A wee bit about tea
Why have so many speciality teas? What is the difference between one kind and another? What are you really drinking? It is perhaps useful to know if you want to choose one of our often bewildering selection. However, we only have a small proportion of literally thousands of different kinds of tea. Every nation that is mentioned in this menu has many more varieties than those listed, some differing greatly in kind and style, and some with a subtle distinctiveness that leaves differentiation to the realms of the tea slurper elite. And of course there are other nations that we are working to have represented here.
Why drink tea?
It is something which is associated with relaxation for centuries. There are many different tastes and recipes that you can experience, so experiment and find your perfect brew. It is also incredibly healthy. All tea is rich in Vitamins C,E and F, important for the body’s immune system. Anti-oxidants in tea: ECGC which quickens the metabolic system; flavonoids which help process calories and natural toxins; the flavins in black tea are apparently anti-carcinogenic. Some say these antioxidants even slow ageing!
China is regarded as the home of tea. It is thought that it sprouted from the Bohea Mountains of the Fujien province in China, though some scholars claim its origins to be in the jungles of Assam, northern India. Legend has it that in 2737 BC one of China’s first emperors happened upon it when some tea leaves happened to fall into his pot of boiling water. Today tea is still widely drunk in China and many different varieties are cultivated.
Tea in Japan is commonly referred to “Ocha”, the O prefix signifying “that which is honoured”. Tea’s connection with religion and honour has always been close. For example the first reference to tea in Japan was when Emperor Shomu invited monks to his palace at Nara where he offered them the beverage having received some as a gift from the T’ang court in China. From around this time tea became the drink of the aristocracy and the monks. After a period of lapse, tea seeds were brought to Japan for cultivation along with the introduction of Zen Buddhism into Japan by the scholar Eisai, 1191. The method of cultivation, much influenced by that found in China at the time, has changed very little, involving a process where some types of tea are ground into powder then pressed into short strings.
One of the results of such a high degree of honour being placed on tea was that the Japanese Tea Ceremony “Ochaji” evolved in which every part of the process for the preparation and consumption of tea was refined.
According to some experts the tea produced here is of a better quality than mainland Chinese tea. It is particularly famous, though, for its high quality oolong teas, a number of which are represented in this menu.
Vietnam is in the same geographical region as the Chinese province of Yunnan, meaning that the mountainous jungle conditions are very favourable for tea growing. That the oldest known tea tree is in Vietnam (a venerable 1000 years old) testifies to its ancient tea culture. The teahouses (nhung tiem ban tra) are very popular in this country. These are in a typically south east Asian style, where a variety of teas are offered, served in large tea pots (binh tra) with handle-less cups (chun tra).
Tea or tchai is a very popular drink in Pakistan, enjoyed all year roundIt is very common to offer tchai as a welcome gesture in homes, offices or stores. Throughout the country, be you on a high mountain pass or lost in the narrow streets of the bazaar you will come across the tchai-khana (tea place). Tchai-khanas can range from mere tents just serving tea to large highly decorative places serving tea and a variety of traditional cuisine and function as community gathering points, where people relax on patterned carpets and gossip over cups (or glasses) of sweet, potent tchai.
Since 1900 tea has been produced in the southern part of the country, though it had already been popular in Iran for centuries. It is most commonly black, with a light reddish infusion though tea had already been popular in Iran for centuries., commonly flavoured with herbs and spices, such as cardamom and cinnamon. Brewed very strong Iranian tea necessitates lavish amounts of sugar.
Where did tea actually originate? This is perpetual debate among tea totalers, but surprisingly one in which the pride of India and China does not seem to be an issue. According to one Chinese legend (as well as Buddhist belief) it was a scholar, Gan Lu, who brought back some Assam tea seeds from India c. 3rd century. The Indian Buddhists maintain that tea was brought to India by the Buddha, after he was cured of his fatigue in his fifth year of meditation by unwittingly clutching some leaves from a nearby tree and chewing them. In the colonial times, Scottish spy Robert Fortune went undercover in China to discover the secrets of tea cultivation. After much study and many years he and another Scot, Bruce, brought tea to Darjeeling and the Empire and sowed the first seeds of what was to become regarded as the best of all teas. Whatever the history, suffice it to say India is absolutely tea crazy, and though it is one of the world’s biggest producers it only exports a small proportion. Tchai and the Tchai wallah are virtually as important in India as air.
Ceylon (Sri Lanka)
Ceylon is one of the world’s biggest producers of black tea. The Singhalese regard their tea as having a cooling effect on the body, so necessary in the hot climate. Traditionally tea is brewed very strong and drunk sweet with of milk, similar to neighbouring India.
The Himalayan mountain kingdom of Nepal, home to many cultural wonders, has been a tea drinking nation for perhaps thousands of years. Tea here is often enjoyed with a good dose of of yak’s milk. The pure highland passes and valleys of Nepal provide ideal tea growing territory, similar to that of Darjeeling further to the east, thence the tea is of a very high standard, the natural methods employed in its cultivation making it recognisably Nepalese (one can almost feel the proximity of mountains and yaks when drinking it!)
A vast area where the desert sands threaten to parch the throats of those who challenge it. It is in these lands therefore, that tea becomes a life-blood; rehydration, nourishing and stimulating.
Africa East and South
Africa has some of the most productive tea nations in the world. Tea is usually grown at high altitudes of 6,500 to 10,000 feet above sea level. In Kenya it is cultivated in the eastern and central rift valley and some western parts of the country – and the tea is famous for its appealing red colour and full bodied taste. One interesting fact is that most tea drunk in Britain originates from Africa.
Occupying geographically and historically the main trade route by land of Indian spices through Persia and on into Turkey Afghanistan has enjoyed a ready supply of herbs and spices including tea for hundreds of years. Green tea is more popular in Afghanistan, and often enjoyed without milk.
Tea spread to Turkey from China during the Tang dynasty (618-906) as a result of Turkey being situated on the main east-west trade route. It became a strong tradition to drink tea and brew it using a samovar, though tea didn’t start to be produced in Turkey’s Rize region, until 1939.
Tea came first to Russia from Mongolia in 1614. To facilitate its transport it was crushed and pressed into tea bricks. Packed into boxes these tea bricks were transported in caravans of camels 11,000 miles across Manchura to reach Moscow and then St. Petersburg. Traditionally teas would be made using the samovar, though unfortunately we cannot do this for lack of space.
Speciality Tea Recipes
Tea is one of the most of versatile of drinks, lending itself well to improvisation and creativity. As you have read above one can flavour tea, scent tea, spice it or even cook with it. We are lucky enough to be able to provide just some of the specialities that can be found around the world, from Scotland to Taiwan. In addition the industrious staff of Tchai-Ovna are constantly at work researching, devising and concocting new recipes and innovations in the art of tea making in order to tantalise the senses of the tea drinker.
Flavoured and Spiced Teas
Flavoured teas are becoming increasingly popular. We pride ourselves on supplying naturally flavoured teas, which, like the Chinese scented teas (which can also be classified as flavoured teas) usually are made using flower petals and different blends – as well as fresh herbs and spices which we may add ourselves.