The History Of Tea

The history of tea, from China to Zen monks, and instructions for making a perfect cup of tea.

While I confess to being a coffee drinker at times, my main indulgence is tea! I not only drink tea; I also collect tea paraphernalia. Tea infusers, miniature teapots, loose tea, and teabags, the list grows by the day. If it is tea related, I most likely both covet and collect it. While tea value is second to coffee, cup for cup, tea drinkers outweigh coffee drinkers, making tea the most consumed beverage, second only to water.

Tea has been around for literally thousands of years. Legend has it that an early Chinese emperor, or more correctly, one of his servants, discovered it accidentally when boiling water near a small, bush-like plant of dark green leaves, and a few of the leaves fell into the water, creating the first "˜pot' of tea. One can trace tea to China over three thousand years ago, and the use of it has been documented to the Zen monks in Japan in the 12th century, after acquiring it through trade with China. The monks used it as an aid to help keep themselves awake during long bouts of meditation. The caffeine level in tea is high enough that it can become addictive. Many of the natural, decaffeinated "˜teas' of today are in reality, not tea, but a blend of other herbs. True tea is available in hundreds of blends, though the main types of tea can be broken down into three types: Green, black, and oolong.

Tea is grown worldwide from Sri Lanka to Africa and even Russia. It is grown both for personal use and commercial use. It has been used throughout history as a common item of trade. Many people mistakenly believe tea came from the British. While they are some of the world's most popular drinkers of this brew, and have certainly helped it attain its grand status in the modern world, they are only one in a long list of past and present tea enthusiasts. Tea was not even available in Britain until the middle of the1600's.

Today's tea drinker fits no special mold, young, old, male and female, and every nationality. Some prefer their tea "˜black', while others insist that a cup of tea is not perfect, unless accompanied by milk and sugar. However you prefer your cup of tea, here are a few simple steps for you to follow, with the result being a much better brew.

Decide first whether you will be using a tea bag, or loose tea. If you will be using the latter, an infuser will make your job of brewing the tea easier as far as cleanup goes. This allows you to place the loose tea into hot water while containing the leaves. Infusers are available in many assorted shapes and materials. A standard shaped one appears to look like a long handled spoon with a perforated covered bowl on the end. Slide open the cover and fill with the loose tealeaves, close, and place in cup for water to be poured over. This allows you to steep the tea, and remove the leaves intact when it has achieved the desired richness. These can be purchased in nearly any kitchen store. Loose tea can be placed loose into the pot if so desired. Once the decision has been made, the next step is the water itself. Make sure it is hot! Tepid water from a tap will not do. The main mistake in making a good cup of tea is made right here. If the water is not hot enough, the flavor can not be steeped from the tealeaves. The tea, whether in a teabag or infuser, should be allowed to steep for three to five minutes. The type of tea you are using will also determine the amount of time it should be allowed to steep. Trial and error is your best guide for this step. If you will be adding milk, allow it to steep a bit longer than normal so the flavor will still come through the milk. If you have chosen to use loose tea, giving the pot a slight shake from side to side, or adding a small amount of cold water, though not enough o make it cool down, will help the leaves settle to the bottom of the pot.

Be warned that people, who have never drunk a bit of tea, but decide they would like to try it, rarely give it up. It is not only a beverage, but also seemingly a way of life. If you are a collector of things in general, tea offers numerous items associated with it to collect. I, personally, can not think of anything I enjoy more after a morning of work, than to take a leisurely cup of tea and sit quietly, savoring the taste of this wonderful brew. Enjoy!

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