Tea’s the most popular drink in the world after water. People from all corners of the world drink it every day. For some it’s a refreshing drink that serves to quench the thirst, for others it’s a whole philosophy linked to precisely set preparatory methods and ritualised ceremonies.
In countries reached by sea, the name is similar to the English “tea”, hence in German it’s “tee”, in French “thé” and in Italian “té”. In countries reached overland, its name resembles the Chinese “chá”, so in India, Arabic and Slavic countries it’s referred to as “čaj”.
Strictly speaking, the word “tea” should be used only for a brew made from the leaves of the tea plant. However, the word “tea” is applied to many other plants, although it’d really be better to designate them as “drinks similar to tea”. Genuine tea only comes from tea plants, which are cultivated primarily in Asia, Africa, South America and Australia; in Europe they’re only cultivated in the Azores. Depending on the processing method, tea can be classified as green, black, white, oolong, pu-erh and yellow tea; for example, the latter’s a speciality of the Chinese provinces of Anhui, Sechuan and Hunan.
Two primary kinds of the tea tree exist. The first is the Chinese tea variety, known as the sinensis variety, which is typical for the montane landscapes of China, Taiwan and Japan. The second type is the Assam form, or assamica variety, mostly found in tropical regions like India, Sri Lanka and Kenya. Otherwise, various cultivars have been created by crossing the two main types, which are especially cultivated for the conditions of a given plantation.
Legend has it that a Chinese emperor dropped tea leaves into water and was delighted by the result, an event that possibly dates back to 2737 BC.
As a crop, tea was initially only grown in China. Later, in the 8th century, Japan adopted the plant.
Other nations strongly associated with tea production are India and Sri Lanka, where it was introduced as late as the 19th century. Originally, these countries concentrated on coffee production, but a devastating fungus attacked and destroyed the crops. Tea trees were planted in its place and the rest is history.
Tea is a popular beverage on every continent, but also a widely-used and easily-available drink for treating ailments and stimulating the brain and body. Moreover, it constitutes an important part of the culture and history of many nations. The tea plant’s been cultivated for two and a half thousand years, and was present in Egypt’s Middle Kingdom, making it one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world.