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Chinese Camellia

This is neither a game nor a magic spell. «Cea» what means «a young leaf» is the most common denomination of tea in China. However, it is pronounced differently in different Chinese provinces: «cha» or «thea». At the end of the 19th century the latter was taken as a basis for the botanical Latin name of tea (Thea). The English began to pronounce it as [ti:] while the French, the Dutch, the Spaniards and the Scandinavians as [te].

The history of a tea-plant numbers over 5000 years: exactly as long ago it was mentioned in historical sources for the first time. Scientists are unanimous in calling South-Western China and its adjoining regions of Upper Burma and Northern Indochina (Vietnam) tea’s native land.

The legend says that a tea-plant grew from the eyelids of a Chinese saint (in some other sources – Buddha) thrown on the ground, he cut them off in anger with himself for falling asleep while meditating.

There is another legend that tells us about the second birth of tea as a drink. The Chinese Emperor, Chen Nung, was just about to drink some hot water when a tea-leaf fell into his cup. The Emperor must have enjoyed his drink.

According to international botanical nomenclature a tea-plant is called Camellia sinensis or Chinese camellia and has three varieties: Chinese, or Thea sinensis (an evergreen tree, 2-3 meters high), Indian, or Thea assamica (a huge tree, 15 meters high), and Cambodian.

The great tea way
Today tea is cultivated in more than 30 countries of the world. Its way was pretty long: in the 9th century tea was transported from China to Japan and later to Korea. In Russia tea emerged in the 19th century. And exactly at that period of time tea reached Africa and Latin America. Nowadays, tea plantations can be even found in Northern Australia. But only certain regions of the world can give best quality tea. Highland plantations in China (1500-1800 meters above sea level), Japan, India and Sri Lanka (its southern part) thanks to their ideal climatic conditions are believed to be best for high quality tea cultivation.

Black, red, green
It is an amazing fact that all the variety of tea types depends only on the technological process because the original material is the same. This is a green tea-leaf. It usually undergoes four stages of processing: dry-curing, twisting, fermentation and drying. The essence of twisting is to destroy the molecular structure of the tissue of a tea-leaf without causing damage to it. This procedure gives tea its wonderful flavor and aroma. Black tea undergoes all four stages of processing while green tea is subjected to only two: twisting and drying. Red and yellow tea types are intermediate ones between black and green tea types.

The word «baikhovy» has an interesting origin story. It comes from the Chinese expression “bai hoa” (tips, or very young tea buds giving it the flavor and aroma). The more tips, the higher is the quality of tea. Chinese tea-dealers used to cry out “bai hoa” trying to attract Russian merchants’ attention to the quality of their product.

The miraculous tea chemistry
The structure of the tea plant is very complex. It contains tannic substances, including theatannin giving the tart taste to the tea drink. The Ethereal oils are “responsible” for the aroma of tea. Alkaloids, the most known of which is caffeine (in the structure of tea it is referred to as theine), render tonic action. Tea contains 16-25% of proteins and free aminoacids and the color of the tea drink depends on pigments included in its structure. Besides, tea contains mineral substances (iron, magnesium, fluor, iodine, etc.), resinous substances, organic acids and carbohydrates.

The advantage of tea is also that it absorbs from the ground and synthesizes the substances that are most rare and useful to man. A dry tea leaf gives back in a solution its most valuable part. There are almost all vitamins in tea, but Ð and Ê are the basic ones.

The kind Doctor Tea
The ancient considered tea a medicine taking into account its property to support working capacity. Tea was at first considered a drink of travelers and seamen. In the 19th century it became obligatory first in English, and then in all armies of the world. The healing properties of tea are beyond enumeration. Tea has bactericidal properties: strong green tea is effective even in the struggle with dysentery and typhus. It plays the role of a “cleaner” of digestive organs. It is a well-known fact that the Chinese regularly consuming correctly made tea almost never suffer from chole- and nephrolithiasis. Tea promotes accumulation of vitamin C, clears the lymph, is beneficial for respiratory organs and skin. It excellently influences the cardiovascular system: removes spasms, normalizes blood pressure. Moreover, tea stimulates brain activity. Japanese scientists believe that green tea also absorbs about 90% of radioactive strontium contained in water and food and causing leukemia.

Tea consuming traditions
Tea-related traditions are organically inherent in the national cultures of peoples and bear an imprint of their originality.

In China they drink bitter tea without sugar, and the Chinese way of making it is considered classical. Dry tea is placed into a gaivan (a porcelain cup with a cover), then boiling water is added, and the substance is infused for 2-3 minutes.

In England tea is usually consumed with milk: strongly heated up cups are filled first with warmed up milk, and then strong tea. However, adding milk to tea spoils its aroma, and the mistake is considered ignorance.

The famous Japanese tea ceremony is a long public action during which women pound green tea to the finest powder, then whip it with water with the help of a rice straw brush until it resembles a kind of cream. Water is added in small portions, and the whole performance is accompanied by graceful movements and gestures. Ceremonial tea resembles liquid sour cream, is tart and fragrant.

In the East more exotic ways of tea consumption are still alive. Chaisuma, a tea drink used in Tibet, is a hot, well whipped mix of a strong infusion of pressed tea with yak butter and salt. In Mongolia they love green brick tea with milk, butter, flour and salt. Black pepper may be added and the Kalmyks sometimes add bay leaf or nutmeg.

Iranians and Afghani drink unsweetened tea from glasses narrow in the middle and similar to vases, sucking lumps of sugar. It is made with cinnamon or ginger. Cold iced tea with sugar and lemon (or lemon juice) may be considered an Indian national drink.

By Vlada Popushoi

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