Aaah, tea… A good cup of tea always makes me feel like my soul (whatever that is), is taking a deep, relaxing sigh. Soothing, like a soft, deep blanket; the process of brewing and drinking tea is usually the chance I take to stop… breathe… and remember to slow down. Other than this enjoyment I get and a half-glanced label saying ‘China’ somewhere on the box, I know very little about something that gives me so much pleasure. This is where my eclectic explorations have brought me – to the mechanics (or organics;) of tea.
Origin & context:
Much to my surprise all tea comes from the same plant – Camellia sinensis – so you get black tea, white tea, oolong, green & pu’erh tea from altering the myriad steps in between picking the tea leaves and shipping it out. Wikipedia has a nice article about tea processing that even has a diagram on how to get each kind of tea out of the Camellia sinensis leaves. This means that some of my favourite teas (rooibos, mint, ginger tea, etc) are strictly speaking not tea, but herbal infusions. Meh 🙂
Confession – I used to guzzle down coffee like it was the only thing standing between me and a mamba, waiting just off-stage to come spit on the productivity of my day (hold on… do mambas spit? you get the point). When I moved to Taiwan I discovered their amazing, overwhelming varieties of tea drinks and tea shops – every city block has at least two 茶店 (chádiàn, tea shop) as if the populace would feel heart-palpitating panic if they didn’t have their next tea stop in view. I would soon come to play my own musical chairs with tea stops. Hmmm, so how popular is tea really?
Despite my past coffee habits, I wasn’t at all shocked to find the Internet telling me it’s the second most popular drink after water. However, this nonchalant throwback statement became more suspect the more I read it, not only because it was repeated almost verbatim, but especially because there was an obvious gap where sources and references were concerned. For someone with a research background, that raises a pretty big red flag… One person did his research, though (cheers from the gallery!!) and posted it on QM History of Tea, so thanks to markmanellis we know that it’s just a really effective meme kickstarted in 1911. While it may be speculated that more cups of tea are consumed per year than any other single beverage, the truth is… still out there 😉
What we can say is that approximately 2,4 million tons of tea is sold each year and that’s still mind-boggling! Where does all this tea come from?
Obviously China is one of the placs and again the Internet seems to agree on a sweetly sentimental story about an emperor who stopped by the side of the road to have a cup of warm water, when a leaf fell into his cup and voilá… tea is born (insert meaningful pause).
For a long time China was the world’s biggest supplier, not a surprise – they were the only ones ‘in the race’. Picture a red-clad runner, dainty tea cup in hand, holding onto his robes with not a drop of oolong spilling, because he’s the only one in the race. Until England, with its troublesome trade, colonisation and assimilated ‘tea time’ enters its own competitors: India, Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), Taiwan… Currently tea is grown in a bunch of other places too: Japan, East Africa, Russia, Indonesia – all for varying levels of local and export demand.
References that are not already linked in the content will appear here
 Fuller, J. How Tea Works. Retrieved July 24 2014 from How stuff works website
A nation rediscovers its old drinking habits (2013).Retrieved July 24 2014 from Economist.com
 markmanellis (2014).“Tea, the second most widely consumed drink, after water” – a meme. Retrieved July 24 2014 from QM History of Tea on WordPress