- Meaning and origin of tea
- Advantages of tea addiction
- Myths about the origin of tea
- Japanese tea etiquettes
- Tea in the sub-continent
- The art of tea making
Tea is the most universal of man-made beverages. There is no place in the world where the habit of taking tea is not found or is not on the increase. The word “Tea” is of Chinese origin. It comes from Chinese local Amoy dialect word “Te”, pronounced “Tay”. In Cantonese, it becomes “Cha”, pronounced “Chah”. The name traveled in this form to Japan, Persia, Russia,” England, America, Europe and the Indo-Pak sub-continent. Tea is the king of the drinks. It has permeated our daily life for half the century to such an extent that its importance to the tea addicts cannot be minimized.
Taking tea has become a social institution throughout the world. People can do without meat, fish, vegetables and other edible goods for days to come but cannot do without taking tea even for one single day. How much and how frequently people take tea depends upon thermometric fluctuations and seasonal changes. We have bed-tea, breakfast tea, tea at “Teatime” and tea at any time to entertain the guests. In Pakistan, the city of Karachi has acquired the distinction of the largest consumer of tea. Here almost every citizen takes tea at least 10 to 12 times a day.
The first and foremost advantage of this innocent addiction is that unlike so many other addictions, there is no harm in taking it. It has no intoxicating effect. It does not lead a man to a delirious state. People who take alcohol and other drugs either soar to the skies or oscillate in the air. But there is no such thing in Tea. Tea makes men serious and thoughtful. Taking Tea does not make them unconscious of selves or the surroundings. It keeps them on the mother earth. A tea taker is always safe in his stance and sure of his ground.
For the Chinese, tea is symbolic of earthly purity requiring the most fastidious cleanliness in its preparation, from picking tea leaves by the women, prying and preserving to its final infusion and drinking, easily upset by the slightest contamination of dirty or oily hands and cups. There goes a story about the eminent Chinese scholar, Chou Wentu, that he was so much enamored of tea that he himself prepared and drank tea about ten items daily at fixed hours. He loved his tea-pot so much that in his will, he desired his heirs to bury his tea-pot with him when he died. All the connoisseurs of tea in China prepared and drank tea with loving pleasure, religious ritual importance and distinction.
Tea, a friend of all seasons and moods, has been much glorified by the writers, poets, politicians, saints and philosophers. There is a strange legend about the origin of Tea. It is said that once Bodhidharma, an Indian saint, fell in deep slumber during his contemplation and meditation. On awakening, he was greatly upset to know that his meditation was interrupted by sleep. Offended as he was, he cut off his eyelids and threw them on the ground. These eyelids took root and after some time there grew up a bush, the leaves of which when dried and infused in boiling water produced a beverage that could banish sleep. So, in the early period, some apothecaries have been using it as “herb for abolishing sleep”. The scholars, who sat on their desks to burn the midnight oil, kept themselves awake by drinking Tea. There is another legend about a Chinese traveller who went to India where he stayed with an Indian couple. Once he feared that his hosts might assassinate him in order to possess his wealth. He planned to run away as soon as he collected his credits from his clients. He was so scared that he did not want to go to sleep. So every evening he boiled the tea leaves and ate them up in secrecy. He would throw the water in which the leaves were boiled. One evening it so happened that the Chinese traveler had to go out on urgency and forgot to throw the water of tea leaves. The hostess, taking the water to be some beverage, drank it out of sheer curiosity. This is how, it is said, and that tea was introduced in India. There is yet another legend, which places the introduction of tea-drinking in the reign of mythological Chinese Emperor, Shen Nung about 2737 B.C. So, the use of tea is thus traced to the pre-historic period.
The people of Japan are very fond of taking tea. There Tea-drinking has developed into an aesthetic ritual. With their inherent artistic sense, the Japanese have developed tea taking into the finest form of social custom. They usually observe strict rules of etiquette during the tea parties. They wear their graceful costumes, take off their shoes and sit solemnly around low tables covered by the artistically embroidered tablecloth, with elegant teacups and saucers. They maintain complete tranquility in the atmosphere and discourage noisy affairs during tea drinking.
Tea is very popular with the kings and queens and in the elite society. Anna, the Duchess of Bedford in England, introduced. Afternoon tea as a regular ceremony. It is said that the constant work and vigilance of state affairs tired her by the afternoons and she felt depressed. After taking tea, her spirits were refreshed and she felt better.
In the beginning, people took tea in different forms. It was not taken with sugar or milk. Still in the west as well as in the Middle East, people use tea without sugar and milk but in the Indo-Pak subcontinent, people take tea with sugar, and sometimes with cream, milk or lemon. Now-a-days, cold-tea is also becoming popular.
The sub-continent is very rich in tea-plantations. Bangladesh produces the finest tea in Sylhet Tea gardens and the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Sri Lanka and Kenya also produce a very fine quality of tea but the tea grown in China itself is of the best flavour. In Pakistan, tea is being grown in Sind but it is not of a good quality. There is something in the nature of tea, just like wine, which leads the tea – addicts to a world of companionship. It is best enjoyed in the select company.
More than half of the art of making good tea lies in the quality of water. A good tea addict sees to it that the tea-mixed boiled water is not allowed to stand in the pot for too long. Recent researches have pointed out that if tea water is allowed to stand in the waiting for a longer period than necessary, it produces nicotine, a poisonous element that is detrimental to human health.