If you grew up in Canada, you will remember tea as something that was only purchased in a flimsy cardboard box and inside was ground black tea encased in tea bags. Maybe you are like me and remember collecting figurines from the Red Rose tea box as a child.
After moving to Toronto years later and discovering Dim Sum at various China Towns throughout the City, I noticed the Chinese always served pots of loose leaf tea with their dumplings. I developed a new love for tea. As I am now studying tea in a partnership with the Tea Association of Canada and George Brown College, I wish to share some inspirations learned.
Even though coffee is still the overall preferred hot beverage in Ontario, for much of the eastern hemisphere a more intense understanding and selection of the ancient drink of tea exists. Fashions in tea have changed over the different eras but until fairly recently, choice and awareness of a fine cup of tea was not readily available or understood in this country.
In China, 1.2 million hectares of land are devoted to tea growth which is about one half of the tea growing area in the world and is arguably the best place in the world for fine tea. After China, India and Africa are the largest global producers of tea.
Tea is a labour intensive crop. About two thirds is grown for domestic use and one third is grown for export. Generally speaking, much of the very best remains in China with a limited amount of the best being exported.
Tea is grown only in a zone limited in the north by the 43rd parallel to the equator and in the south by the 27th parallel. It cannot be too dry or too hot or too cold. Most tea is grown in the southeastern part of China. The mountainous regions are ideal and tea grown in the mountains generally fetches a higher price.
China's regions are divided by its river systems. Tea production is divided into four river zones. Historically, teas were controlled by the Ming Dynasty. A tribute tea was a dynasty gift of the very finest teas to people in power. These were generally the first plucks and given mainly to people of the court. This tea was not permitted to touch the ground and was also double wrapped in silk when presented. The last tribute tea was presented to the emperor of China in 1910, after that the dynasties ended.
Famous teas come from leased patches from tea gardens in China. Government agencies and large corporation's have control of the tea from these groves and are as coveted as a pair of Leaf Tickets in Toronto on a Saturday night. This may start to shed some light on the importance of tea to the people of China and the areas which border this country. In fact, tea was highly regarded in Russia which is just north of China. Tea was delivered to Russia by camels up until 1900 when the Trans Siberian Railway opened. They expected the best.
To become more knowledgeable about tea, I would suggest the following books:
The Ancient Tea Horse Road by Jeff Fuchs - Travel with the last of the Himalayan Muleteers. There is a picture and article of this local author at the Tea Emporium on Bayview south of Eglinton in Toronto - read the book and have an understanding of the history of the tea trade and his travels in China. The book sells for $35.00 in all of their shops.
The Story of Tea - A Cultural History and Drinking Guide - by Mary Lou Heiss and Robert J. Heiss. A book written by two married tea merchants who have traveled extensively in China in search of teas to export to America. A very comprehensive book of tea and how it is made. The book can be purchased at Indigo Books.
I hope I have piqued your interest about tea and in my next article, I will tell you about some of the types of teas that exist, some of my favourites and some suggestions about where you might find them for purchase.
Until next time we sip...
Post and Las Vegas Photo by Tracey