History of Tea

Family: Theaceae

Genus: Camellia

Botanical Name: Camellia Sinensis (L.) Kuntze

Main Varieties:  Camellia sinensis var. sinensis, Camellia sinensis var. assamica

Synonyms: C. Bohea, C. Thea, C. Theifera, Thea Sinensis, Thea Viridis

Geographical location: East and South East Asia and the Indian subcontinent

Originally Camellia sinensis var. sinensis was native to Yunnan, Southern China while C. sinensis var.assamicais native to the warmer parts of Assam (India), south East Asia and Southern China.

Habitat: Ideally warm weather, so tropical and sub-tropical climates, and shade. Liberal rainfall (80-100 inches per annum). Best elevation 3000-6000ft above sea level. Stony soil preferable.

Botanical Description: An evergreen plant (or small tree) with tender shoots and distinctive white rose-like blooms that, if not pruned, can reach 30+ft. Although there are only two major varieties grown today (Camellia sinensis var. sinensis and its subspecies, Camellia sinesis var. Assamica) and white, green, oolong, black and pu-erh teas are all harvested from one or the other, there are thought to be over 1500 types of tea falling under these categories.

Climate, soil, harvesting and processing to attain varying levels of oxidation play the most significant role in developing the different categories and types of tea.

History: Tea likely originated in southwest China during the Shang Dynasty some 3500 years ago as a medicinal drink.

But a popular myth from some 1000 years earlier was that Shennong, the legendary emperor of China and inventor of both agriculture and Chinese medicine, was drinking a bowl of just boiled water when a few leaves were blown from a nearby tea tree into his cup. The emperor took a sip of the brew and was pleasantly surprised by its flavour and restorative properties, being very well practiced at recognising the medical properties of various herbs by regularly chewing the leaves, stems, and roots of various plants to discover medicinal herbs.

The Chinese symbol for tea represents the perfect harmony between man and nature and it needs the perfect collaboration of both to create the perfect brew. Tea has historically been used as both a health tonic and a drink to bring people together, with Lao Tzu, the classical Chinese philosopher, said to have named tea an indispensable ingredient in the elixir of life.

Tea leaves may have been eaten as food in prehistoric times, and were later boiled up with other plants for use as medicines.  Around 2000 years ago, tea finally started to be consumed as a drink for refreshment. While Europeans made water safe to drink by using it to brew beer from hops and barley, people in East Asia found an alternative method of purification: boiling water to make tea.