Camellia sinensis is a white-flowering evergreen shrub that produces the many varieties of tea, a beverage that has been a rich component of history, an instrumental part of long-standing traditions, and the creator of popular trends. Tea equates to refinement and elegance, and the association is only natural. Like a fine wine, tea is a beverage with class.
Drinking tea began in China in the 5th century and Japan in the 9th century, and the method became popular in Britain in the 17th century. Tea arrived in England in 1645, and in 1721, it conquered the world through Britain’s expanse as a global superpower when the East India Trading company became a monopoly on tea trade. In England during the early 1700s, tea was a sign of a wealthy household, and the special instruments needed to brew the drink were associated with gentility. At the start of the Industrial Revolution situated at the end of the 1700s, however, tea also fueled British factory workers, and it provided a palatable supplement to lower class families’ bread-and-butter diet. Throughout the late 1760s and into the mid-1800s, “afternoon tea” for the higher classes and “tea break” for the working classes mimicked the tea ceremonies begun in ancient China and Japan.
The history of the murky, aromatic beverage is also a rebellious one. In 1773, American colonists dumped loose leaf tea into Boston Harbor as a form of protest against Great Britain’s heavy taxation laws. This revolutionary act helped spark the Revolutionary War in 1775. The Tea Party, the American grassroots political movement, began in 2009 and took its name from this protest as a model for its conservative stance advocating for the reduction of government spending thus reducing the national debt and deficit in the federal budget. The relationship between the United States and England in terms of tea continued in 1904 when British tea merchant, Richard Blechynden, sold iced tea during the sweltering heat of the St. Louis World’s Trade Fair. Since then, the southern United States culture has popularized heavily-sugared iced tea that is occasionally served with lemon. Americans who make iced will typically reach for either Lipton (an American tea brand) or Twinings.
Twinings is a master tea blending company that began in 1706 with Thomas Twining opening his shop on The Strand in London, and the company still remains there today. In 1717, Twinings Tea Company was the first beverage shop that opened to women because coffeehouses were for men only. Women could sit and drink a cup of tea at Twinings or take their self-selected blend home with them. In 1787, Twinings Tea Company designed a sign for the shop that also serves as a label for the tea, and to this day, the logo has claim to as the oldest commercial logo in continuous use. The Twinings’ name in bolded serif font represents everything a cup of tea should be: simple, classy, and timeless. Recently in 2006, Twinings celebrated 300 years of blending fine quality teas (such as its popular blends of Earl Grey and English Breakfast) that fit every mood and promise to get the tea consumer reconnected with himself or herself.
In recent years, the pomposity demonstrated by tea purveyors and purchasers alike in regard to their tea blend collections and tea paraphernalia has increased due to highly-acclaimed British television shows aired in the United States. These shows create an option for escapism from the worldwide economic recession. Instead of facing reality, the viewer can retreat to the idealized vision of the doings of a country manor house, which revolve around wealth and sophisticated tea services. Shows such as Downton Abbey, Doctor Who, and Sherlock have romanticized the idea of “high tea,” which is typically served with cups and saucers, fruits and sandwiches, cookies and scones, and daintiness and elegance. Downton Abbey has its own line of “English Rose Tea” and “Grantham Breakfast Blend Tea” on The Republic of Tea website. For Doctor Who fans, a TARDIS (a time machine in the shape of a blue telephone box) tea infuser and teapot and heat-changing mug are featured on ThinkGeek.com. Sherlock Holmes fans have used Adagio.com to sell their own tea blends that are related to both the hit show written by Stephen Moffat and the original stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Tea was made popular in England during the 1700s because the lower-class population depended more and more on commercial producers rather than their own home-created goods. When they went to buy their bread and butter, they also bought the tea, the drink associated with respectability and high society. Additionally, sellers hawked its economical and medicinal properties, and as more people bought tea, it became more easily available and more widely advertised than coffee or beer. Before long, tea became England’s drink of choice. Tea is even in the 21st century due to its representation of Britain’s national identity, America’s rebellious spirit, and Asia’s soothing tea ceremonies.
To discover if the bitter, astringent taste of tea is a preferred choice, a lesson in preparing it is required. A cup of tea can be created by dunking a tea bag in hot water for three to five minutes. This method was made popular by Lipton Teas, a United States tea brand, which patented the first four-sided tea bag in 1952 to reduce the time required for the brewing process. Another option is for a Keurig machine brings the water to a boil then spurts the water through a K-cup, and ready-made tea dribbles down into the cup waiting below the Keurig machine. For an even faster method, a powdered mix can be stirred into eight ounces of water. These three production methods makes the tea drinker inclined to gulp down the beverage instead of savoring the aroma or taking deep, relaxing breaths between delicate sips. These three methods are for hurried, busy people, but they are not the only methods for making tea.
The long-standing tradition of brewing loose leaves is craft for connoisseurs dedicated to taking the time to create a high quality beverage with high quality blends. Loose leaf tea is stored in air-tight, dark-colored tins to preserve the taste and quality of the leaves, which come in black, white, green, and oolong. Fermentation, the treatment process to preserve tea leaves, determines the different styles of tea and the brewing time. Over-brewing can create a foul-tasting beverage while under-brewing results in a weak flavor. The attention to detail is also necessary for the temperature of the boiling water used to make the tea. An average temperature for most teas is between 150 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, which take about two minutes on high heat to achieve. The water is first boiled in a tea kettle on a stove and then transferred to the tea pot. To warm the tea pot, the water should remain there for about three minutes and then be transferred to a sink.
A level tablespoon of loose leaf tea produces about one cup. Once this amount is poured into the warmed tea pot, the boiled water should be poured over top of the tea leaves. There is no need to stir the leaves or disturb the pot while the tea is brewing. Next, time the brewing to suit the style of tea. On average, the recommended time is three to five minutes. While the tea is brewing, an infuser should be placed over a mug. An infuser is made of a fine mesh and functions as a strainer for the loose tea leaves. The tea is poured over the infuser and into the mug. Depending on the drinker’s preference, sugar, milk, lemon, or honey can be added and stirred into the tea.
The time-sensitive steps of brewing tea are meant to bring about calm joy, natural grace, and internal quietude. The process of creating the perfect cup of tea requires the presence of mind to stay in the moment, and the clarity to enjoy all aspects of life. From boiling the water to finishing the last drop of tea, satisfaction can be found in the way that tea offers solace from life’s changes. The whistle of a tea kettle, the rustle of bitter tea leaves scraping against each other as they are scooped up, the trickle of hot water into the teapot: these are all sounds associated with a spiritual ritual of making tea. These long-standing traditions create a rare moment of slow, mindful, meditative stillness that comforts and energizes.
In addition to being a wholesome refresher for the spirit, tea adapts itself to the drinker’s needs because it is capable of absorbing different cultures and different trends. Modern-day tea drinkers have demonstrated a demand for ethics in their beverage. They wish to see that tea cultivation is done organically and that tea is grown for sustainability and that tea is traded fairly. Tea is also a time-respected, commonly-known medicinal and therapeutic remedy. Tea contains catechin antioxidants that help regulate food intake and can help with weight loss. Tea is a safe substitute for coffee because it not only reduces fatigue and enhances concentration, but provides calming effects and delivers energy. Tea also boosts the immune system, rehydrates the body despite its caffeine content, and supports the heart by activating circulation and fighting hypertension.
The very act of drinking tea means to adore the beautiful amidst the bland or sordid moments of everyday existence. Those who imbibe tea must show humility and gratitude for the harmony, purity, and tranquility it provides. It gives the body vigor; the mind, contentment. It allows the drinker to become one with his or her true nature. It offers rich simplicity and abundant stillness, which leads to reflective contemplation on life, the universe, and everything. Reverence must be shown for the way it refreshes and revitalizes the body and spirit. It must be respected for the way sustains the drinker from the inside by providing diligence to one’s purpose and by maintaining tranquility in the center. Tea allows a person to set aside self-interest, embrace the genuine elements of life, and possess the underlying natural order of the universe. Tea, therefore, is sacrosanct.