is a glass full of tea and a piece of sugar in the mouth,"
Pushkin once said. Tea is that more tranquil sibling of coffee, a
drink that can be enjoyed in solitude or with friends, or
ritualized into ceremonies that reflect symbolic or philosophical
viewpoints. The history of tea is intimately linked with Asia
where it originated. In Japan, a proverb goes something like this:
If man has no tea in him, he is incapable of understanding truth
and beauty… In the West, tea has come to be associated
with the idea of getting down to a cosy tête-à-tête with a friend
or confidante, the idea of tea and sympathy.
Tea was already a
popular drink in the Yangtse-Kiang valley in the 4th century A.D.,
where it was later called 'froth of the liquid jade.' The Chinese
poet Luwuh codified the world of tea in the Chaking - the Holy
Scripture of tea - in the 8th century. Historically, tea has been
presented in at least three ways: in cakes that are boiled, in
powder which is whipped, and as leaves which are steeped. It has
been poetically suggested, in The Book of Tea, by Okakura
Kakuzo that the three different preparations
roughly correspond to the philosophies which prevailed under the
succeeding Tang, Sung and Ming dynasties of China and which in
turn parallel - in Western terminology - Classic, Romantic and
Naturalistic sensibilities. As early as the 8th century the
Japanese also fell under the spell of tea. They ritualized tea
drinking, incorporating Taoist principles of equilibrium as well
as an attention to detail and aesthetic beauty. Everything from
the simple construction of the tea house to the economy of gesture
employed in serving tea followed philosophical protocol. Tea also
had its practical applications in medieval Japan, where it was
sometimes used to keep Buddhist monks from falling asleep while
Tea is classified according to categories such as
whether it is picked early or late; how long the leaves are; and
how many days it has been fermented or oxidized. As tea spread throughout the world, it
continued to reflect cultural mores and regional differences.
Morocco where the weather can be blisteringly hot, tea is poured
over lightly crushed mint leaves - a tantalizing and refreshing
brew. In Russia, where sugar was long a luxury, tea is sweetened
with cherry jam: the result is wonderfully tangy and dessert-like.
British high tea, itself a formal process, includes finger
sandwiches both sweet and savory and meats such as spiced ham.
So whether the weather gets abominably cold or hot, or when you
simply need to relax and take the measure of things, remember that
tea - a drink with jam and bread - is a soothing choice for
just about any occasion.