I can’t come in here and say “Tea will make you live 40% longer!” because A) I am not a scientist, and B) science doesn’t know (yet).
That being said, here are 16 straight-up tea facts--hand-plucked (much like one harvests tea) from an episode of “Stuff You Should Know” by Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant.
1. All varieties of tea come from one plant.
Tea comes from Camellia sinensis (C. sinensis). All teas are from this plant—the differences are just in how they’re processed.
Black tea is made by letting the tea leaves oxidize and lose their moisture completely; green tea is steamed so the leaves DON’T oxidize, and they “stay green”; Oolong is made when you let the tea oxidize for a little while, and THEN steam the leaves.
2. Except chamomile and rooibos and other herbal teas.
To be “tea,” it needs to come from the C. sinensis plant. Herbal teas are usually dried flowers steeped in water. (Not bad for you! Just not tea.)
3. India, China, Kenya, and Sri Lanka are the big four producers of tea.
Indonesia is apparently also a producer, but not nearly as big.
4. Tea gained popularity in China first.
During the Han dynasty, the tea was pretty limited, so they reserved the drink for royalty. But during the Tang dynasty (618-907), they found more tea plants—so, tea for the people!
5. Chinese priests helped spread tea to Japan.
Which was where the Japanese developed the Japanese Tea Ceremony. The idea is that two people ceremonially sharing a cup of tea can bring peace.
They also have the saying Ichi-go ichi-e, “one time, one meeting”--the idea that every encounter is unique and can’t be duplicated. Which is nice.
6. The Portuguese were the first people to drink tea in England.
Weirdly, not the English. The Portuguese got the tea from trading in the East Indies (specifically Java).
7. Then the Dutch were like “Hello, these are our trading routes now,” and brought Chinese tea to Holland.
And from there it spread throughout Europe.
8. The East India Trading Company’s monopoly on China ended in 1834—which had some consequences.
One being that Britain was all, “Hey, we should grow our own tea in India, because now it’s not QUITE so easy for us to just walk into China and get it.” And by 1839, they had enough cultivation that they auctioned off Assam tea (what you use to make Darjeeling) in Britain and it caught on.
9. Another consequence of the monopoly ending: tea clippers were invented!
These were specifically designed to be fast ships so that you could be the first merchant in Britain from China—because the first one back would make the sale.
10. Britain kept taxing tea even after the Boston Tea Party.
And that led to tea smuggling—seven million pounds of tea in the 1800s. (Only five million pounds were legally imported.) It wasn’t until 1964 that they were like, “Huh, maybe we should just stop this tea tax?”
11. Almost all tea is handpicked.
Because the process is so fragile and specific--and out of a whole bush, tea-pickers just need the top two leaves and the bud between them.
12. Oolong is actually pronounced like “woo-long,” not “ooh-long.”
But since literally nobody pronounces it correctly, you’re free to go on butchering this one.
13. White tea is only picked two days out of the year, when the tea buds aren’t open yet.
This blows my mind.
14. When you drink matcha, you’re ingesting the tea leaf.
Which isn’t a bad thing! It’s actually a good thing, health-wise.
Matcha is really good green tea that’s ground down to a powder and then whisked into hot water. The bushes are also covered from the sun 20 days before harvest, so they retain their L-theanine—an amino acid that works with the caffeine to let you feel invigorated and calmed.
15. You’re more likely to get health benefits from looseleaf tea.
Because the water can actually circulate around the tea leaves. With tea bags, you end up with these dried, crushed tight-packed things, and the water can’t really get to the stuff in the middle.
16. Tea has caffeine.
Not a lot, and not as much as coffee, but still. I’ll quote Chuck here: “Coffee contains about 80 to 120 mg for a mug, and tea is going to have 20 to 60, with black being the strongest, at about 30 to 40 mg. And green tea and oolong between 10 and 20 mg.”
What’s your favorite tea fact? Share it in the comments! (Personally, I loved the tea clippers thing.)