Tea

The term tea refers to the plant Camellia sinensis, the dried, processed leaf manufactured from it, extracts derived from the leaf, and beverages prepared from leaf or extract of this species. Tea is the most widely consumed of all beverages aside from water. Annual worldwide per capita consumption, although geographically far from uniform, is 40 to 50 L (based on total known tea production of 2.667 million tons (1) and a beverage yield of ca 100 L/kg). Apart from its extensive usage, it is of interest to the food technologist as well as to the biochemist, organic chemist, and physiologist because of the dependence of the final product characteristics on the unusual chemical composition of the fresh leaf and because of the complex series of biochemical and organochemical reactions that occur during processing. There has also been increasing interest in its health benefits.

Two major varieties of C. sinensis are recognized: as-samica, a large-leaved (15-20 cm) plant, and sinensis, a smaller-leaved (5-12 cm) plant. Intervarietal hybrids are common. There are also hybrids with a related species, Camellia irrawadiensis. Tea originated in southeast Asia in an area that includes parts of China and India, and probably Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam.

The first authenticated consumption of tea dates from the fourth century a.d. in China, although legend dates it much earlier. Its use spread to Japan, where cultivation started in the eighth century. Tea from China reached Europe in the sixteenth century, and by the end of the seventeenth century it had become a popular beverage served in London teahouses. Tea was discovered growing wild in Assam Province of India in 1823 and cultivation followed rapidly. The plant was introduced into the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) and then into Ceylon (Sri Lanka) after the destruction through disease of that country's coffee plantings in the 1870s. Cultivation of tea on a large scale subsequently spread to other parts of Asia, to Georgia in the former USSR, and to Africa, South America, and several tropical islands. Tea production was carried out on a very small scale in South Carolina around the beginning of the twentieth century; at its peak, ca 10,000 lb/yr was produced (2). Commercial operation was discontinued in 1915 but resumed in 1987 (3).

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