Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Say No to Snow and Yes to Tea

Picture courtesy of the Daily Mail
including information taken(in my own words) from an article by
Tony Rennell in same newspaper
In the fourth week of snow and ice and sub-zero temperatures my thoughts turn to the pleasing and warming effect of a cup of tea. Also reminding myself that in hot weather hot tea is the most thirst quenching drink I know and cooling to the body too.
Tea is something I grew up taking for granted, but not so since I have learned a little of the history of how tea was first brought to England. It would be far too much information to relate here but thought I would try and give a few snippets.
Apparently in the UK alone we drink 150 million cups or mugs of the liquid a day. We have a Scotsman called Robert Fortune to thank for this. Fortune was a seeker of the exotic, an explorer and student of plants just like his Victorian contemporary and fellow botanist Charles Darwin. As Darwin went on to try and discover the key to life (it is not my intention here to challenge that fact) we can thank Fortune for bringing us this pleasurable and relaxing nectar.
Camellia sinensis, tea, was his favourite species and the closely guarded secrets of its origins where what he sought, found and then stole eventually benefiting us all (well that is as long as one likes tea!)
According to Sarah Rose in her new book he pulled off the greatest theft of trade secrets in the history of mankind. At this time all tea was grown in China, its sole country of origin, which had a monopoly on the trade. Apparently for two centuries this was not an issue. The Chinese picked the tea, roasted it, blended it, kept the best of the crop for themselves and sold on the dregs of their Pekoes and Souchongs at a handsome markup. The British lapped it up even though it was at this time an inferior brew that they were getting.
To supply the demand the London based East India Company exchanged the Opium grown on its plantations in India with tea from China. This began to fail when China began to grow its own Opium. The British response was to begin trying to grow its own tea in India, in the foothills of the Himalayas, which resembled the tea growing areas in China. However this was much more difficult than expected as for centuries the Chinese had zealously guarded their secrets of its cultivation. Early attempts to grow tea in India were a disaster. The directors of the East India Company knew they had to get someone into the heart of the tea growing areas in China to learn the secrets and to get hold of the right seeds.
They contacted Fortune and sent him to China travelling in disguise.He was already acquainted with China having been over there for a Royal Horticultural Society Expedition where he returned with various flowers that are still to this day adorning flower beds here.
On his return journey he shaved his head, wore a pigtail and Mandarin clothes and managed to pass himself off as a Chinaman. He even sipped tea the Chinese way from a porcelain bowl without milk and sugar and called himself Sing-Wa. He eventually managed to get himself deep into tea growing country. The first important fact he discovered was that Green tea and Black tea were the same plant but differently processed, one fermented the other not. He also found that the Green tea intended for Britain had a dye added (a form of Cyanide) as the Chinese thought the British wanted a much deeper colour so people were in effect being poisoned.
When he eventually managed to acquire all the plants he needed he had them meticulously shipped to India but on the journey an official broke the seals to take a look and they ended up going rotten. Fortunatley Fortune was continuing with his exploits in China and began an even more arduous journey that was frought with dangers. The area was beset with Warlords and peasant uprisings against the Emperor. However he did not give up. It was in one of the local temples that the Monks introduced him to more tea secrets. The importance of water on the boil but not over-boiling, and using pre-warmed cups and larger leaves for better flavour.
Finally he brought all his years of gardening experience to bear on the shipping of the seeds to India. He also brought away Jasmine and Bergamot plants (which the Chinese used for flavouring), as well as ovens, woks and spatulas and special rolling tables and began a small tea industry in India.
According to Sarah Rose, India's Himalayan tea industry would outstrip China's in both quality, volume and price. As a result tea was no longer just a drink for the rich.
If you want to read the complete and fascinating history behind these few lines then the book to read is:
FOR ALL THE TEA IN CHINA: Espionage, Empire and the Secret Formula for the World's Favourite Drink by Sarah Rose.
In closing just a few hints on making a perfect cup of tea, first taught to me by my Grandmother.
The water should be freshly drawn each time (to do with oxygen) and the kettle must be properly boiling. Warm the teapot beforehand and use a good loose tea (I use Assam) one teaspoon per person. I was always taught to put the milk in first and not too much. Sugar is added to taste at the end.
For your information, Black tea which is Britain's favourite brew, gets it's flavour and colour from a natural oxidation process following the initial drying and rolling of the leaves. Green tea is made from leaves which are heated after picking to destroy the enzymes that cause oxidation, then rolled to release their flavour.
Oolong comes from China and Taiwan, and is a cross between Green and Black and gives a taste somewhere between the two.
White tea is the world's rarest. It is made from the buds and young leaves of a special tea plant variety grown in the Fujian province of China and can only be picked for just a few weeks of the year. Reported to be much better for one than Green tea. (I don't know, I have never tasted it)


Pomona said...

Funnily enough, I have just been reading a book on the history of the East India Company! I find tea really warms me up in cold weather, yet in summer it is quite refreshing!

Pomona x

Lorrie said...

Fascinating information. I never knew that tea was smuggled into India to be grown there. I'm a tea drinker - Twining's Earl Grey is my favourite. Never milk, just a bit of sugar.

Thanks for sharing. I hope your weather warms up a little soon. We're having rainy days that have the Olympic organizers a wee bit concerned!

Susan said...

We've been getting some information and seeing some pictures of your storms and blizzard conditions there in Europe. I think God is "saying" something in this World Wide cold spell!!!!!

I'm not much of a tea drinker. We are coffee drinkers but I do enjoy a cup from time to time. Retha sent me some red tea from South Africa that is the best tea I've ever had. Nothing like we can buy here.

Vee said...

Fascinating and if I ever run across this book, I will pick it up. No milk in tea here, but your points about preparing the pot and fresh water just at the boil are well taken. My favorite tea is a black breakfast tea and probably because it's more like coffee. Still, I'm loving a honey chamomille tea in the afternoon...very soothing. What's your favorite? (Oh, I have tried white tea and was unimpressed.)

Anonymous said...

I love my coffee, but I take a tea break everyday. I have never had white tea, so I must try some. I just recently started to drink green tea. Still have to get used to it. I love earl grey, peppermint, rosehip, and chamomile teas.


Needled Mom said...

Fascinating!!!! I had NO idea.

I will now enjoy my cup of tea even more. Hopefully, we will be brewing some tea here this week as we are forecast to finally get a little rain. Tea on a rainy day will be perfect.

Willow said...

Very intersting information, Barbara. I have read some on the Opium Wars but never anything about Tea in China. I have some white tea in my cupboard which was given to me as a sample by the woman who owns All Things Tea in my city. She is a tea master and runs both a little shop for the everyday tea drinker and an online store (tealiteful). I haven't tried the white tea; when I do, I'll tell you what it's like.

I'm mostly known as 'MA' said...

I do love a good cup of tea but rarely use the loose tea. I grew up with tea bags. I do like Earl Grey and English Breakfast tea. I use the pot for brewing when I'm not rushed for time, otherwise it's in the cup. It is fascinating hearing about all the different teas. I do love my coffee too and start the day with that and usually end the day with tea.

nanatrish said...

This was quite interesting and informative. I love your new picture for 2010. You look great. I drink coffee in the morning and hot tea in the afternoon.I must try your recipe for tea. Sounds yummy.

Michelle-ozark crafter said...

You guys have really had it bad over there. Nice visiting with you! Stay warm.

a woman who is said...

This is prime tea drinking season here for me too. One of the many things I adore about England is the art of drinking tea. I love how your culture is built around having a good cup of tea.

I love your strong black teas with milk and sugar. When I visited England I discovered in one of the B&B I stayed in Lady Grey. I am able to get that decaffeinated here in specialty markets, and since it is such a light tea, but very floral, I drink it with out the milk sugar for my before bedtime cuppa. As always I enjoyed your post.

Sorry you are smothering in snow!

Anonymous said...

Fascinating Barbara. When the children were little we would settle down and have our own afternoon tea. It was a time to relax and chat together and then have a story. Even now they like tea when they come in.

La Petite Gallery said...

Absolutely fasinating. Such a
story. Great name for a Book.
I am so bourgeois, I use tea bags. Lipton ,Bigelow constant Comment, I also liked the irish breakfast tea. My Grandmother from
England used a ball w/tea leaves in the pot. She also
prentended to read tea leaves.
I was mesmerized by her.
stay warm it's zero this A.M.

Patsy said...

Thank you Barbara, I am going to have a cup of tea.

Anonymous said...

I've been following your blog and enjoy it a lot. I'm across the pond but have always been fascinated with the English, their history, books etc. Unfortunately I've never been there. Mary H

Bernideen said...

Thank you for all this great information - living where you do -you have all the inside scoop!

Mike said...

I use loose Assam too... love it. I was also given some White teabags for Christmas. It's very nice, similar to green tea with a high caffeine kick.

Adrienne said...

Interesting! Think I need to have a cup of tea! ~Adrienne~

Jason said...

You have a great blog here. I like checking out travel blogs much like yours at times. I have a blog myself which I hope will be a great resource for those looking to go on vacation. I want everyone to get that "vacation feeling" every time they come to my site. You know what I'm talking about.

I'd like to exchange links with you to help spread some traffic around between each other. Please let me know if this is possible. Until then, keep up the good work.


Kate said...

I love tea! very little milk and sweetened but especially in a china cup!

Does it really make it taste better - I think so!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Love your blog,enjoy reading,your pictures are amazing and your garden is too.

Susan Skitt said...

Wow, very intriguing! I never knew there was such an adventure behind tea!

My husband likes the cut tea leaves from a wonderful little tea house right in our home town.

My favorite cut tea is called Savanah and has chocolate, almond and vanilla.


Thanks for telling us such an interesting story.

Blessings to you in the New Year!

Nancie said...

Hi Barbara,

Wow, you are surely very knowledgeable regarding tea! I love to drink tea too.

Thanks for your visit to my blog and your encouragements. It's nice to get to know you. I noted that your blog is an Award Free and Tag Free blog. But I just want you to know that I have added you to my list of blogging friends whom I am sharing the More Than Conquerors Award as you too are more than conqueror through Christ Who loved you! I am encouraged by what you shared on your profile "For me, Christianity is not a religion but a life. A life lived dependent on the reality of Christ within." Amen!

I love the photos you took too. They are so beautiful. I wish you a very blessed and wonderful weekend!

Warm regards,

nikkipolani said...

What a remarkable post, Barbara -- I enjoyed your summary very much! I've often heard reference to China tea as opposed to India tea and wondered why some was from each area -- can they not be grown in both areas? Now I understand better. Thank you.

Sara at Come Away With Me said...

A very interesting history, of which I knew nothing before reading your post! Fortune was fortunately named, don't you think!!

These days I think my favorite tea is Green Jasmine tea from Trader Joe's...it comes (dare I admit it) only in teabags, however...

podso said...

I came to your blog from Sara's and enjoy seeing your photos, and this post on tea! Believe it or not, one of our favorite teas is PJ tips (sp?) which we still have a good supply of from our last trip to Worthing, where we have spent time. Last spring we saw marvelous tea fields in the Kenyan highlands, and it was a truly beautiful scene!

Michael said...

How incredibly fascinating! didn;t knwo all this. Some but not all.

Thoughts and Events of the Day said...

Tea was described by Hazlitt as the beverage that cheers but doesn't inebriate. Apparently tea is very health giving. Its got a lot of powerful anti-oxidants. I drink a lot of green tea. I buy it in leaf form at H&B's in Romford

Sharon Goemaere said...

What an interesting post!Thanks for sharing all this info with this tea lover!Blessings~Sharon