Simple right? Add some leaves to a little hot water, let sit a few minutes, and voilà. However, this seemingly simple question can unfurl into a huge variety of topics ranging from the different types of tea to the impact on world history. An exploration of tea affords the opportunity to better understand what is behind those tea bags, broaden your palette, and appreciate how the drink has influenced history and the world culture that we have today. Our intent with the Dominion Tea blog is to try to explore a variety of these topics, admittedly with a focus on specialty loose leaf tea. Over time we seek to dive deeper into the many facets of tea in an effort to learn more about this beverage. In this specific posting we seek merely to scratch the surface, looking broadly at products, countries growing tea, and how history was impacted by our favorite drink.
Types of Tea
Most US citizens associate tea with the humble tea bag found in the grocery store or restaurant. However, today tea is found in a great many forms, driven by wide ranging consumer interest in gourmet and specialty foods, social concerns around its production, convenience, and individual health. As a result, products include loose leaf tea, tea bags, ready-to-drink products, powdered options, shampoo, body wash, masks and scrubs, and even supplements.
Within brewed or steeped tea, most American consumers experience comes from tea bags. These generally come from an extremely small number of multi-national corporations that buy huge quantities of tea and produce bags branded for consumer sale. This product is produced on mass scale and the emphasis is on low cost with consistent taste. The actual product inside is normally small particles from many different sources, referred to as fannings and dust. Contrast tea bag tea with that of specialty loose leaf tea which is closer to whole leaf and, at the high end, consists of the very best leaves which have been hand-picked and processed. While it’s virtually impossible to know where commodity products come from, it is increasingly common to know where and how specialty teas have been grown and manufactured. For those looking for a stronger connection to the source, greater variety, and higher quality, specialty teas offer a wide array of choice. Yellow, White, and Oolong Teas are among the options beyond the well-known Green and Black varieties. However, like fine wines, loose leaf specialty tea varies greatly in quality, authenticity, price, and availability. Generally, the closer to the traditional growing region and production methods, the wider the variety in taste from year to year, the harder it is to come by, and the more amazing the drinking experience.
Tea Growing Countries
Tea is produced in a large number of countries around the world. While China, India, Japan, and Sri Lanka are well known producers, the list also includes Kenya, Jamaica, Iran, Argentina, the United States, and many others. Numbers from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations suggest that some of these countries, like Japan and India, as well as China, grow tea in large part to satisfy domestic consumption. Others, like Sri Lanka and Kenya, produce it primarily for export, and some, like the U.S. grow only on a very minor scale. The cliff notes version is that a large number of countries produce tea with huge variety in production, appearance, and flavor differences providing a knowledgeable and informed tea drinker many avenues to explore.
History of the Worlds Second Most Popular Beverage (after water)
Tea permeates the history of many countries dating back hundreds of years and continuing to modern times. Around 1000 CE tea was a major trading commodity used by the Chinese to acquire horses from Tibet. More recently the trade led to the Opium Wars, concluding in 1842 with the United Kingdom taking ownership of Hong Kong. American imports from England began in about 1711 and continued until the Boston Tea Party of 1773 when the colonists, fed up over British taxation, tossed shiploads of tea into the harbor. As Joseph M. Walsh wrote in Tea: Its History and Mystery (circa 1892), “The birth of the greatest nation of all time [was] due to a three-penny tax on tea!”After the revolution, of course Americans continued drinking tea and the first two Clipper ships manufactured in the U.S. , Helena and Montauk built by H.W. Webb, were built specifically to travel to China for tea. Today American consumers prefer black tea by far. However, early American consumers actually preferred green tea until World War II when access was lost to most sources and the American palate shifted toward black.
Making a cup of tea can be quite a simple and pleasurable experience. However, for those of us who would like to know more about what is behind the beverage in our cup, how it is properly prepared, and how preferences in America differ from the rest of the world, there is much to learn. What started out as a love of tea, has becoming a great opportunity to continue to broaden our own horizons, teach our son about the world, and share our interest with others.