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Archives for posts tagged ‘tea history’

Bigelow Tea Looks At Evidence That Tea Is More Than 2000 Years Old

bigelow tea historyIt turns out that “one of the world’s oldest beverages” is even older than previously thought. New analysis of plant remains found in ancient tombs confirms that they are, in fact, from tea plants. Bigelow Tea loves a good mystery and learning that the key to solving this one was the presence of theanine, an amino acid found only in tea and responsible for its relaxing properties.

According to an NPR report, the oldest known reference to tea was in a document from 59 B.C., though scholars were unsure of its accuracy. Experts now have what they believe is physical evidence of tea’s existence in two tombs that are 2,100 years old, about 100 years before the document in question. Leaf buds found in these tombs resemble the finest tea. To prove their hunch, researchers compared the chemistry of the buds to modern tea samples. The presence of caffeine was helpful, but not conclusive, evidence. A few other plants also contain caffeine. Finding theanine was “the clincher.”

The investigation also supported the belief that tea has long been highly prized and sought after, as one of the tombs –in western China – belonged to an emperor! What remains unclear is exactly how this ancient tea was enjoyed. Other evidence suggests that before modern brewing techniques, cultural practices involved mixing barley and other plants with tea for medicinal purposes.

However it was used, tea clearly has a long and distinguished history that tea lovers all over the world can appreciate. As a third-generation family-owned tea company founded 70 years ago, Bigelow Tea is proud to be a part of this tradition!

Just the TEA facts, please!

As the most widely consumed beverage in the world other than water, tea can still be a mystery to some people.

Tea is steeped in many traditions and legends and the history of tea is quite fascinating – but the Western World may still be playing catch up with the east on many things tea. For instance, it wasn’t until 1905 that the tea plant received its official Latin name, Camellia sinensis. Many western scientists at the time were not aware that Black, Green, Oolong and White tea production all came from this single tea plant.

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Image courtesy of plantoftheweek.org

One of the biggest misconceptions about tea is the caffeine levelwhich is less than half that of coffee. Add to that all the heath benefits in tea, plus the fact that tea contains no sodium, fat, carbonation, sugar and is virtually calorie-free, and you don’t have to be able to read the tea leaves to see all the advantages of enjoying your tea.

Here are some more interesting tea facts for you, while you wait for the pot to boil:

  • On any given day, about half of the American population drinks tea. On a regional basis, the South and Northeast have the greatest concentration of tea drinkers.
  • The tea plant Camellia sinensis can grow over 30 feet in height, but most tea plantations keep the plant trimmed to about waist-height so the leaves can be plucked easily at harvest time.
  • It was actually Dutch traders who were the first to bring tea to the West in the early 1600s, and it quickly became an important staple of trade for many countries.
  • And yes, it is true that the only tea plantation in North America is Bigelow’s Charleston Tea Plantation, located on Wadmalaw Island, just south of Charleston, South Carolina!

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Charleston Tea Plantation

Celebrate Chinese New Year with a traditional Chinese New Years Tea Party

Say goodbye to 2008 and the Year of the Rat, and say welcome to 2009, the Year of the OX! The Chinese New Year falls every year between January 21 and February 19 on the Gregorian Calendar. In 2009, the Year of the Ox starts on January 26. Why name years with the names of animals? Legend has it that Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on Chinese New Year, and then named a year after each of the twelve animals that came. He decreed that people born in each animal’s year will share some of that animal’s personality. And for those who are counting: 2009 translates to the year 4706–4707 on the historical Chinese calendar.

In some regions of China, New Year’s starts with a cup of tea with lotus seeds. As you take a sip, you say “tiantian mimi”, meaning “life will be happy“. Sounds like a great start to the year! Since tea was discovered in China, an excellent way to celebrate the Year of the Ox is with a Chinese New Year’s Tea Party. You can use red and gold for table decorations; red symbolizes fire to scare away bad luck, and gold stands for prosperity. Paper lanterns make great decorations, and don’t forget your Ox ornamentation! The Chinese New Year is celebrated for 14 days — so a New Year’s tea party any time during those two weeks after January 26 is appropriate.

There are many more preparations and tasks for the traditional Chinese New Year, but the basic theme is familiar to celebrations all around the world — a time to reflect on the passing year, and to welcome the promise of the New Year to come.

Tea Timeline

Have you ever wanted to see the big picture when it comes to tea history? We’ve located an online tea history that can help.

The Tea Page features a timeline which extends from 2000 BC, when tea was grown in India, to 1953 AD when the play Tea and Sympathy (starring Deborah Kerr) was performed at New York’s Ethel Barrymore Theater. 

Points of interest along the timeline also include the year 222 when tea was “mentioned as a substitute for wine for the first time in Chinese writings.” And, how in 805, tea was “introduced to Japan as a medicine.” Not to forget our British friends, there’s even a spot in the history for 1597 when the first English mention of tea appears.

For more detailed accounts in tea’s history, view these Bigelow posts: The Japanese Tea CeremonyHow Tea Got to England (Parts I and II), How Russia was Introduced to Tea (Parts II and III), and the History of Iced Tea in America.

American Tea Rituals

When it comes to tea, history is being made in United States. Tomislav Podreka at Planet Tea says that “We are … at the beginning of the establishment of an American tea ritual.” 

Think about it. Throughout its history, tea has been intimately tied to ritual. Consider the expression, “steeped in tradition.” In Asian culture tea is integral to ceremonies and meditation practices as it has been for thousands of years. In England, what began as a duchess’s stomach murmurs in the 1800s evolved into tea time as a compulsory daily break for the masses.

It’s now time for America. As “[ritualization of tea] has occurred in every other culture … there will be no difference here,” Podereka says. He credits herbals – which originated early in American history as simple remedies for minor afflictions – for boosting “America’s tea culture to another level” and notes that “these infusions have made great inroads as a common staple of American life.” More recently, stringent scientific study has given additional credibility to centuries of health claims, priming tea for ritualization based on its health benefits. 

What tea rituals will America develop? According to the author, a great deal depends on what influences our choices. Fortified by the latest research, will Americans drink primarily for health? For relaxation? Or something else? In the end, only time will tell, but it’s great to be part of tea history in the making.

Take the Tea Test

How well do you know tea? Well enough to put your knowledge to the test? Find out if your expertise passes muster with this quick quiz from the Tea Experience magazine. Or, if you want a real mental workout (and you’ve got five minutes to spare), check out this 24-question rendition

Of course, if you’re new to tea, you’ll want to bone-up on tea trivia first with a quick stop at the Tea Museum where you’ll find interesting “factoids” on the rich history and diverse varieties of this popular beverage.

Tea Art

Tea has long been associated with the arts. Performance art, architecture and pottery all play a part in the history of the beverage. Today, that history comes alive as museums around the country offer opportunities for us to experience this art for ourselves.

As far back as the 15th century, tea ceremonies began to take on cultural significance in Japan. Commonly called the “way of tea,” the ceremonies are characterized by simplicity, naturalism, asymmetrical design and uncluttered architectural space. Continuing through November 2008, you can learn about all the elements of the tea ceremony, including tearoom design, at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.  Can’t get away? Then listen to the tearoom podcast for a short audio tour.

The art of tea also includes sculptural form, such as porcelain, stoneware and earthenware. Through a traveling art exhibit “Teapots: Object to Subject,” the public can catch glimpses into the richness of this medium in events scheduled through 2010. Visit Exhibits USA for the tour schedule, or click the exhibition image for quick preview slideshow!