It is said that tea was discovered accidentally by emperor Shen Nung back in 2700BC. After a large meal one day, he was relaxing in the garden with a cup of boiling water. At that time some leaves from a nearby tree fell into the cup. Unnoticed he consumed the drink. He enjoyed the taste of the tea and the pain relief of the drink was so much. Like this the cup of tea was born.
The Indian legend tells how in the fifth year of a seven year sleepless contemplation of Buddha he began to feel drowsy. He immediately plucked a few leaves from a nearby bush and chewed them which dispelled his tiredness. The bush was a wild tea tree.
The first tea used in England came from China, and it wasn't until the 19th century that tea growing spread to other countries and indigenous tea was discovered in Assam. The UK is the largest importer of tea.
The English quickly developed an almost unquenchable thirst for the drink and began searching for a way to get tea without having to buy it solely from China . In 1835 the English East India Company, upon discovery of an indigenous variety of Camellia Sinensis in Assam , India , established their first experimental tea plantation there. It was largely unsuccessful at the beginning. In 1856 varieties of tea from the Yunnan and Keemun provinces of China were introduced in Darjeeling , India , and soon thrived. Some of the most prized and expensive Indian black teas come from this high mountain region. One year later tea was cultivated in Ceylon ( Sri Lanka ). Luckily, for tea growers and consumers, a fungus wiped out the coffee crop in Ceylon in 1869, then its' main export. This opened the door to increased tea production and exportation.
By the early 1900's tea was being cultivated in Java, Sumatra , Indonesia, Kenya and other parts of Africa . Presently, the United States has been added to the list of tea producers as there is one plantation in North Carolina .
Tea manufacture is the process of converting young fresh tea shoots into dry black tea. This involves a number of processes from plucking to packing. At the plucking stage, only the top leaf tips are picked every 6 to 7 days. The tip leaves are younger and finer which produce a better quality tea. The fresh green leaves now need to have the moisture removed from them. This is done by blowing air through the leaves for up to 14 hours, leaving a soft and pliable leaf. There are then two ways of treating the tea. Tea which is to be used as loose leaf, will normally be rolled gently to create a twisted appearance.
In contrast, tea which is to be used for tea bags, is shredded and crushed to produce a small granular product. Rolling and crushing the leaves, results in the rupturing of the leaf cells which allows oxidation to occur. This gives the tea its distinctive black colour and flavour. The tea is then dried at high temperatures to achieve the correct taste. When it has been dried, the leaf tea is of differing sizes and will also contain pieces of fibre and stalk. At this point it is processed to remove pieces of stalk which will then leave tea suitable to be sold as loose tea. The tea is passed through varying sizes of meshes to sort it and has to be passed through very fine ones in order to produce tea fine enough for tea bag production. This process of sorting is a harsh one and it can cause the tea to lose some of its flavour. That is why loose tea usually has a better flavour than the tea in a tea bag.