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10 Neat Things About Tea
by Dorothy Dobbie
by Dorothy Dobbie

The Local Gardener magazines, Ontario Gardener, Manitoba Gardener and Alberta Gardener, are published by Pegasus Publications Inc.

Drawing on her 30 years' experience as a senior executive in the magazine publishing industry, Dorothy launched Manitoba Gardener in 1998, initially running the business out of her home. Two years later, Dorothy's daughter Shauna, living in Ontario, jumped into the fray with Ontario Gardener. And two years after that, they started Alberta Gardener. Visit us at and register for our "Ten Neat things" newsletter. Watch Shaw TV for garden tips and Listen to CJOB for the Gardener Sundays at 9:08

February 26, 2017

There is a great deal of poetry and fine sentiment in a chest of tea. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson, Letters and Social Aims

1. Gift of the "Divine Farmer".

Way, way back 5,000 years ago about 2737 B.C. as westerners count time, lived an Emperor in the Yunan province of what is now China. His name was Shannong or "Divine Farmer". Shennong was the bestower of many gifts upon his people, among them the art of agriculture including the invention of implements such as the hoe, the plough and the axe; herbal medicine; boiled drinking water and the pleasure of drinking that water while hot and infused with the leaves of Camellia sinensis, commonly known as tea.

2. So many teas, so little tea time.

There are more than 250 loose teas, most them of prepared in different ways from the same plant, Camellia sinsensis or occasionally Camellia sinensis, var. assamica. Picking time, drying, fermenting and curing methods, cooking, flavour infusions, how the leaves are rolled, cut, balled or powdered all have an impact on flavour and sometimes on chemical properties. Some tea, Kukicha or twig tea, is even made from the twigs and stems of the tea bush instead of the leaves.

3. White tea, yellow tea, green tea, black tea - and a couple more.

White tea is lightly oxidized (fermented), produces a pale yellow beverage and has a high level of antioxidants. Green tea is steamed with very little oxidation. It stimulates fat oxidation, boosting metabolism without raising the heart rate. Yellow tea is produced when damp leaves are allowed to wilt to the point of turning yellow, then wok fried, producing a different taste, less grassy, more flowery, than green tea, but still lightly oxidized. Black tea is generally Indian or Deejarling tea, prized by westerners. Also black is Oolong, which means 'black dragon'. The leaves are withered in strong sunlight until they turn brown. They produce a tea with a sweet, honey-like fragrance. Roasted, Oolong produces a thick, woody, aroma. There is also Pu-erh tea - dark, fermented and dry pan fried, then rolled, rubbed and shaped into tea cakes.

4. What about red tea?

Red tea is more properly known as rooibos (Roy-bos - meaning redbush) and is not really tea in the true sense. Aspalanthus linearis is a broom-like member of the legume family and comes from Africa. It is purported to "assist with allergies" - and it certainly assists with mine, making my throat itch and causing much sneezing. If you are allergic to peanuts you may want to approach with caution. It tastes wonderful, though, is high in antioxidants, low in tannins and contains no caffeine.

5. Make a perfect cuppa.

The temperature of water for the perfect cup of tea will depend on the type of tea. Boiling water is fine for most black teas, including Oolong. Steep for up to five minutes for a full-bodied taste. Green teas are more delicate and produce a better flavour if the water is slightly below boiling -- about 160 F and steeped for two to four minutes. White tea can take a little more heat at 180 F. Steep it for four to six minutes. Remove the tea leaves and allow the tea to cool for five or six minutes, then drink. After 20 minutes, steeped tea will be past its prime, even if still hot.

6. "Hua cha", scented teas.

Cha is the Chinese word for tea. The favourite scented tea is Earl Grey, named after the second Earl Grey in the 1830s. It is infused with oil from the rind of bergamot oranges grown in the Mediterranean. Jasmine and citron essences are also often used to flavour teas. Oolong is scented with lemon myrtle. The strawberry-flavoured tea from the Boh factory in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia is ambrosia.

7. Tree tea oil not tea tree oil.

Sometimes Camellia sinensis is allowed to go to seed so that the seeds can be pressed for their pale green oil which is then used for cooking and seasoning and occasionally medicinally. Tea seed oil is also made from Camellia oleifera, which is used in cosmetics and soaps. Do not confuse either with the inedible tea tree oil, or melaleuca oil, which has a camphorous odour and comes from Australia. Tea tree oil is used externally to soothe a wide variety of medical conditions. It can cause drowsiness, confusion, hallucinations, coma, unsteadiness, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach upset, blood cell abnormalities, and severe rashes when swallowed.

8. Japanese tea ceremony.

Tea, like so many other things, was adopted by the Japanese from China. Tea did not make it over the sea to Japan until the sixth century, when it became the drink of the local clergy, Buddhist monks. The highly stylized ritual involves making tea from tea cakes (Pu-erh). The caked tea is ground to a powder called matcha, then whipped together with hot water. The Japanese developed this simple act into an art that was filled with meaning and had its own masters.

9. Drink tea, live long.

Well, it stands to reason. Camellia sinensis is a long-lived plant. One old tree from Yunan said to be 2,700 years old, stands 25 metres tall and has a girth of 1.2 meters. Another very old tree, growing near the border of China and Burma, is said to be more than 3,200 years old and its spring leaves are still plucked. It produces about six cakes of tea a year. One cake sold for $40,000! Most tea trees are kept pruned to waist height for ease of picking the top two or three spring leaves from each branch, the only part that is used to make tea.

10. Ode to tea.

Lu tong (795 to 835) was a very big tea fan. He penned the following poem called Seven Cups of Tea. It says it all. The first bowl sleekly moistened my throat and lips; The second banished all my loneliness; The third expelled the dullness from my mind, Sharpening inspiration gained from all the books I've read. The fourth brought forth light perspiration, Dispersing a lifetime's troubles through my pores. The fifth bowl cleansed every atom of my being. The sixth has made me kin to the Immortals. This seventh is the utmost I can drink.

- Dorothy Dobbie Copyright© Pegasus Publications, Inc.

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