Chinese legend has it that Emperor Shen Nong was the first to drink tea. The emperor was in the habit of boiling his water—not a bad idea in the days before water treatment—and a fortuitous breeze deposited some tea leaves into the pot. Intrigued, he gave it a sip, and the rest is history.
Asians drank tea for centuries before Queen Elizabeth founded the East India Company in 1600 to bring exotic goods back to jolly old England. Colonists brought tea to America, and, in 1773, threw hundreds of pounds of it into Boston Harbor.
Today, tea is the second most popular beverage in the world, after water. The U.S. is tied for 23rd in tea consumption, but, for what it’s worth, we’ve made our mark. American contributions to tea culture are iced tea (1904 St. Louis World’s Fair), teabags (Thomas Sullivan in 1908), and instant tea (Nestea, 1946). Oh, and sweet tea, a.k.a “the table wine of the south.”
True teas—black, green, oolong—come from the camellia sinesis plant (pictured above). Tea consumption is credited with improving cardiovascular and dental health, increasing immunity, reducing some cancers, and keeping me awake at night. Herbal “teas” such as chamomile and peppermint are tisanes, or infusions, of non-tea flowers, roots, spices, etc. Red tea, or rooibos, is made from a bush that grows in southern Africa.
Cold, wet teabags will soothe beestings, insect bites, and sunburns. According to superstition, stirring a teapot counterclockwise will stir up trouble, but spilling a bit of tea while making it is good luck. If the tag falls off the teabag while it’s in your cup, you will lose something within the week. To learn the finer points of reading tea leaves, click here. "Tempest in a teapot" (American) and "storm in a teacup" (British) are idioms meaning a small event blown out of proportion. (I kind of like the original Latin Excitabat enim fluctus in simpulo--“he was stirring up waves in a ladle.”)
The wonderful Happy Lucky’s Teahouse in Old Town has over one hundred loose leaf teas, baked goods, fairly-traded silk fashion accessories, and classes. (The next event is The Perfect Cup of Chai Blending Class.) The Fort Collins Hilton offers Tea at the Hilton, featuring Colorado teas and treats, from 1-4 on the last Thursday of every month.
Now, go make a cuppa.