A Short History of Tea

While travelling the world climbing mountains, studying Buddhism and learning about different cultures, B. K. McManus fell at peace most when sipping a cup of tea. Visiting remote villages in India’s northern most states to exotic forests in the Golden Valley of Ceylon led him to discover the deepest treasures of the natural world. The journey began here studying the history and culture around tea, trekking closer to the border of China in search of its deepest roots. Discovering true artisan handpicked tea produced the traditional way supporting local farmers in a sustainable way. The Tea Sommelier brings to you the very best organic artisan loose leaf tea and herbs from across the world. Read more of The Journey

The fine silvery, golden and dark tea hairs that are commonly seen on the leaves and buds of Camellia Sinensis are called called down.

JinJunMei bud teasom

Perhaps through the history of Tea in recent China, the last few hundred years, I have found a reasonably close transliteration although mispronounced Chinese word of Xiamen dialect for "white down/hair" that is 白毫; Pe̍h-ōe-jīpe̍h-ho. Or Pekoe in common English c.1819 (Chinese dictionary) now a common tea word.

Technically these are called tea trichomes but I will call them 'down'.  These down are very much living, cellular extensions of the tea plant that provide a variety of functions to the tea bushel. 

This is a naturally occurring phenomenon present in many different algae and plant forms including the Camellia Sinensis varietals.  For the tea plant specifically the down are more prevalent around the new growth and especially dense over the apical shoot bud and its first neighbour, the first adjacent leaf.

Now this is an example of the incredible gift of nature up close:


Golden Tip Pure DianHong Yunnan, China

Look carefully at the fine golden down fully coating the tea bud.

Another example: the famous Baihao Yinzhen tea from China is also known as White Hair Silver Needle grown in the area of Zhenghe and Fuding in the Northern and North Eastern parts of Fujian Province.  The genuine cultivars for white tea are a large leaf tea tree called Zhenghe Da Bai and Fuding Da Bai respectively.

The silvery white down on the tea buds and leaves are clearly visible.  The tea will be picked according to precise rules before the buds open in early spring.  Perfect conditions are sought after every spring to pick these downy delights.

Essentially these down increase the boundary between leaf and atmosphere. Their purpose are to protect against UV-damage, water evaporation, herbivore and pathogen attack.
These tea down are the very protective outfit for the young growth and with the right conditions and nutrient density the tea plant will escape pathogen attack.

This image shows the down all over the bud, under leaf and stem:

JinJunMei bud teasom

Hukalau White, Hawaii

It is in fact the catechins* and caffeine found in the tea plant that work as a secondary metabolite defence mechanism against oxidative stress, predator and pathogen attack and other environmental variables.

The silvery down that coats the tea leaf is the defence mechanism of the tea plants.

Perhaps you may first encounter these down in your own tea cup. When you make loose leaf artisan tea they will float on top of the tea liquor.

Some people claim there are great benefits in consumption of tea down.  They are certainly harmless and provide a wonderful spectacle and spiritual connection.

Happy cupping,

* my next article will discuss what catechins are and how they are useful for us.