At the time when Chinese Emperors were
still 'gods', Cheng Nung, the last of the three mythical emperors,
decreed it was necessary to drink boiled water to prevent illnesses.
However, one day, helped by the wind and divine breath, a strange new
drink presented itself to the emperor. Awakening from a nap, he saw that
some leaves had miraculously landed in his royal cup of boiled water and
infused the hot liquid with an amber brew. On tasting this new
concoction, he found the flavor so exquisite, he named the unknown tree
and made it his favorite drink. Tea was officially welcomed to the
From China, tea was introduced to the rest
of the world. In the 7th century, the first traces of tea importation
were found in Tibet, Korea and Japan. Tea slowly found its way to the
Silk Road, but its expansion remained confidential. The traders and
travelers introduced tea consumption along their routes towards the
Occident, in the oases and the caravanserais. Later, with the arrival of
seafaring English, French and Dutch navigation companies, tea took off
big time. For the British Empire, the control of tea production became
an economic priority. The English introduced tea to the Island of Ceylon
in 1839 but the quality of the production remained mediocre and was not
to the standards of the exacting English.
So, disguised as a Chinese merchant,
Englishman Robert Fortune was sent by the Queen to learn the production
secrets jealously guarded by the Chinese. His mission accomplished,
England was finally able to develop great teahouses, resulting in
personalities making huge fortunes and names for themselves. Thomas
Twining and Thomas Lipton were two such gentlemen.
The owner of two teashops, Thomas Twining
quickly made a reputation for himself by offering samplings by the cup.
Thomas Lipton opened his first shop in Glasgow and by the time he
settled in London, he was already a millionaire. This super-rich
eccentric was the first to be ennobled by the Queen in 1902. To date,
his name is one of the best known on the tea market.
The fame of tea grew and the need for
superior blends became a high priority for the wealthy. Tea gardens
located at high altitudes produced some of the best and expensive leaves
as they enjoyed the benefits of ideal climatic conditions. The gathering
is never mechanized and is usually entrusted to the expert hands of
women. These gardens produce teas of great quality, which are sold in
whole leaves. Among the precious, you can savor the fruity flavor of a
Saint James of Uva, the finesse of a Pettiagalla or the roundness of a
Pi Lo Chung.
According to Japanese tea expert Okakura
Kabuzo, tea is a work of art and needs the hand of a master to bring out
its noble qualities. "There is good tea and bad tea, like there are good
paintings and bad paintings, most often bad ones," he says. So, tea has
earned its reputation. Every kind has its own characteristics and
secrets. The water must be chosen with care because it reveals the
flavors and aromas. Its temperature is important, since prolonged
boiling 'kills the water', ruins the tea leaves and destroys the
flavors. Purists have several teapots and each is specific to a kind of
tea. A glass teapot for perfumed teas or a metal one for full-bodied
teas. For the final touch, perfect preparation calls for exact duration
of infusion. It must be according to each tea type. And it must be
stopped at the right moment when the aromas are freed.
Whatever the country may be, tea is always
at the heart of the people who enjoy it. In Japan, tea drinking takes on
ceremonial grandeur. Tea basting is a refined pleasure shared among
friends or done in honor of a distinguished guest. It reflects the
Japanese art of living where aestheticism meets philosophy.
In the Middle East, the first sign of
hospitality is the little glass decorated with lively colors filled with
mint tea. Its preparation is often the task of the head of the family.
During traditional rites and festivities, two different teapots are used
and three herbal teas are served, one after the other.
And what would Britain be without its
famous afternoon tea? Instituted by the Duchess of Bedford, this
gourmand ceremony survives today, despite the conditions of modern life.
Even today, many English will simply not miss the pleasurable treat of
an afternoon tea break.
For many Asian communities, a cup or
steaming chai - sweet, milky and frothy like the Malaysian teh
tarik (pulled tea), is a perfect excuse for friends to gather and
yarn the evening away.
Tea, the mythical plant, symbolic of the
Asian continent's spirituality and culture is today a universal drink,
savored throughout the four corners of the planet and enjoyed by old and