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The enchanting brew

HEMJIT BHARATHAN

Considered a royal drink, tea was actually discovered by an emperor.



Tea being served at an outdoor ceremony in China.

KOCHI

Nothing like beginning your day with a steaming cup of tea to pep you up. Tea — the enchanting brew has charmed man for ages. Tea addicts glorify the discovery of tea as the eighth wonder of the world. However, have you ever wondered about the origin of tea? When was this stimulating beverage first discovered?

Tea was discovered in China around 5,000 years ago. Though this wonderful potion has now become the drink of the masses, tea in fact is considered a royal drink, as according to legend it was discovered by an emperor. The events that led to its discovery are as fascinating as the drink.

Legend has it that Emperor Shen Hong who ruled over China 5,000 years ago was once on a royal trip, accompanied by his entire court. Shen Hong was no ordinary ruler but a man of multiple interests. By nature a scientist and an artist, he patronised and delved deep into these fields. The welfare of his subjects reigned supreme in his mind and he implemented stringent measures for the people's well-being and health. Accordingly he passed a decree that in his kingdom, water should always be boiled before drinking.

The emperor and his party, thus during their sojourn, halted for a brief respite under a shady and lush grove. To quench His Majesty's thirst, attendants were briefed to bring him water. As per the law of the land, servants first boiled water, over an open fire. Suddenly a gentle wind blew. Dried leaves from a nearby foliage floating in the cool breeze fell into the boiling water. The water turned brown during this infusion and an invigorating aroma cast its spell. The emperor with the eyes of a visionary, sensed that this was no ordinary phenomenon. He tasted the liquid and was exhilarated. Thus tea was discovered.

It did not take too long for tea to be spread from China to Japan and other parts of the world. In Japan the tea making ceremony was elevated to an art form. Much later, towards the late 16th Century, it was the European missionaries who were responsible for bringing tea to Britain and the U.S.. The British with their gentility served tea in style and the teapot soon became a household name. The Dukes and Duchesses elaborated teatime by serving cakes, sweets and even meat products, introducing the term High Tea. Tea gardens or outdoor cafes came up in England where tea was served for the nobility among flowered walks, orchestra and fire works at night. Tipping first originated here. The word tips, the abbreviation of `To Insure Prompt Service' was coined in these gardens, when a particular Lord paid a waiter to hurry.



... while Japanese businessmen enjoy a cup too

In 1904, iced tea was first chanced upon by Richard Blechynden, an American tea planter, who had come to exhibit his tea at a World Trade Fair at St.Louis. However, much to his dismay, due to an intense heat wave his steaming cup of tea was completely ignored. In a fit of passion he threw some ice blocks into the hot tea and served the world's first iced tea. It turned out to be the biggest hit at the fair!

Later, the concept of tea bags was the brainchild of Thomas Sullivan, a New York tea merchant. Sullivan delivered his tea to restaurants by neatly wrapping each taster sample in thin paper bags. Once while walking into the kitchen of his client's tea café, he found the cooks brewing his samples with the bag itself to avoid the mess of tea leaves in the kitchen. The theory struck Sullivan as an innovation in marketing tea and the next day he sold the idea of tea bags to the world.

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