What exactly is tea? Much more than a drink, tea is a story. A story that captivates—if only for the fact that such an unassuming bush produces simple green leaves that are the source of the world’s oldest and most popular beverage. Over a trillion cups of tea are consumed throughout the world every year. But the story of tea is much more than a mere curiosity. It is an incredible tale of royals and rebels, of ingenuity and intrigue, power and perseverance. It is a story where millionaires are made and murders plotted. Infused with mystery, the story of tea is steeped in history and has been brewing for nearly 5,000 years.
There are “real” teas—black, green, oolong, and white—made from the Camellia sinensis plant that can be blended, scented, and flavored; herbal teas, which aren’t “real” tea; terrific teas like chai, kombucha, and bubble tea; and special teas like yerba mate, kava, and rooibos. Clearly, this tea party is not just for your grandmother anymore. Tea’s hip and healthful image has spawned a new generation of teetotalers who seek out and can afford the very best. But the good news is that even rare teas are affordable.
In “The Life and Times of the Tea Leaf,” Part One of Tales of a Tea Leaf, we’ll explore the centuries’ old lore and lure of tea. In Chapter 1, we will take a look at the legends of the leaf, which include a Chinese emperor and an Indian monk. We’ll follow tea’s journey to the West and learn about the revered author who changed the way the world looks at tea.
In Chapter 2, we’ll see how the business of tea has shaped history. From England’s not-so-honorable Honorable East India Company to tea caravans and clipper ships, the tea trade has been spiced with smugglers, rascals, and determined entrepreneurs, some who have become household names.
What’s the difference between green tea and black tea, and how should each be brewed? With so many varieties of tea, it can be confusing. In Chapter 3, we’ll consider some basics of tea, including tea types, herbals, and how to brew the perfect cup of tea.
Where in the world does tea come from? In Chapter 4, we’ll plot a course of discovery and follow the trail of tea to distant lands where we’ll learn where in the world tea grows and what it takes to cultivate a cup of tea.
In Chapter 5, we’ll peek into the world of medical research where recent studies have propelled tea into the headlines. There have been astonishing reports linking tea drinking from everything to cutting cavities and curing cancer to impeding heart disease and strokes. Is the miracle of tea myth or science? You may be surprised at the answer.
In Part Two, “The Tastes and Pleasures of the Tea Leaf,” the fun really begins. We get to eat, drink, and be merry. Roll up your sleeves, invite some friends over, and get cooking. Chapter 6 and Chapter 7 bring together recipes for hot and cold drinks—some even with alcohol (that’s where the merry part comes in), side dishes, main meals, and desserts—all made with tea. Mexican Tea Punch, Austrian Peach Cookies, Pumpkin Chai Pie, and Tea Smoked Chicken are only a sampling of the exotic tastes that await your exploration.
Do you like trivia, odd bits of history, quotes, and a good story? You’ll find those here too, so you can please your palate and satisfy your curiosity at the same time. For example, did you know there was a plot to kill Hitler with a cup of tea? Did you know tea played a role in the attempt to remove impeached President Andrew Johnson from office? Have you heard about the Tea Lady from Teaneck, New Jersey, who taught her students the value of a million by having them collect tea tags from around the world. In the process, they stirred up some national attention and created their own brand of tea. Read on.
There are nearly 3,000 varieties of tea and even more stories to tell, so with Tales of a Tea Leaf, we will just begin our exploration, but it’s a great way to become familiar with, and ultimately savor, the lore. So settle down with a good cuppa and enjoy the tea-riffic journey. I’ll have another cup myself—milk, no sugar please.