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Common Name

Latin Name Family Country/Origin
Camellia sinensis Theaceae China

The Chinese began drinking tea thousands of years before the rest of the world. According to Chinese mythology, the emperor Shen Nung, who would always boil water before he drank it for hygienic reasons, stopped during a long journey across his empire. As he was boiling his water, a leaf of Camellia sinensis fell into his mug. Upon drinking the new brown liquid, the emperor raved of its health benefits and refreshing taste.

Tea became an important part of Chinese culture and soon spread throughout Japan. The rest of Europe didn't become aware of tea until the 16th century. The Portuguese developed the first European trade relations with China and tea slowly began making its way across Europe.

At first, tea was a luxury item enjoyed only by those who could afford its $100 per pound price. As more and more tea was imported from China, prices began to drop and tea drinking became more widespread. Most imported tea was green, and it wasn't until the 19th century that black tea became more popular than green tea.

It was the Dutch and the French who first consumed the most tea, but the English soon replaced them as tea-totaling champions. The Dutch brought tea to their colonies in the 17th century, where it soon became a popular beverage. By the time the English took over the Dutch colonies in the New World, Americans were drinking more tea than all of England combined.

As more and more tea made its way to England, it became the country's most popular beverage. Back in the thirteen colonies of the New World, citizens were becoming angry at the amount they were being taxed by England without any representation in Parliament. Tensions increased, which in 1773 led to the Boston Tea Party, which in turn lead to the American Revolution.

Camellia sinensis, known as the tea plant, is responsible for producing black, green, white and oolong tea. The difference between these teas lies in the levels of oxidation. Black, being the most oxidized and white being the least. The young leaves of this evergreen shrub are handpicked at harvesting. To produce green tea, the leaves are steamed right away to prevent oxidation. Leaves left to oxidize slightly longer become oolong tea, while black tea is left to oxidize the longest.

Purported Medicinal Qualities*

Used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine, tea is said to have many health benefits. The medicinal properties of green tea have long been known, but more recently, research has been looking into the supposed health effects of black tea. Black tea is said to reduce the risk of stroke and coronary heart disease and is very high in anti-oxidants.

Historically, tea has been used to:

  • Protect against cancer, heart disease and stroke
  • As a source of anti-oxidants
  • As a source of flavonoids
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduce risk of hypertension
  • Increase metabolism
  • Boost immune system
  • Prevent Alzheimer's

*Always check with your healthcare provider before consuming, inhaling or otherwise ingesting any non-prescription or prescription natural or homeopathic substance or pharmaceutical. is not recommending, suggesting, inferring or otherwise endorsing the use of any herb or spice as a medication.

Culinary/Suggested Use

Traditionally in ancient China, tea was also used as a culinary spice. Fish was stuffed with tea leaves prior to cooking, and the heat source used to smoke duck was incensed with tea leaves. Tea should still be used as a culinary spice and is an excellent marinade for many kinds of meat. When brewing tea for cooking, do not steep for too long in boiling water. Use water that is slightly hotter than room temperature and leave it to steep for about 30 minutes.  Food for thought:

  • Brew tea and use as a braising liquid
  • When possible use loose leaf tea
  • Cook rice in brewed tea water
  • Add black tea leaves to soups, sauces, gravies and marinades
  • Grind tea leafs and combine with other spices and use as a rub
  • Boil eggs in very strong tea. Slightly crack the shells before the eggs are fully boiled and let them steep in the tea even after cooking, until the tea is cool. Peel and serve marbled eggs.

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