As a very proud Englishman, I know that it is tea rather than blood that flows through my veins and that it’s a very rare day indeed when I don’t pop the kettle on the stove for a nice strong “cuppa” to fortify me through a long day of work.
Although I was disappointed not to be asked to judge this particular battle in Kitchen Stadium, I was just as keen as everyone else to see what magic Iron Chef Forgione and his challenger, Chef Kittichai could come up with to give inspiration on new ways to use one of my own kitchen essentials.
Here are 10 interesting facts that you might not know about tea:
1. The word tea comes from the Chinese T’e, which was the word in the Amoy dialect for the plant from which tea leaves came. In Mandarin, the word was ch’a, which is where the words char and chai are derived from.
2. Tea (except herbal teas, which are not really tea at all) is made from the Camellia sinensis plant. Black tea, green tea and oolong tea are all made from leaves plucked from the same tea bushes, but they undergo different processes to provide specific styles of beverage. Black tea is allowed to ferment, oolong is semifermented and green tea is unfermented. White tea is also unfermented and comes from the same bush, but is taken from the unopened buds of the tea bush.
3. Chinese legend tells us that Emperor Shen Nong first discovered tea in 2737 B.C., when leaves from the tea bushes fell into water his servants were boiling to purify. It was at first considered a tonic, however, and used for medicinal purposes only.
4. Tea is believed to have arrived in Europe thanks to a Portuguese Jesuit priest named Jasper de Cruz. He visited China in 1590 when Portugal was granted trading privileges with the country and was allowed to bring some of the plants he discovered with him when he returned home.
5. Until the 19th century, nearly all tea was grown in China and its major export partner was Great Britain. As trade with China became more difficult, the British began to look for other areas to cultivate tea including regions of India (Assam and Darjeeling) and Africa (Kenya) and managed to begin cultivation by illegally smuggling plants out of China. These “new” areas remain some of the biggest producers of tea to this day.
6. Not surprisingly, China is still the biggest producer of tea and supplies nearly 29 percent of the world’s total, with India coming in a close second. You may be surprised by some of the other countries in the top 10 list with Iran, Vietnam, Turkey and even Argentina making appearances.
7. Though the Chinese grows the most tea, they are not the biggest consumers. At least not per capita. That would be the United Arab Emirates, whose citizens drink nearly 14 pounds of the stuff every year, putting them ahead of Morocco and Ireland residents. We Brits come in seventh and the United States ranks a lowly 69th in the top 100. Between us all, however, we manage to drink more than three billion cups a year, making tea the second-most-consumed beverage behind water.
8. It was the American Thomas Sullivan who accidentally invented the teabag when he sent out samples in small silk pouches to customers in 1904. They did not know to empty the contents into the pot and added everything including the silk container. Sullivan saw this as an opportunity and began making ready-to-use tea bags out of gauze. Nowadays, the teabag is the by far the most popular way to make tea, with over 96 percent of the tea drunk in the United Kingdom being made in this fashion.
9. Though drinking all of the different types of tea is considered to be beneficial to one’s health, it is green tea that has the best reputation as a super food. Various studies have shown that drinking green tea may well be helpful in the fight against heart disease, certain forms of cancer and diabetes as well as a valuable tool in the battle to lower cholesterol. Although some of the findings are disputed, few doctors would disagree that a cup of green tea every day does you good.
10. The most expensive tea in the world is grown in the mountains of Ya’An in the Sichuan province of China. Workers fertilize the tea bushes using the waste from local pandas whose bodies take in only a small amount of nutrients from the food they eat. The tea costs the equivalent of around $200 for a small cup.