Tea, a short history BY Eden

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The tea bush, Camellia sinensis, related to our garden camellia, is the cultivated form of small evergreen tree with dark glossy leaves which probably originated in the mountain forests along the border of Burma and India with China.

Plucking is done by hand despite many attempts to develop the right machinery. Every 7 to 14 days the bud and two terminal leaves are taken off each shoot. An experienced picker can gather up to 27-32kg a day. The producing life of a bush is at least 50 years.

The newly plucked leaves are spread on trays and heated air is directed over  them for up to 24 hours. The leaves will lose about 40% of their weight. A process called rolling breaks up the leaf cell, releasing the essential oils and enzymes. Then, vibrating sieves separate the finer leaves from the coarser elements which are rolled and sieved again. Then comes fermenting, which is the full process of oxidisation in a humid atmosphere, which usually takes no more than 4 hours. The halting of fermentation by means of very hot air, called firing, gets the tea ready for storage and transportation.

Varieties of tea I would recommend you try are from China – Black teas like the strongest Keemun to the delicate Russian Caravan; or smoked teas like Oolong or Lapsang Souchong.

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