WHAT IS TEA?
Tea has been a household staple in Britain for hundreds of years. Whether you can’t get through your morning without a cup of English Breakfast or choose to treat yourself to a nice refreshing cup occasionally, few people can say that tea doesn’t hold a special place in their hearts. Here, we delve into some of the questions people ask us most often about tea!
WHAT IS TEA?
Tea is a beverage made by taking leaves from the Camellia Sinensis plant and steeping them in hot water. Leaves and buds harvested from this plant are used to produce Black, White, Green, Oolong, Yellow, and the famous Pu’erh tea varieties. Milk and sugar are common additions, and it can be chilled and served with ice. While similar drinks made from steeping fruits and herbs in water are commonly referred to as teas, they are technically infusions. To be tea, it must come from the tea plant.
WHO INVENTED TEA?
The origins of tea are deeply shrouded in myth and mystery. The plant is native to East Asia and is thought to have originated around the Burmese/Chinese border. However, little is known for sure about where tea drinking originated. Some say it originated during the Shang Dynasty (which stretched from around 1600-1000 BC) in the Yunnan region of China; used as a medicine, while others believe that it was being brewed into a stimulating drink in Sichuan before then. In fact, legend has it that it was first discovered when a leaf fell into Emperor Shennong’s hot water while he was travelling in 2737 BC. According to the legend, he felt so refreshed after drinking the water that he demanded his soldiers to bring him this new concoction instead of water for the rest of his travels!
While it’s impossible to know where the true origin lies, the earliest physical evidence of tea drinking we have dates all the way back to the 2nd century BC, and indicated that tea was consumed by Han Dynasty Emperors.
WHEN DID TEA BECOME POPULAR IN ENGLAND?
Tea was, somewhat ironically, first introduced to the English market predominantly by coffee houses! One in particular started selling tea (in beverage or leaf form) as early as 1657. The first ever advert for tea in England appeared just a year later in 1658, describing it as a ‘China Drink’, and Samuel Pepys described trying tea for the first time in his diary in 1660.
By the early 1700’s tea was quickly growing in popularity. Previously seen as a commodity only the upper class could afford, the British began to add milk and sugar (another commodity only the aristocracy could afford) to their tea around the 1680’s. This sweetened tea’s bitter taste increased its popularity so much that imports of both tea and sugar increased significantly around the early 18th Century. With this increase in imports, the two products became more widely available and the popular drink began to filter down through social classes. There are accounts of tea being widely consumed by the poorer working classes as early as 1767.
IS TEA DEHYDRATING?
There is a common misconception that tea is dehydrating because of its caffeine content. While it’s true that caffeine is a diuretic, it would take a lot of tea drinking to consume enough caffeine to see its diuretic effects. There are some suggestions that caffeine may act as more of a diuretic if you don’t regularly consume it, so it’s always worth keeping an eye on your caffeine intake. If you’d like to reduce your caffeine intake without forgoing your morning cup, why not try one of our decaf teas or Rooibos, a naturally caffeine-free alternative?
IS TEA FATTENING?
A typical cup of tea contains just 1kcal, which is pretty waistline-friendly! Popular additions like milk and sugar add to the calorie content of your cup, however. If you’re looking to watch your calorie or sugar intake, reducing the amount of milk and sugar you add to tea, or opting for one of our naturally sweet, sugar free fruit or herbal teas is a good option.
DOES TEA GO OFF?
After the best before date, tea will begin to lose its flavour and won’t have that same refreshing flavour it used to. Correct storage can go a long way to making sure your tea stays perfect for longer, though, so it’s worth investing the time and effort to ensure it’s stored in the best possible conditions. Avoiding direct sunlight, heat, moisture, odour and air will all contribute to keeping your tea fresh, so avoid placing it in the sun, near a kettle, tap or dishwasher, or near a spice rack or any other source of odour. Keeping it in an airtight, opaque container in a cool, dry place is a good choice. Keep strongly scented teas away from other varieties so they cannot leach their scent, and don’t be tempted to put your tea in the fridge. A good tea caddy kept in a shady, dry corner of your kitchen is a worthwhile investment.
WHICH COUNTRY DRINKS THE MOST TEA?
China is, by a long way, the largest consumer of tea in the world, drinking around 1.6 billion pounds a year. A little unsurprising, however, given its 1.4 billion-strong population! In terms of tea consumed per capita, the story is very different. Turkey comes in top, with their people consuming just under 7 pounds a year each on average! Ireland just pips England to second place, consuming around 4.8 pounds per person a year, compared to England’s 4.3 pounds.
HOW MANY KINDS OF TEA ARE THERE?
Strictly speaking, there are only 6 types of tea; Black, White, Green, Oolong, Yellow and Pu’erh tea, as these are the types of tea produced by the Camellia Sinensis plant (the main difference between these teas is how the leaves are treated after harvesting). There are thousands of species of the Camellia Sinensis plant, and differences in how the teas are grown, the soil types, elevation and other environmental factors, along with how teas are blended mean that there are almost innumerable varieties of tea. Subtle differences in the flavours of different varieties means that there is endless opportunity for exploration.