety. It is not currently cultivated on any tea plantations, but rather naturally crossed with other varieties to produce particular...