According to legend, tea was first discovered when (get ready for vagaries) some leaves happened to fall into a boiling pot and were found to have a tasty and aromatic effect. Sounds a bit suspicious to me, but here are some actual facts and figures regarding this important beverage of my Southern upbringing, tea.
"¢ There are three basic kinds of tea—Green, Oolong, and Black. In the U.S., 94% of tea consumed is Black, with Green coming in at a paltry 5% (as opposed to 80% Black and 19% Green worldwide). A fourth and more rare type of tea, White tea, is a Chinese tea produced exclusively from the buds or tips of the tea bush.
"¢ Most countries have their own tales of origin regarding tea, but as far as American consumption goes, the Cambridge World History of Food tells us "One great change in American tea drinking came about in the early twentieth century. In 1908, tea merchant Thomas Sullivan, in order to reduce shipping weight, began to package tea samples in silk bags instead of miniature tins. Some of his customers brewed the tea without taking it out of the bags and requested more tea packaged in this way; Sullivan obliged, and teabags were created. Today, in America, most tea is brewed from teabags."
"¢ More recently, teabags have been seen in the shape of a pyramid. However, if you like brewing your tea loose leaf, you should consider learning how to read your tea leaves. [Photo courtesy of Teadrop.]
"¢ Some of the largest world growers and producers of tea are China, India and Sri Lanka, and the bushes from which tea leaves are harvested are best grown in dense, tropical areas. Now, this sounds like a bit of Monkey News to me, but apparently now you can buy tea that has been hand-picked by, well, monkeys.
"¢ Richard Blechnyden is credited for "inventing" iced tea (this brings me back to considering the "invention" of the chocolate chip cookie—was there really a world with out it?) at the 1904 World's Fair. Now, 85% of the tea consumed in the U.S. is of the iced variety.
"¢ And of course, no one can mention American tea consumption without speaking of December 16, 1773. That's the date of the Boston Tea Party. Every American middle schooler is brow beaten to know that 342 crates of tea were dumped into Boston Harbor in protest of British Parliament's Tea Act of 1773. (You guys remembered all that ... right? Here's a refresher.)
"¢ Although we might guess the English, with their tradition of High Tea, to be the world's number one consumers of the aromatic beverage, it's the Irish who consume the most tea per capita, with an average person handling 4 cups a day (compare that to the U.S., where the average person has a mere half cup each day!)
OK, Ladies and Gents: how then do you take your average "half cup" of tea—hot or iced, sweet or unsweet? Any brewing suggestions or favorite flavors? And if you think you know all there is to know about tea, try your hand at the Tea Test.