Loose Leaf Teas
From long before modern society, tea has been surrounded in color and mystique. Enjoyed by royalty, commoners, politicians and pirates tea has survived the ages as one of the most sought after beverages in history. From the religious ceremonies of the Buddhist monks to the Boston Tea Party to the modern day discovery of anti-oxidants, tea has played a major role in the development of all classes of society. For more than 50 centuries tea has influenced ceremonies, meetings, superstition, religions, social orders, political upheavals, piracy and medicine.
Tea originated in Central and Eastern Asia approximately 5,000 years ago where the tea plant was first discovered and cultivated. It is an extremely sensitive species which is greatly affected by environmental conditions such as soil composition, climate and elevation. The three basic types of tea are prepared differently to provide the greatest variety of flavor. Black tea leaves are withered, rolled, sifted, and fermented providing a hearty flavor and rich dark color. Black teas provide the majority of tea consumed in the United States in the form of Orange Pekoe, English Breakfast and Darjeeling to name a few. Green tea leaves are fired shortly after harvesting to prevent fermentation giving a greenish gold color and a smooth delicate taste. Recent studies have indicated the benefits of green tea in reducing the risk of cancer. Oolong tea leaves are withered, rolled, twisted and semi-fermented producing a color and flavor between those of black and green tea. Herbal teas, while quite flavorful, have no tea in them whatsoever and are made through varying processes using fruit, flowers and an assortment of plants.
No one really knows the exact discovery of tea as it had occurred long before any history of such events was ever documented. Chinese lore believed that Emperor Shen Nong discovered tea somewhere between 2737 BC – 2690 BC while boiling water before drinking it. Tea leaves apparently accidentally fell either from a tree growing near the emperor’s fire or from a piece of firewood. The aroma enticed the emperor so much that he decided to drink the tea and found that it rejuvenated him. In India culture the creation of tea was somewhat more magical. According to legend the Nepalese Prince and historic founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama vowed to journey to China with no sleep. After many days of travel he finally succumbed to his exhaustion and slept. When he awoke he was so upset with himself that he tore off his eyelids and cast them to the ground. From the eyelids sprouted tea bushes of which the prince partook and being rejuvenated continued his journey to China.
Jumping forward several centuries we find that Queen Elizabeth in her pursuit of fine eastern luxuries founded the East India Trading Company in the year 1600. This company was given the mission to procure fine woven cloths, spices, herbs and riches from the eastern countries. Some 60 years later it brought its first shipment of tea to the British Isles. The East India Trading Company held exclusive rights to the English-Oriental trade until 1833. During this time the shipments of tea were very small and well overtaxed. More enterprising individuals such as pirates ignored the rules and tariffs and found how to import the tea illegally in quantity.
With the increase in available tea in England the popularity also spread to the British Colonies. By the early 18th century tea was widely available in Boston, New York and Philadelphia. Since the tea trade was exclusive with England, King George III figured to recoup financial loss from the French and Indian War by placing higher taxes on tea. This of course led to the Boston Tea Party and fueled anti-english feelings prior to the Revolutionary War. After the Revolutionary War the newly formed United States developed their own tea trade with China and tea consumption continued to develop and grow throughout Europe and the Americas.
In 1904 a World’s Fair vendor, Richard Blechynden became weary of selling his hot tea in the high summer heat and decided to drop some ice in it thus giving birth to iced tea. A few years later in 1908, Thomas Sullivan, a New York vendor started providing small tea samples in bags to New York Restaurants. When he found out that the restaurants weren’t removing the tea from the bags before adding it to the water he developed and marketed the first tea bags.