In ancient times, the cultivation and drinking of tea spread from China to Japan, Taiwan and Southeast Asia. Tea or Cha in Cantonese was first tasted in European Lisbon, Portugal, in the sixteenth century.
This week, we trace the timelines of tea and explore the different traditions associated with this beverage. Tea is a drink made by steeping processed leaves, buds or twigs of the tea bush camellia sinensis in hot water for a few minutes. There are four basic types of tea : black tea, oolong tea, green tea and white tea. The term 'herbal tea' usually refers to infusions of fruit or herbs such as rosehip tea, chamomile tea and Jiaogulan, which contain no tea leaves. Tea is a natural source of caffeine, theophylline, etc. It has a cooling, slightly bitter and astringent taste.
The Chinese have enjoyed tea for centuries. China is considered the birthplace of tea drinking with recorded tea use in its history dating back to at least 1000 B.C. The Han Dynasty used tea as medicine. The use of tea as a beverage drunk for pleasure or social occasions dates from the Thang Dynasty or earlier.
At this time in tea's history, the nature of the beverage and style of tea preparation were quite different from the way we experience tea today. Tea leaves were processed into cakes. The dried teacake, generally called 'brick tea' was ground in a stone mortar. Hot water was added to the powdered teacake, or the powdered teacake was boiled in earthenware kettles then consumed as a hot beverage.
Ritual tea drinking was introduced from China to Japan in the late twelth century at the same time as Zen Buddhism. The tea ceremony was quickly adopted by Japanese religious and court circles. The Japanese used to dress in kimonos take tea and a light meal in a small purposebuilt tea house, erected in its own garden. All the items used are selected for their beauty and rarity. The purpose of the ceremony is not the drinking of bitter frothy green tea, but the appreciation of the experience and the environment on the aesthetic level. Reading poetry, writing calligraphy, painting, and discussing philosophy while enjoying tea eventually became popular in Japan, particularly with Samurai society.
It was only in the nineteenth century when the British introduced the cultivation of tea to their colonies in India and Sri Lanka, that the beverage became firmly established in the Western world. The addition of other items such as milk and sugar to tea is primarily a European invention, though it has also spread to British colonies such as Hong Kong or India.
The evolution of tea led to the invention of varieties of tea-serving cockeries. Each and every tea pot and tea set represents a culture. China porcelain crockery reflects on the Chinese style, while the Japanese calligraphy tea pot represents their culture. Today, we also have our own distinct styles and draw inspiration from the world around us.
To keep the body in good health is our first duty, otherwise we shall not able to keep our mind strong and clean. Take a brisk walk in the morning or evening, if you have only a few minutes to spare have a cup of tea and cookies. A quick walk around the neighborhood followed by a cup of tea will reduce the level of stress hormones in your blood. Tea also gives you an energy boost that helps you withstand pressure at work and home.
NAZNEEN HAQUE MIMI
Photo Credit: Tamim Sujat