Who invented tea?

Tea: cultivated plant from Asia

Tea has been prepared and drunk by humans for thousands of years, originally from Asia. As a drink, it is the most widely used in the world, apart from water, of course. But what actually is tea and how is it made?

This drink is made by adding boiling or hot water to the previously dried and specially treated leaves and flowers of the tea bush. In some parts of the world, tea leaves are also eaten, chewed or snorted in a dried form.

Long before the Europeans came to Asia, tea was grown and processed there in ancient China and in the surrounding countries. Originally a distinction was made between "Assam tea", from the black tea, and the "China tea", from which green tea is made. All teas today are derived from these two archetypes. The common Latin name for the tea bush in botanical science is "Camellia sinensis". The evergreen tea bushes bloom from October to February.

Many other drinks in which herbs, dried fruits or other vegetable ingredients are boiled or infused with water are also called "tea" in everyday language - for example fruit tea, herbal tea, rooibos tea, mate tea and lapacho tea. However, only the black tea and the green tea are actually made from the tea bush plant.

Tea as a plant

The original home of the cultivated plant tea was in the area of ​​the country triangle between the Indian region of Assam, northern Burma and southern China. Nowadays tea no longer grows wild, instead it is grown in almost all "tropical" and "subtropical" regions worldwide. The tropical areas are on both sides of the equator. The subtropical areas are a little further from the equator, but still have average annual temperatures of at least 20 degrees Celsius. So the tea plant needs a lot of sun to thrive.

The tea bush can reach a height of up to 15 meters if it is not pruned. In order to facilitate the harvesting work, tea cultivation is allowed a maximum length of up to one and a half meters. The flowers of the tea bush are white or pale pink - the woody and capsule-shaped fruits of the tea bush develop from them if you do not harvest them beforehand. The best tea-growing areas are usually a bit higher - for example the Darjeeling region in the Himalayas, the place of origin of the world-famous "Darjeeling tea".

The making of the tea

Well over 90 percent of the tea traded on the world market is black tea, which is particularly popular with Europeans, but also in the Arab world. In Japan and China, but also in some areas of North Africa, unlike the rest of the world, people mainly drink green tea. There are four phases in the production of black tea and three in the production of green tea.

First the harvested tea leaves and blossoms have to be dried, this is also called "wilting" (first phase). The water content of the leaves drops from over 70 to between 40 and 50 percent, so the leaves become lighter. Then the leaves are rolled and sifted, this is called "rolling" (second phase). Originally all of this was done by hand by rolling the leaves one by one between the palms of the hands - nowadays mostly machines help.

When the leaves are rolled up, their inner structure (one speaks of "plant cell structure") is partially "broken up", which is important so that the ingredients of the tea can later dissolve in hot water. Tea is one of the "psychoactive" plants - it has an influence on the psychological well-being of those who drink it. With the Buddhists, for example, tea is seen as a drink that is beneficial for meditation. When the leaves roll, juice comes out of the leaf cells. If the leaves are then immediately dried over high heat, the green tea is created. In the case of black tea, the final drying phase is preceded by an additional phase.

The secret of black tea: the fermentation

The third phase in the production of tea is "fermentation" - in biotechnology this is the name given to the conversion of biological materials with the help of bacterial, fungal or cell cultures or through the addition of "enzymes" (these are proteins that are biochemical Trigger reactions).

When making tea, you don't have to add anything extra - the cell juice of the tea leaves reacts with oxygen (this is called "oxidation"), causing the chemical process of "fermentation". The leaves are additionally blown with warm air at high artificially generated humidity - this accelerates the fermentation process. The fermentation of the tea leaves is crucial for the later taste and aroma of the tea and takes several hours. After fermentation, the tea leaves are colored copper-red.

The fourth and final phase in making the black tea is the final drying. The fermentation is stopped by exposing the leaves to very hot and moving air. The moisture content of the leaves now drops to below five percent. This process takes about half an hour, the temperature of the hot air flow is between 85 and 125 degrees Celsius. After drying, the tea leaves, which have now turned black, are cooled down and then sorted and packaged.

Green tea and its legends

It is very important for the tea maker to keep the correct times for all four phases. When making green tea, you skip the fermentation phase, everything else is similar. As an intermediate stage between black and green tea, there is "Oolong tea", the leaves of which are only fermented very briefly during the production process. Black tea contains more caffeine and is therefore more stimulating. The advantage of green tea is that the vitamins contained in the plant and other ingredients that are destroyed during fermentation are retained. Fermentation was originally introduced in tea to make it more durable. In the old days people only drank green tea.

The types of tea are differentiated according to the size and shape of the tea leaves as well as the type of curling and the rest of the treatment. In addition, the individual varieties are often named after the regions from which they originally come - "Darjeeling tea", for example, has an East Indian origin. Many black teas are flavored by treating the leaves with essential oils or other flavorings before the final drying phase - with "Earl Gray tea" for example, the leaves are drizzled with the oil of the citrus fruit bergamot before drying.

The Asian legends about the origin of tea naturally go back much further than the European ones. It is said that the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung first enjoyed tea drinking almost 5,000 years ago when some leaves of the tea bushes used as firewood fell into the saucepan while boiling river water. Other legends tell of the fact that the first tea bush grew where a Buddhist monk had cut off his eyelids so that they would no longer fall when he meditated. According to legend, this explains the effects of tea on tea drinkers leading to alertness and clarity of mind.

Black tea: product of colonialism

The "success story" of black tea began with the colonialism of the major European powers in Asia. The still valid classification of the different types of black tea originates largely from the English, who with their "British East India Company" largely held the "monopoly" for the trade in tea in Europe and America until well into the 19th century held. ("Monopoly" is the name given to a market situation in which there is only one supplier for a certain commodity.)

The British bought the tea from the Chinese - later they also grew it themselves in India and Ceylon, where they were colonial powers. In the 19th century the two "Opium Wars" broke out between the British and the Chinese because China refused to open its market for the opium produced by the British East India Company. Tea also played a role in the later American war of independence against the British motherland - on December 16, 1773, the "Boston Tea Party" took place when shiploads of tea from the East India Company were thrown into the sea in protest.

The Dutch with the "Dutch East India Company" ("Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie") were the first to bring tea to Europe. The first tea loads from their colonies in what is now Indonesia reached Europe at the beginning and North America in the middle of the 17th century. At that time, the sea route from the Far East to Europe still took several months.

In Europe, tea first spread among the nobility - this was also the case with cocoa and coffee. "Tea societies" arose, which met in the newly established "tea houses" in order to devote themselves to drinking tea together. It wasn't just about the drink, but above all about socializing and talking about all kinds of topics. In Chinese and Japanese everyday culture, teahouses are also very important today and can be found in many places - in Europe and America, on the other hand, you will find cafes that have a very similar social function.

The preparation of the tea

The best-known method of preparation in Western Europe is the classic English one - you let the crushed and dried tea in the tea bag, in the tea filter or directly in the pot soak in hot water for a few minutes. Lemon juice and sugar are used to flavor and sweeten the tea, and milk or cream is often added to the tea. The tea grounds are only used once in the English method of preparation. In the 20th century, Europe and America also had the idea of ​​serving tea chilled ("iced tea").

In the East Asian culture (China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam), the hot water is usually poured directly over the tea leaves in the cup or in the pot. The leaves are usually not crushed, so that they can be easily removed without a filter after the time in which the tea has been left to steep. The tea grounds are infused several times in East Asia, whereby the tea naturally becomes a little weaker with each new infusion. With some types of green tea it is even the case that only the second infusion releases some of the ingredients in the leaves in the water, so that the first infusion is thrown away. While boiling water is poured over black tea, the water for green tea is only heated to around 60 degrees Celsius - and the green tea is left to steep for a shorter time than the black. It is not customary in East Asia to sweeten tea or to refine it with milk and cream.

In India, on the other hand, people like to make tea with a little milk and spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, pepper or cloves. A specialty is the Tibetan "butter tea" - a mixture of black tea, salt and the butter of yak cows - this soup-like drink supplies the body with essential fats and suits the cold climate to which the people living in the high mountains of the Himalayas are exposed.

In Russia, people have got used to making tea with the "samovar", a metal kettle with a tap. The black tea is prepared as a very strong "concentrate" in another pot by combining many leaves with very little boiling water. To drink, dilute a small amount of the tea concentrate with the water from the samovar. In Russia and the Orient, black tea is often drunk very strong and heavily sweetened.

In Germany, only East Frisia developed its own tea culture - the "East Frisian tea" is strong and is made with liquid cream and large cubes of rock candy ("Kluntjes"). The tea became suddenly popular in East Frisia when Dutch merchants settled here in the 18th century - in order to bypass an English trade ban on Dutch merchant ships, the Dutch sailed under the East Frisian flag. The tea consumption of the East Frisians is the largest in the world - an East Frisian consumes 2.5 kilograms of black tea per person per year, which corresponds to an amount of 290 liters (as of 2009). That is significantly more than the rest of the Germans who drink coffee rather than tea - only the English, at 2.3 kilograms, consume as much black tea as the East Frisians (as of 2009).

Tea and its effect on the organism

Tea in general, but especially green tea, has numerous health-promoting properties. In medicine today it is assumed that drinking tea has a preventive effect against cancer. Green tea also lowers blood pressure, strengthens the immune system and the body's defenses, and promotes metabolism. The heart is also strengthened by drinking green tea.

Tea also contains so-called "antioxidants", which help the human body break down "free radicals" - the same applies to cocoa and coffee, by the way. Free radicals are disease-causing decay products of biochemical reactions in the body. They arise during the "combustion process" in human cells, but can also get into the body from outside through food intake and breathing.

Tea is also a mood-enhancing agent - it shares this property with cocoa and coffee. Tea is said to refresh the physical well-being, to drive away drowsiness and to stimulate mental activity and concentration - from a biological point of view, these properties are primarily a result of the chemical compounds caffeine and theobromine that are present in tea and have an effect on the central nervous system. These two compounds stimulate the production of neurotransmitters. In addition, the tea - especially the green one - is rich in essential minerals and vitamins.