Tea is one of the most popular non-alcoholic drinks enjoyed by millions around the world. In the UK, we drink on average 165 million cups a day and Britain is the second largest tea-drinking nation after Ireland! Like many Brits, I simply cannot function properly in the morning until I’ve had at least two cups of this caffeinated nectar. For me, tea induces romantic visions of quaint little tearooms serving miniature cakes, scones and clotted cream accompanied by a nice hot cuppa poured from a flower-adorned teapot. But tea drinking isn’t just quintessentially “British”; in fact, tea wasn’t introduced to Europe until 1560 when it was reportedly brought over from China by the Portuguese.
But not only does it taste good, tea has certain potential health benefits too which researchers attribute to polyphenols which is a type of antioxidant. The antioxidants in certain teas could help reduce the risk of heart attacks, other cardiovascular disorders and research has even shown it also contains cancer-fighting benefits. So whilst you shouldn’t rely solely on drinking tea to keep a healthy body, there is some evidence to back up why so many people around the world continue to embrace tea within their culture and traditions.
Whilst we Brits usually turn to rich, robust brews, there are many varieties of tea enjoyed around the world:
When thinking about the birthplace of tea, your first thoughts will probably be focussed on China. There are many legends surrounding the discovery of tea, but what certainly is true is that tea has been cultivated in China for many centuries and was grown here long before anywhere else in the world.
This history means that China is undoubtedly the ultimate source of tea knowledge and is home to some of the rarest and most expensive varieties. China has three main provinces for tea production: the diverse Fujian province producing oolong, black, green, white and jasmine-scented teas; Yunnan which is the home of pu-erh tea; and Zhejang which is the most famous province for green tea production.
Tea was first introduced to Japan by the Chinese and was lauded as an elixir to bring youth, longevity and health benefits. The vast majority of the tea produced here is green tea, and most of it is consumed in Japan itself. The Japanese consider green tea to be more than just a drink; it is woven into the very fabric of everyday life. The Japanese culture even has a “tea ceremony” known as chanoyu or sencha, where the host considerately prepares and presents their guests with matcha, green tea.
Japanese teas are extremely vibrant and are usually steamed as opposed to fired which accentuates the fresh and crisp flavours.
Tea was first introduced to India by the British in an attempt to break the Chinese monopoly on tea. India is renowned today as the home of three of the world’s most famous black tea regions which include: the rich, malty flavours of Assam; the light and fragrant teas of Darjeeling; and the rich, intensely aromatic tea grown in the Nilgiri region.
Taiwanese teas are among the most heady and fragrant in the world. At best, they give extraordinary abundance of flavour and texture in perfect balance. Taiwanese tea producers focus on making oolong teas. This beautiful island, known as Formosa – the name given to Taiwan by Portuguese traders – produces outstanding black teas and a few green teas.
The first Kenyan teas were planted in 1903 and it is now one of the major tea-producing countries of the world. Because of its equatorial location, Kenya can produce tea year-round with minimal seasonal variations in quality. Tea is picked every 17 days with the best being picked in February and March.
Most Kenyan tea is black and used primarily for blending and in tea bags, with a smaller proportion available as loose leaf tea. It has a reddish colour and strong flavour.
Thanks to ideal weather conditions and fertile soil, tea has now become Sri Lanka’s largest crop. Tea plantations in Sri Lanka grow at an altitude of 3,000 to 8,000 feet. This is so the weather conditions can be optimised, and the high humidity allows the tea bushes to be picked frequently. In general, Ceylon teas combine richness and strength with a satisfying smoothness and display a varying tone of flavour depending on the altitude at which they are grown:
- Low altitude – mellow and rich
- Medium altitude – aromatic and citrusy
- High altitude – intensely flavoured and refreshing