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

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.

tea forest tea sommelierThroughout history tea has been sipped as a medicine, a beverage, a tonic, a cuppa, and a way to embrace the spirit. What history shows us is that tea from camellia sinensis has a sacred place in defining the unique condition between the natural world and the human being. When you break down the Chinese symbol for tea the character composition comes more apparent. The character represents the interlacement of a person within a divinity of the heavens and the earth.  An ancient legend is told that Emperor Shen Nong discovered tea around 2700BC and found it to have some particular effects on the body and mind.  One would sleep less, become more alert in the mind and the herb could relieve many bodily complaints.  Several centuries later the herb finely found its character as we know of it today which can have many transliterations as history has shown.  The Chinese poet Lu Tong of the Tang dynasty (800AD) distinctly wrote about life and tea, "I am not at all interested in immortality, only in the taste of tea".

The Wuyi Mountains in Fujian Province has been growing and processing tea for more than a thousand years. The indigenous tribe of the Wuyi mountain, the nomadic She, were age old tea farmers and were responsible in spreading the art of processing oolong. The Wuyi Rock Oolong is most famous and is considered a tribute tea. There is even a special collection kept in the National Museum of Beijing. Hand plucked tea from ancient tea trees in the area thought to be more than one thousand years old have been known to reach extraordinary value in the market. Because one ancient tea tree cannot produce more than a couple of kilos a year the market value is very high.  So as not to over pick the leaves each season only a certain amount should be taken off the tea tree at one time which brings sustainability into tea production. 

Wild tea tree leaves when brewed have a remarkable energy. These life forces or Qi from ancient wild tea tree is so powerful. "Unlike farmed tea, which must be tended to frequently, the wild tea tree is strange ought o survive on its own, living often to be hundreds of years old. The farmed tea may have refined taste, but the Qi of a farmed tea is almost useless when compared to a tea from a real wild ancient tree. Mainstream companies forget about the true essence of preserving the quality and naturalness of tea. They spray pesticides and different chemicals while harvesting tea, destroying the power of natural grown tea," remarks Dr Liu of Chaozhou.

The Wuyi mountain area boasts over 100 peaks surrounded by the natural beauty of nature and rivers around them. It is an area culturally renowned and is a World Heritage listed area in respect to tea culture and history.  The most famous Wuyi Rock tea is perhaps a tribute tea. Picked from only one of very few original Da Hong Pao tea trees which cling to the cliff face mountains in Wuyi area. A tribute tea was originally reserved for the pleasure of the emperor which was embossed with a symbol of the Dragon Phoenix on the tea leaf brick or was printed on the packaging. They are considered two of the most powerful celestial animals providing a complimenting yin yang balance and harmonious feng shui.  At a time when the Mongols were invading China an emperor of the Song dynasty hid in a cave.  He prepared a drink from the nearby leaves of wild tea plant to quench his thirst.  He named the leaves "Fengchuan Cha" which means Phoenix tea because the leaf resembled the shape of the great birds beak.

The process of Wuyi Oolong tea production is unique compared with all the other tea varieties throughout the world. Wuyi artisan loose leaf Oolong teas are picked differently to most as a three leaf and bud set, utilising more leaf than other tea types. Da Hong Pao Oolong is the most famous of all oolong teas which translates to big red Robe. The name big red robe came from a story where a young scholar was travelling through Wuyi en route to Beijing to sit the Imperial Examination when became ill. A monk tended to him offering some tea from the famous Wuyi trees and cured him. The young scholar passed his Imperial examination with flying colours and later returned and offered a big red robe (Da Hong Pao) as a gesture of gratitude. Big Red Robe Oolong has smooth, thick green leaves with reddish brown edges. The aroma is slightly smokey, sweet and complex with multiple layers that unfold throughout multiple brews. This Oolong is described by some as having a smooth 'rock aroma'. Grown in the volcanic rich mountainous environment of Wuyi with emerald green rivers and a hundred peaks surrounded by a mystical morning fog at over 1,500m altitude.  

The Oolong and Black teas gathered from Wuyi area support the Wuyi Mountain Farmer's Collective.  A small group of about 50 people, their big family share the profits from selling the wild tea leaves evenly amongst the members.  Their teas are grown amongst wild bamboo forest and have been harvested this way for many generations.  The Tea Sommelier supports sustainable tea business like the Wuyi Mountain Farmer's Collective.

Wuyi black tea is also produced in the area notably Jin Jun Mei and Wild Lapsang Souchong. This black tea have a woody and sweet honey flavour that are rich and uplifting. Jin Jun Mei is an Original Mountain tea called 'Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong' which is a tea picked from the Wuyi harvest area only. The translation can also mean Beautiful Golden Eyebrow which describes the dryed tea leaf so succinctly. There is a hint of dried longan fruit which makes this wild black tea unique.  The Wild Lapsang Souchong is very subtle smokey aroma which is much more delicate than other Lapsangs on the market.  The hand picked tea leaves are withered naturally and pine tree branches are used to lightly fire the tea giving the liquor a soft pine smoke and honey note.

White Peony is a name of a famous Chinese white tea called Bai MuDan.  Towards the coast from Wuyi Mountain area at the north east area of Fujian province is home to one of China's famous teas.  Named after a local flower which is a common habbit of tea artisans, this delicate and smooth downy buds and fresh leaf have a sweet nutty flavour.    Typically the first white teas were produced in this region about a thousand years ago.  Without the technical processing techniques like those used for oolong production in Wuyi, Fuding White tea is merely hand picked and layed out to wither and dry in the sun.  No rolling or lengthy oxidation process is needed.  The delicate leaf and buds are covered in plant trichomes or pekoe hairs which are the plants natural way to protect against cold and provide the tea liquor with great intensity and flavour.  This tea is perfect for people who cannot adjust to the intensity of green tea.