Tea is a celebrated beverage which has been enjoyed throughout the ages. The story of the origin of tea is credited to a legend dating back to 2737 BC. As the story goes, leaves from a nearby tree blew into the drinking water of the palace of Chinese emperor Shen Nung, known to be an esteemed herbalist. He then decided to try the infusion and voila – the drink we now know as “tea” was born.
But it was not until 618 AD that tea became known as the national drink of China. Tea later became an important part of the Japanese culture and eventually traders from Portugal and the Netherlands were responsible for tea exports. In the early 1600s the first shipment of tea went from China to Holland and from there, tea began to be imported to other countries in Europe.
India is the world’s largest consumer of tea, with tea drinking dating back to 750 BC. However, it was the British in India who really commercialized tea cultivation and about the time of the American revolution, noted botanist Sr John Banks concluded that the British should cultivate tea in India. Botanists and explorers continued to work on identifying and classifying tea varieties in India for the next 100 years resulting in Indian tea exports also becoming a major component of the global tea market. It was not until the mid 1800s that the well known ‘afternoon tea’ ritual began to gain popularity. Today the market is filled with organic and natural tea varieties including black tea, green tea, herbal teas and wellness teas – all boasting their own unique properties.
Tea for Good Health
Caffeine is an important issue for health conscious tea drinkers, so if you are seeking decaf teas, the simplest option is to choose organic herbal tea. Coffee drinkers may switch to black tea which has less caffeine than coffee or green tea which is lower in caffeine than the black varieties. However, green tea can also act as a stimulant. For this reason, if you have health issues and want to avoid caffeine then the herbals may be the best fit.
Herbal teas used as medicinals also date back to the third century AD. These “comfort food” type beverages are basically infusions of herbs, spices and other plant materials in boiling hot water. The most well known varieties include peppermint, chamomile, rosehips, hibiscus, vervain and licorice. Spice teas are also becoming popular with combinations including rooibos, ginger, cinnamon and cardamom. Apple, dried elderberries, orange zest, lemon grass, lavender and rose blossoms may also appear in your tea cup for an exotic and soothing tea time beverage.
In a future blog, we can consider in greater detail the simple, important and often amazing health benefits of the wide range of herbals and spices that are can be used as wellness teas, however many commonly known varieties have important side benefits. This includes vervain which is considered an astringent and digestive tonic and can be used to soothe headache, anxiety and insomnia. Peppermint and camomile are known for tummy distress and are helpful in promoting strong digestion. Rosehips and fruit teas offer a good dose of enjoyable vitamin C making them useful to prevent colds and flu. Licorice root is considered a ‘maha’ medicinal and has been used to remove excess heat in the body. It is also an excellent anti-inflammatory, has immune boosting properties and has been used to detox the liver. You can buy this tea in bulk to brew a soothing, refreshing summer beverage. Popular spice teas include coriander which is a cooling tea and ginger root which is a whole-body heating tea. All are non-caffeinated tea options. However, as with any herbal formula, check with your health practitioner if you wish to address health concerns and want to drink any of these teas on more than an occasional basis.
Nepal Teas–Teas With a Social Mission
In recent years Nepali teas have also gained popularity. Made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis variety grown locally in Nepal, the teas have a unique and distinct aroma, taste and appearance. The highest quality teas are said to be cultivated in the hilly areas at high altitudes. Nepali tea cultivation is an interesting topic due to the numerous unique varieties and processes used to create their distinctive teas. Orthodox tea, often hand rolled, is produced and processed in the mountainous regions of Nepal and there are major districts in eastern Nepal known for producing high altitude, top quality Nepal tea. There are also CTC teas which use crush, tear and curl processes. The CTC name refers to the Assam varieties grown in the lower, more humid regions of Nepal.
The Orthodox Nepali tea producers claim that the seasons of tea production produce teas with distinctive seasonal flavors. Referring to four flush seasons, the tea leaves may vary and produce different varieties and tastes according to the season. For example first flush teas harvested in early spring, use very tender tea leaves which have a light color and delicate flavor. Because the leaves are picked when young and tender, the yield quantity of this tea is less. As a result first flush teas can be the most expensive of the Nepali teas. Second flush teas, late spring through mid-summer, use more mature leaves, whereas the monsoon teas, which follow from late summer through September, create a darker, stronger flavored infusion offering full color and strength and creating what is known as a more full bodied tea. The fourth or last season beginning in late autumn, produces Nepali autumn tea, which some say has the most distinct and unique flavor. CTC tea producers also refer to the flush seasons but say that the CTC teas have a more uniform taste throughout the seasons.
My interest in Nepali tea began with an email from a friend sharing a link for a kickstarter campaign to support free housing, free education and cow distribution for Nepali tea farmers! The Kanchanjangha Tea estate first established in 1984 offers Nepal’s first certified organic tea. Their very rare, high elevation organic teas are grown in areas free from pollution and their distinctive teas make up only .4 percent of the total global tea production market. Offering high quality tea at fair prices, with careful supply chain policies throughout the production, packaging and distribution processes, the company strives to keep consumer prices low and offer maximum compensation to the Nepali tea farmers. The company also seeks to empower farmers economically and uplift them socially. So far the tea estate has educated more than 2300 children and distributed about 200 cows. The founders seek to create social and sustainable initiatives and strive to continue their 2017 kickstarter campaign until their goals are achieved. As of 2018 there was already progress in gaining funding to build a primary school for families in that remote region. You can find their teas at Argo Tea who is pleased to offer and support Nepalese tea production…”Changing lives one cup at a time!” Their tea varieties include Silver Yeti (a white tea with floral aroma and flavor), White Prakash (a light vanilla flavor), Kumara Gold (natural caramel flavor) and more!
All plants, herbs and teas are likely candidates for harmful pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and other harmful agrochemicals and preservatives. As with any product, the only safe choice is to always select certified organic for your family’s health and for the planet!