The Way of Tea
Legend has it that in the year 2737 B.C. the emperor Shen Nong,
known as "The Divine Healer," was boiling water in his garden
and a leaf from the camellia bush blew into the pot. Curious, he tasted
the brew, felt wonderfully refreshed and declared it had medicinal powers.
"Modern science" is just now verifying what was proclaimed almost
5000 years ago about this simple plant. Through this simple force of the
wind, the course of humankind was altered and tea has become the most widely
consumed beverage (besides water) throughout the world.
There are many varieties of tea, but only one tea plant, Camellia sinensis.
(What we call herb tea is technically not tea because it does not come from
the camellia bush, but over the years we blended the meanings of the two
types of beverages. We will look at the many properties and benefits of
herb tea in another article.) It is an evergreen shrub that is related to
the magnolia. As one species of plant, Vitis vinifera is responsible for
nearly all the wine in the world, so it is with tea. The wonderful variety
is a result of subtle influences of soil differences, elevation, climate,
the whims of weather (early or late monsoon, drought, etc.) - a unique personality
of place, which exists all over this planet.
There are essentially three types of tea - black, green & Oolong. These
three varieties of tea are distinguished by the amount of fermentation that
takes place in processing them.
Fermentation changes the chemical structure of the tea leaf, allowing
key flavor characteristics to emerge. (It doesn't, however, make tea alcoholic.)
The longer the fermentation process, the more caffeine contained in the
final product (see the chart below.) The tea leaves are first withered to
remove about 1/3 of their weight through evaporation. They are then rolled
and spread on cement or tile floors and tables in a cool, humid room to
ferment. After careful monitoring to ensure proper color and pungency, from
1 to 5 hours, the leaves are then fired at 120° in hot pans or modern
dryers to remove almost all of their moisture and stop the fermentation
process. Green tea is first panfired to remove the enzymes that otherwise
lead to fermentation. They are then rolled and fired. Oolong is withered
and fermented in one shorter stage then fired which halts the fermentation
when it is about half complete.
- Black Tea such as Darjeeling, Ceylon and Lapsang Souchong are
fermented, then heated and dried; they produce a dark reddish-brown brew.
- Green Tea such as Hyson and Sencha are unfermented; their greenish,
slightly bitter taste is preferred in Asian countries and served at the
end of the meal at Asian restaurants.
- Oolong Tea such as Fancy Formosa is semi-fermented and produces
a milder brew with characteristics of both black and green tea.
Simplicity focused brings an end to conflict
In Japan the preparation and serving of tea has been elevated
to that of a fine art through Chanoyu, the Japanese tea ceremony. This spiritual
practice requires years of dedicated study, yet celebrates the simple poetry
of life and the communion that exists between guest and host. Paradoxically,
it has its roots in war. In the sixteenth century, military leaders would
leave their weapons and differences outside the door of the tea room in
hopes of resolving their conflicts over a steaming cup of cha (tea.) The
elaborate ritual enforced an atmosphere of civility and restraint over the
otherwise warring parties.
At Sundance we carry a wide variety of bulk & packaged teas, many are
organic. Try a cup, and enjoy a taste of history.
|Caffeine per 6-oz. cup|
|Espresso (2oz.) ||60-90mg|
The Health Benefits of Tea
Digestion: Essential oils and polyphenols aid digestion
by stimulating peristalsis of digestive juices.
Cardiovascular system: Intriguing evidence that Puerh, a black tea
long famous for its medicinal qualities reduces blood triglycerides and
cholesterol, lowering the incidence of heart attack.
Teeth: All teas, and green teas in particular, contain fluoride,
a mineral that prevents the development of bacterial plaque which leads
to tooth decay.
Cancer: Polyphenols in green tea have recently been identified as
antioxidants and shown to reduce the incidence of skin, lung, stomach and
liver cancer in laboratory tests.
Vitamins: Some studies show green tea contains significant amounts
of vitamin C.
Nervous system: Increases alertness, reduces fatigue, and improves
Caffeine: A central nervous system stimulant that also promotes blood
circulation and has a diuretic effect. Tea has about 1/2 the amount or less
of caffeine per cup as coffee; shorter brewing time equals less caffeine.
Folk remedies and attributes: Believed in some cultures to promote
longevity. Used in various places as an anti-bacterial agent.
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ResSeguie Last update: May 23, 1996