Tea is one of the most popular drinks in the world. You make it by pouring hot water over the dried leaves of a tea plant. For centuries people believed that teas could cure illnesses, they used it as medicine. Today scientists know that tea contains chemicals that prevent cells from dying. Most teas have caffeine in them, a substance that makes you feel more active. Some people have problems drinking tea because it can cause sleeplessness.
The tea plant grows best in tropical and temperate places where rain falls throughout the year. Tea can be grown from sea level to about 2,000 metres, but the best quality grows in higher regions.
Tea comes from the leaves and buds of tea plants. Wild plants can be up to 9 metres high but on tea plantations they are cut back to a bush of about a metre in height so that workers can pluck the leaves easily. The plant produces pointed, leathery dark leaves, small white flowers and seeds that look like hazelnuts. It takes a plant three to five years before is ready for plucking.
A plucker can harvest about 20kg of tea a day. On large tea plantations the leaves are harvested by machines, but the quality of tea is higher when the leaves are hand-plucked.
Types of tea
The most common types of tea are black and green tea. They come from the same plant but are processed differently.
Workers take the leaves and spread them out on shelves where they can dry. Next, they are rolled and broken into pieces and put into a room where they absorb oxygen. Chemical reactions change the taste and character of the tea. Finally, the leaves are dried with hot air until they turn brownish-black. Most black tea comes from Sri Lanka, Indonesia and eastern Africa.
To make green tea, workers put the freshly picked leaves into a steamer, which keeps them green. Then they are crushed and dried in ovens. Japan is the biggest producers of green tea.
Tea can be bought in many forms – leaves, powder or tea bags. Some of them are added with flavours, like vanilla, orange or lemon. Although most people drink their tea hot, many enjoy iced tea, especially during the summer months.
Black tea is brewed by pouring water over a teaspoon of tea. The tea should soak for three to five minutes before you drink it. Green tea should be left in water longer. Instead of putting tea leaves into a pot people often put tea bags into a cup.
People first drank tea in China about 5000 years ago. Originally it was used as a medicine, then as a daily drink. It spread to Japan in the 3rd century A.D. Dutch and Portuguese traders brought tea from eastern Asia to Europe in the 1600s.
In 1657 the beverage was sold for the first time in coffee houses in Great Britain. When the English started a tradition of tea drinking in the afternoon it became England's national drink. In the 17th and 18th centuries tea spread to British colonies overseas.
In 1767 Great Britain placed a tax on tea imported by American colonists. During the Boston Tea Party of 1773 they were so angry that they threw a ship full of British tea into the harbour to protest British rule. Two years later the American Revolutionary War started.
Today about 3.3 million tons of tea are produced. India, with its famous tea growing regions like Darjeeling and Assam, and China produce about half of the world's tea. It also grows in many other parts of Asia, especially in Sri Lanka and Indonesia. In the course of time growing tea has spread to countries in Eastern Europe, Africa and South America.