Tea party of a different sort promotes fun

Published 11:02 am Tuesday, May 18, 2010

SOUTH POINT — It was a tea party designed not for protest but for fun and a chance to expand one’s culinary horizons.

That was the purpose of a tea tasting at the Briggs-Lawrence Library Southern Branch at South Point Friday afternoon.

There participants learned the history of tea from Christine Hunt, adults services librarian, and got to sample a variety of teas.

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Legend has it that tea was created by the Chinese emperor Shen Nung in the year 2737 B.C.

“He believed you should boil your water before drinking to kill disease,” Hunt told the group.

One day leaves from the camellia sinensis bush, from the same family as the camelia flower, fell into his cup of boiled water. He found the broth so delicious he began the custom of tea drinking.

When trade opened up between the East and West, the Dutch brought the beverage to Europe. Then during the reign of Elizabeth I in the 16th century, England was introduced to tea, the country nowadays most associated with the drink.

However, originally it was only royalty and the aristocracy who could indulge in what was then considered an expensive and upper class taste.

A New York tea merchant, Thomas Sullivan, unintentionally invented the tea bag when the silk pouches in which he sold his loose tea were tossed into hot water along with the leaves.

“They would put that in a cup,” Hunt said.

There are four types of tea —- green, black, oolong and white —- and all come from the same bush. They are created from the amount of oxidation they undergo.

“It comes from the method of process when it is picked,” she said.

Green tea has the least amount of oxidation and has been linked with the potential for causing weight loss and preventing memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease.

“White tea is immature tea leaves,” Hunt said. “They are picked before the buds are opened fully.”

It is recommended that the water for white tea be at the temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit, rather than boiled.

Tea is grown in China, Japan, Sri Lanka and India.

“Women and young adults pick the leaves because of their smaller hands,” she said.

Another source of tea is the Rooibos bush, a South African plant that produces an herbal red tea. Those leaves create a sweet-tasting beverage that is often drunk with milk and sugar.

“If you need to watch your caffeine, this is a good tea to drink,” Hunt said.