Most of the Western hemisphere considers tea to be oh-so-English, and while it’s definitely part of the culture there, the world’s second-most popular drink — water is the obvious first — goes back much farther in history than that.
Legend has it that tea originated in China around 2737 BCE, when a few Camellia sinensis leaves fell into Emperor Shen Nung’s cup of hot water. He liked what it added, and green tea was born.
Tea got to Europe via Dutch and Portuguese traders in the 1600s, and it was the wife of King Charles II — Portugal’s Princess Catherine of Braganza — who actually popularized the so-called China Drink there. The importers referred to it as tcha, which was somehow shortened to tea.
And, as they say in Jolly Old, there you are.
Odds are the Chinese had a clue, but in Europe, who knew they were spreading wellness?
The world of tea is absolutely fascinating, so put on the kettle and join us as we explore this beneficial beverage.
Much of the time, when people say they’re drinking tea, they are actually drinking something called a tisane.
For something to actually be considered tea, it needs to contain Camellia sinensis leaves. However, many of the concoctions we find in stores are simply a combination of herbs meant for all sorts of different purposes and don’t contain any tea leaves at all.
Back in the day, people had already realized that many different herbs had wonderful healing properties, and the main point of these herbal infusions was to improve health. Chamomile, for instance, can help you sleep, and ginger is often used to help those with an upset stomach.
Since tisanes do not include tea leaves, they’re naturally caffeine-free, so you can drink them at any time of the day.
9. The Japanese Tea Ceremony
This is an important part of Japanese culture, involving the consumption of a delicious powdered green tea known as Matcha.
However, while the ceremony seems to center on the tea, it’s more about the social ritual than anything else. The tea ceremony originally began as an art form practiced by the elite of Japanese society as a way to bond socially and further their status. Every action is focused on how the guest would perceive it.
Allow Samurai Jack to offer a condensed version of the proceedings:
The ceremony usually involves only four to five people at a time. The tea is usually served with sweet snacks to complement the Matcha green tea. While the ceremony is considered very important in Japanese culture, it takes a very long time to achieve full mastery.
8. Decaffeinating Tea
Sometimes when you want a cup of tea, you really don’t want the caffeine, but all you have available is caffeinated black or green tea. Bummer.
Many people will tell you, though, that there’s a simple solution. Decaffeinate it yourself.
This is as easy as steeping your tea for about 30 seconds, throwing out the first wash of tea, and then re-brewing it.
Researchers took the time to study how long it takes to remove the caffeine from the teabag. They found you’ll need to brew your first batch for a good 10 minutes or so if you want to get rid of about 90% of the caffeine.
While this does mean you’ll have to wait longer, most tea does just fine being brewed multiple times.
7. Soy Lecithin
Celestial Seasonings — one of the best-known tea brands — has been under fire recently for including soy lecithin in many of their products.
Of course, the company maintains they use non-GMO soy and only for the purpose of blending the ingredients better. This is problematic for those allergic to soy, but for the rest of us, it actually isn’t that bad.
Lecithin itself has been scrutinized in many different studies, and while some results are inconclusive, it’s believed to actually have beneficial effects for your health.
Lecithin has been found in small studies to be effective in combating ulcerative colitis, also known as inflammatory bowel disease. As well, it’s been suggested as a possible treatment for a host of other issues. While not enough studies have been done to confirm its usefulness, some have suggested using it to treat Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and even bipolar disorder.
The caffeine in tea can have quite a stimulating effect, but it usually feels much mellower than drinking coffee.
Thus, L-theanine is prized for its role in helping induce meditative states, because it can help you relax without actually making you want to sleep.
Here are a few other benefits:
- It’s been found to improve your memory;
- It makes you more aware of your surroundings;
- It’s capable of decreasing anxiety; and
- It’s good for dealing with stress in general.
5. Masala Chai
In the USA, there’s a drink borrowed from Indian culture called a chai tea latte.
This beverage is made by mixing black tea with spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, star anise, black pepper, and vanilla. It’s usually served with milk, sweetened with honey, and quaffed hot or cold.
Be aware, though, that you might get a few funny looks if you order a chai tea in most Asian countries.
In India, Russia, and elsewhere, chai just means tea.
If you want to order the drink properly in India, for example, you’d ask for a masala chai, which translates to spiced tea.
4. Pickled Tea
Most people think of tea as only something to drink, and in most parts of the world, that is the case.
In Burma — aka Myanmar — they’ve long had a completely different way to enjoy tea. It’s a pickled salad they call lephet.
To make it, tea leaves are first softened, then allowed to cool, rolled tightly, and placed underground to age.
Lephet is considered a delicacy in Burma and is all but mandatory for important social occasions.
The Burmese usually serve it on a tray with the pickled tea in the middle, surrounded by several other garnishes. As we’ve seen, these can include shrimp, sesame seeds, garlic, peanuts, and dried peas. While the Burmese may be the only culture that places importance on eating tea as a food, they still consume it as a drink on a regular basis.
3. Polluted Tea
This is the consumer alert portion of the program.
Studies have been performed on tea to ensure that nothing dangerous is caught in the leaves, and the results have hardly been reassuring.
A study in Brazil of various teas found that green and black tea had a high amount of aluminum and fluoride. According to these results, the amount of aluminum is fairly safe; however, the amount of fluoride is actually high enough that it could contribute to dental fluorosis, especially in children who may not like being left out.
Still, to have any risk of that, a child would need to drink an inordinate amount of tea.
These compounds soak into the tea through the soil and are most common in brick tea, which is often low in quality. Some researchers have suggested that the aluminum content is a concern and could contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.
Finding solutions to minimize the amount of these compounds in tea is clearly very important.
Tea may be a popular drink, but many cultures have come up with other uses for it.
One of the strangest is a form of divination called tasseomancy, which can trace its roots all the way back to ancient China, although it was likely spread more by gypsies than anyone else.
Since the tools required for tasseomancy — tea leaf reading — were hardly considered suspicious, it was quite a popular form of divination during the days when people were hunted down for practicing witchcraft.
To perform a reading, you need to prepare your tea using loose leaves and allow the person receiving the reading to drink it.
Once the tea has been finished, the reader will swirl what is left three times in a counter-clockwise direction—ensuring that the handle is facing them, as direction is important—and then begin interpreting the patterns to explain your future.
1. Health Considerations
The ancient Chinese used tea for therapeutic purposes, so it’s no surprise that many researchers focus their studies on its potential health benefits.
Ironically, the results have been constantly contradictory.
One study tracked several thousand men over the course of 37 years and found that those who drank a large amount of tea daily were more likely to develop prostate cancer. Then again, other studies have found almost exactly the opposite.
A double-blind study — using a control group for accuracy — tested green tea catechins on men who had a precursor to prostate cancer. The study found that the green tea catechins actually had a beneficial effect.
However, further studies on the topic have found no effect whatsoever. Clearly, more research is needed.