Growing up in a Punjabi family there are many superstitions that you grow up with the most common is “Drinking Chai makes you dark” this is a Punjabi’s first introduction to tea!! It’s only much later that we realise the beauty of this beverage to truly appreciate it in various forms.
Although it is hard to pinpoint the exact date in history, legend tells us that tea was first discovered 5000 years ago by Chinese Emperor Sheng Nong. A few leaves from a tea plant supposedly fell into his cup of hot water. And luckily for us, instead of discarding it, he tasted it! The rest is history….Like all good things, chocolate, chilies, coffee, the word of tea spread quickly. Tea drinking was soon widespread in China…and then spread to Japan and India thanks to Buddhist monks. By 1610 AD Tea had reached Europe. In fact Tea has been pivotal in history at any points. The American Revolution was set off by the Boston Tea Party in protest to a tax applied to tea !!
Tea is indubitably Chinese, and both the words the and cha are of Chinese origin. Cultivation has been practised for 2000 years, and at first the wild leaves were probably eaten as a vegetable. Brewing is described in a Chinese book of AD 220-65. The leaves were made into cakes, with rice added as a binder for older leaves and the cakes were then baked to remove the green.
While the Chinese discovered tea and propagated its consumption, Indian tea came from a tea plant indigenous to India. According to Indian historians the tea plant grew wild in the areas of Assam adjacent to China, where the best Chinese teas were cultivated and local Assamese tribes had been drinking tea for centuries and some areas along the Brahmaputra were even growing it. The cultivation of Tea in India only happened much later with the advent of the British Government. Initial attempts at cultivating tea from China withered but the pioneering work of Robert Bruce, a retired lieutenant from the British royal navy, paid off and the first crude teas were shipped to England sometime around 1848.
Indian culture of adding milk and spices to tea is believed to have started with the effort of making tea more warming and to cut down the acidity.
Tea is definitely good for health and the world around us is realizing that. Numerous studies have demonstrated the anti-cancer properties of polyphenols. Some studies indeed suggested that tea’s polyphenols may reduce risk of gastric, esophageal and skin cancers, if one consumes 4 to 6 cups daily. Other laboratory studies have found that polyphenols help prevent blood clotting and lower cholesterol levels. A recent study published in December 2005 showed that just 2 cups of tea may lower the risk of ovarian cancer by 46 percent in women.
So the next time you sip tea leave the superstitions aside and sip slowly into 5000 years of history……