I think that I shall never see…
Second only to water, tea is the most consumed beverage in the world.
So, I was riding the bus, or the subway or some “transit poetry”/ “poetry in motion” adorned system, when I fell in love with the following poem, hurriedly scrawling down this verse without a notation of the title or author (eep).
With you I see in ages yet unborn
thy votaries the British Isles adorn
With joy I see enamored youths despise
The goblet’s luster for the false one’s eyes;
Till rosy Bacchus shall his wreath’s resign
And love and tea triumph o’re the vine
in other words: tea is the shit!
and, to geographically represent the political economic flows from the poem:
Anyone who knows me, or has read my about me, or has seen me at work, or in class, or on the trolley, or sitting on a mountain, or pretty much anywhere in an awakened state, has a sense of my
obsession with addiction to tea. By which I mean, of course, proper tea, scientifically known as camellia sinensis. I am constantly brewing or drinking the stuff. A subset of you may also know that I have tea leaves and tea blossoms tattooed on my left arm. Like actually enamored with the stuff. And my family does fit into that line about thy votaries the British Isles adorn, being from Jamaica by way of Africa, India, China, Lebanon, Ireland and so on. Which is why, though I joke about being a tea snob, I really do have a hard time with folks lumping any hot beverage made of bark and sticks and flowers into the category “tea.” More on that in a moment.
True tea snobs might enjoy this locater, which searches for tea houses close to your zip code. A bit too nose-looky-downy for me, but whatever tips yr canoe, I suppose. I can live with being an enabler. Send me some recommendations while you’re at it.
And how could I move on to the substantive part without dropping my favoritest joke of all time?
Q: ¿Why do anarchists drink herbal “tea”?
A: Because proper tea is theft!
Whether you’re an aficionado or an amateur looking to play a little catch up, you can read up on this informative overview of camellia sinensis that I just happened upon. Its written by Marian Segal of the FDA, and goes a little something like this:
As legend has it, one day in 2737 B.C. the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung was boiling drinking water over an open fire, believing that those who drank boiled water were healthier. Some leaves from a nearby Camellia sinensis plant floated into the pot. The emperor drank the mixture and declared it gave one “vigor of body, contentment of mind, and determination of purpose.”
Perhaps as testament to the emperor’s assessment, tea–the potion he unwittingly brewed that day–today is second only to water in worldwide consumption. The U.S. population is drinking its fair share of the brew; in 1994, Americans drank 2.25 billion gallons of tea in one form or another–hot, iced, spiced, flavored, with or without sugar, honey, milk, cream, or lemon.
A serving of tea generally contains about 40 milligrams of caffeine (less than half as much caffeine as in coffee), but the actual levels vary depending on the specific blend and the strength of the brew. Decaffeinated tea is also available.
Many tea drinkers find the beverage soothing, and folk medicine has long valued it as a remedy for sore throats and unsettled stomachs. Recent studies have shown that certain chemicals in tea called polyphenols may help reduce the risk of far more serious illnesses, including atherosclerosis and some cancers, although the data are not conclusive. (See “Tonic in a Teapot?”)
Black, Green and Oolong
Two leaves and a bud at a time–This is the secret of fine tea picking. The work is done chiefly by women, who carry light bamboo baskets strapped to their backs.
Tea comes in black, green and oolong varieties, all produced from the leaves of Camellia sinensis, a white-flowered evergreen. The method of processing the leaf distinguishes the three types. (Herbal teas are made from leaves of other plants. FDA requires that herbal tea labels carry the name of the plant the product derives from, such as chamomile. For more on herbal tea, see “Herbal Teas and Toxicity” in the May 1991 FDA Consumer.)
The traditional method of producing black tea begins with withering. The plucked leaves are placed on shelves called withering racks, where excess moisture is removed. They are then rolled in special machines that release the leaves’ enzymes and juices, which give tea its aroma and taste. Next, the leaves ferment in a room with controlled temperature and humidity; finally they are dried in ovens. More recently some processors have forsaken the traditional method to speed production by using machines that finely chop the leaves, thereby cutting the time for withering and fermenting.
Green tea is made by steaming or otherwise heating the leaves immediately after plucking to prevent the fermentation that makes black tea. Then the leaves are rolled and dried.
Oolong tea is fermented only partially–to a point between black and green. While the leaves wilt naturally, enzymes begin to ferment them. Processors interrupt the fermentation by stirring the leaves in heated pans, then rolling and drying them.
Different varieties of Camellia sinensis grow in different geographic areas and produce leaves that vary from a very small China leaf, perhaps one-half to three-quarters of an inch long, to the Assam leaf, which may be 3 or 4 inches long. Certain varieties are better suited than others for a particular processing method. For example, the China leaf from China and Formosa produces the best oolongs.
No matter how the tea may be doctored, in the United States the odds are overwhelming that it starts out black. Nearly 95 percent of all tea consumed here is black, according to the New York City-based Tea Council of the U.S.A.; 4 percent is green, 1 percent oolong, and 1 percent flavored.
That wasn’t always the case, and our proclivity for drinking black tea over green or oolong may have been influenced by events in history. Sixty years ago and more, the amount of black and green tea Americans drank was split fairly evenly–each accounting for about 40 percent of the market–with oolong constituting the rest. During World War II, however, the major sources of green tea–China and Japan–were cut off from the United States, leaving us with tea almost exclusively from British-controlled India, which produces black tea. Americans came out of the war drinking nearly 99 percent black tea.
Today, most of our tea comes from Argentina, China (which got back into the U.S. market in 1978), and Java. Thirty years ago most of it came from India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Argentine black tea is the kind most used for iced tea, and that’s another reason black tea dominates the U.S. market.
Some Like It Cold
America is unique in its tea consumption habits, the Tea Council says, in that approximately 40 billion of the 50 billion cups consumed here each year are over ice.
Iced tea debuted in 1904 at the Louisiana State Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Mo. According to the Tea Council, “The temperature was soaring and the staff in the Far East Tea House couldn’t get any fair-goers to even look their way, let alone sample their tea. So they poured the hot tea over ice cubes and the drink quickly became the exposition’s most popular beverage.”
The tea bag was born the same year as iced tea, and its arrival was equally serendipitous. A Boston tea merchant began sending samples of tea in small silk bags for customers to try. Eventually, the convenient pre-measured sacks came to dominate the tea market. In 1994, according to the Tea Council, approximately 60 percent of tea brewed in the United States was prepared from tea bags; just over 1 percent was brewed from loose tea. Iced tea mixes accounted for another 25 percent of prepared tea, and the rest was made from instant tea.
Keeping teacups full in the United States and around the world takes a lot of tea. In 1993, 2,581,317 metric tons of tea were produced and 1,142,650 metric tons exported, according to the International Tea Committee’s 1994 Bulletin of Statistics. This billion dollar business got its start centuries ago from a plant that once grew quietly undisturbed in a far corner of the world. William H. Ukers, in his comprehensive 1935 tome All About Tea, writes:
“Mother Nature’s original tea garden was located in the monsoon district of southeastern Asia. Many other plants now grow there, but specimens of the original jungle, or wild, tea plant are still found in the forests of the Shan states of northern Siam, eastern Burma, Yunnan, Upper Indo-China, and British India. … Before any thought was given to dividing this land into separate states, it consisted of one primeval tea garden where the conditions of soil, climate, and rainfall were happily combined to promote the natural propagation of tea.”
Now this will not be the last time I blog about tea. Not on yr life. But I leave you- heh- with a parting image.