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Camellia sinensis: Tea

The highlands of Southeast Asia, and more precisely in India and southern China, are the home of the tea shrub. It has been cultivated in China since ancient times, and in Japan for more than a thousand years. Since the early 18th century, the custom of drinking tea has spread far beyond the boundaries of Asia, and the tea plant is of worldwide economic importance.

The tea plant is coveted for the chemical contents of its leaves. These contain three alkaloid stimulants, caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline. It’s thought that monks may first have noticed the pick-me-up effect of the leaves while keeping watch through the night during religious festivals.

Another chemical found in tea leaves is the amino acid theanine, which, along with its essential oils, plays a part in creating the plant’s typical aroma, and also contributes to tea’s calming effects.

To make black tea, the leaves are allowed to wilt in the sun before being rolled. During its subsequent fermentation, the tea acquires its characteristic aroma and reddish-brown color.

Though black tea is most popular in Europe, green tea has been the drink of choice in Japan and China since time immemorial. The fresh leaves are steamed or heated in pans over an open fire. Once the leaves have wilted and rolled up, the tea is ready to use. Unlike black tea, the leaves aren’t fermented, so they stay green instead of turning dark. The modern custom of drinking tea developed in China some time between 600 and 900 AD. Before that, tea was consumed in the form of a porridge-like soup.

Audio file download
Camellia sinensis: Tea (MP3, 703 KB)

Audio production and copyright: Soundgarden Audioguidance GmbH
Text: Ehrentraud Bayer, Botanischer Garten München-Nymphenburg

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