Tea. One of the most popular beverages in the world. Some might even call it boring for that very reason. But is it really? Yesterday, I posted a recipe for mulled tea, perfect to warm up this cold winter season. Today, let’s have a look at some interesting facts and legends about tea, that you might have never heard about!
1. Let’s start with the basics – how tea was first discovered. According to an old legend, a few tea leaves were blown by wind into a bowl of hot water the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung was drinking – in 2737 BC. Curious, having seen the water change colour, he decided to taste the brew and was amazed by its flavour and refreshing properties. Whether the legend is true, we don’t know – some evidence suggests though that drinking tea may have originated in other parts of China.
2. Mixing tea with milk is a controversial subject. Some cultures do it by default, others – cringe on the thought of having the two together in one cup. But why was milk added to tea in the first place? Apparently, it had to do with delicate china dishes. Pouring hot tea directly onto delicate china could break it, so in order to protect it – milk was first poured into the cup. Later, the habit of adding milk to tea – or the lack of it – was a way to show off your social status and wealth. Those who could afford better, more durable dishes, would drink tea without milk.
3. Before tea became a popular everyday drink (which happened in the 17th century), it was used as medicine for 3000 years.
4. All categories of tea (black, green, white, oolong and pu-erh) actually come from the same plant – Camellia Sinensis, but they’re either picked in a different growth stage of the plant or go through a different process afterwards. “Teas” such as rooibos, chamomile, peppermint and all other brews made from roots, leaves, fruits, flowers or seeds of other herbs or plants should actually be called “tisanes“.
5. Great Britain is known for having loads of traditions involving tea. One of them is afternoon tea – a meal consumed between breakfast and dinner, consisting of sweet snacks and – you guessed it! – tea. It’s believed that the tradition was invented by Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, in 1800. If you ever plan to visit England, add afternoon tea to your schedule! You can usually order it in cafés or restaurants. It comes as a selection of small snacks, sweet or savoury.
6. Now down to dry facts – black tea, due to easily absorbable caffeine, will keep you focused – which makes it a perfect choice for those times when you’re studying or working!
7. Black tea also has a calming effect (another reason to drink it while studying!) – thanks to L-theanine. Theanine is used for treating anxiety, lowering blood pressure and preventing Alzheimer’s disease. Other health benefits of tea come from the antioxidants it contains – substances that may delay, or even prevent, some types of cell damage.
8. As mentioned before, all categories of tea (not to be confused with tisanes) are actually the same plant, processed in different ways. Within each category, there can be plenty more types – it is believed that there are 1500 of them in total. Some sources even bring that number up to 3000!
9. According to this data from 2016, the top three countries of tea consumption per capita are Turkey, Ireland and United Kingdom.
10. Top three exporters (also in 2016) were China (2.4 million tonnes), India (1.3) and Kenya (0.5).
11. Tea-loving Britain, although far from optimal for tea-growing climate, actually has one tea plantation as well! There are already plans for starting a second one.
12. Tea is believed to be the most largely consumed drink in the world, after water, though in some countries it comes third, losing to coffee.
13. Most of tea is grown in mountain areas 3000-7000 feet (900-2100 metres) above sea level, in warm climates (both conditions are pretty hard to meet in the UK, which makes their tea plantation even more special).
14. One of the most expensive types of tea is Tieguanyin – its price oscillates around $1500 per pound and is the most expensive tea ever sold in the UK. However, the global record belongs to a rare type called Da Hong Pao – it can sell for up to 1 million dollars per kilogram!
15. Tea bags were invented in 1904. This invention also happens to be considered one of the worst inventions of the 20th century by many tea lovers. Whether you agree with them or not, the sad truth is that tea bags are often filled with worse quality leaves, compared to loose leaf packs.
What’s your opinion on this matter? Is loose leaf tea the only right choice?
16. Blocks of tea pressed into bricks were used as a means of payment between the 9th and the 20th century in China, Mongolia, Siberia, Tibet, Turkmenistan and Russia. If you needed change, you simply broke off a piece of the brick!
17. Tea is a Hollywood star. That’s right – when you see actors drink whiskey in films or series, in reality it’s often watered down tea!
18. Tea contains (a lot) more caffeine than coffee. While black tea can contain between 40 and 120mg of caffeine per gram, coffee beans may only contain as little as 15mg. However, one cup of coffee is usually brewed from more (in terms of weight) coffee beans than you’d use tea leaves to brew a cup of tea. Therefore, if we compare caffeine contents in actual beverages, coffee will usually have more.
19. Although generally considered to bring a lot of health benefits, black tea shouldn’t be consumed in unlimited amounts. It can affect iron absorption, so don’t use it to wash down vitamins!
20. Each type of tea comes with brewing instructions, including optimal brewing time and water temperature. Though the temperatures will vary (from 65°C to 96°C), you should avoid pouring tea with still boiling water, as it will burn the leaves. In most cases (especially white and green teas) it shouldn’t even be close to the boiling point!
Did you find any of these facts particularly interesting or surprising? How do you like your tea? Is it like a sacred ritual for you, making you feel uneasy when you see someone do it the wrong way?
And now… time to make myself a cup of tea! 🙂