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About Tea

Where does Tea come from?

All tea is from the Camelia sinensis plant which is cultivated in 60 countries.

Most tea is from India, China, Japan, Sri Lanka, East Africa, Indonesia, Turkey and Argentina. The ‘ideal climate’ is hot, humid and high (4,000 ft / 1200 m) yet lower elevations and cooler climates produce excellent teas as well.

As with wine, soil (terroir) and microclimate affect the taste. Though tea may be a plant, a bush and a tree, its leaves are not considered an herbal infusion (tisane) such as chamomile tea or mint tea. Both green and black tea come from the same plant.

Generally the top leaves of tea bushes are plucked and then processed. Young tender leaves and buds are ideal, and tea bush blossoms are not used.

First used as a medicine or tonic by the Chinese, tea was likely discovered in the quest for food. At first, tea leaves were boiled and eaten. Eventually it was frothed, powdered, made into bricks or cakes, sold loose and bagged.

Popular Chinese legend credits Emperor Sheng Nung as the discoverer of tea in 2737 BC when a leaf accidentally fell into his boiling water. However, Japanese lore states that Chinese Buddha Daruma, as penance for sleepiness during his meditation, ripped his eyelids/eyebrows off, cast them on the ground whereupon tea bushes sprouted. Tea is the subject of many a fabulous story.

Tea was first consumed by the Europeans in Portugal and in Holland and made its’ way to England by way of trade through China in the 1660s.

It is said that Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford “invented” the English custom of afternoon tea around the 1840s. To counter “that sinking feeling” between lunch and the customary late dinners, Anna invited friends to her rooms in Woburn Abbey for cakes, bread and butter sandwiches, sweets, and tea. Other society ladies soon imitated the trend.

In Canada, tea was imported by the Hudson Bay Company. The first shipment is recorded in 1716. Today, Canadians drink almost 9 billion cups of tea each year. In 2007, the per capita consumption of tea in Canada was 61.4 litres. That equates to 270 cups for each Canadian.

The Canadian tea market is worth about $388 million, according to the Tea Association of Canada, 2007 statistics.

How you make tea: water & steeping

Often called the “Father of Tea”, water plays an integral role in enjoying a great cup of tea. Things like water temperature, mineral content and the vessel used to heat the water can all affect tea’s flavour.

Ideally for black teas, start with fresh water with a pH of 7. Some bottled waters are excellent. Please note, mineral or sparkling waters should NOT be used to steep tea.

Well-oxygenated water helps make a better cup of tea. For black teas, let the water ‘roar’ and come to a full rolling boil. Let it settle just a bit and then use it immediately. Follow the infusion instructions of the specific tea you are making. Most black teas can be made with water that has cooled down from boiling point. ( specifically 97 C or 206 F ).

For green (and white  teas, the water should reach boiling first, then be allowed to naturally cool down to about 60 C- 80 C (140 F – 180 F)   Again, follow the instructions of the specific tea. Careful not to use too hot water as it often brings out the bitterness in green tea, as does oversteeping. Reputable purveyors will have provided you with suggested steeping times. (Suggested time only – your tastes may vary).

TeaQueen suggests pouring the heated water directly onto the tea leaves. This allows for the oils and other flavours to literally unfurl. Also, don’t forget to warm up your teapot or cup with a splash of boiled water. All that heat will help the leaves roll open.

And don’t throw out the leaves after one steeping!
Many loose leaf teas provide several steepings that add to the complexity of taste of tea. Second and third steepings are often more delicious than the first.

Storage of Tea

Well-kept tea leaves retain their flavour for a very long time. Most loose-leaf teas may be kept for up to 18 months but are best consumed within 6 months of purchase.

Keep tea loosely in an opaque, airtight container and store away from light and strong smells (spices, herbs, cleaners) Vacuum-sealed bags are a good temporary container. For optimum taste, keep leaves at room temperature. Do not refrigerate.