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.
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.
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.

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.

Caffeinated Beverages
Caffeine per 6-oz. cup
Espresso (2oz.) 60-90mg
Drip coffee60-165mg
Black tea25-110mg
Oolong tea12-55mg
Green tea8-16mg

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 concentration.

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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This page built by Ray Neff andDavid ResSeguie Last update: May 23, 1996