Like the majority of Brits I am a tea drinker. I flippin love it. Tea is a big deal here. I know people who will get through at least 15 cups each day. If we are celebrating we put the kettle on, if someone is upset we put the kettle on. It is not just a drink it is a culture.
This is true of other countries too. One of the things I loved about travelling in India was that a great cuppa was never far away. Indians drink tons of tea & the local chai wallah (tea seller) is an important member of the community (and a great source of gossip, I suggest befriending chai wallahs if you ever travel to India).
Tea is by far the most popular beverage in the world & apparently (how do people know this) about 6 billion cups of tea are drunk around the world everyday. Take that coffee!
It is not surprise to me that tea is the most popular drink. It is enjoyed by the world’s most populous nations, China & India – that’s over 2.5 billion people right there. It is also an important part of the culture in countries throughout North Africa and the Middle East and other Asian nations. Drinking tea is an ancient practice going back thousands of years. It originally grew in China and spread from there. In fact the Hindi word chai comes from the Chinese word for tea – cha.
On my recent trip to India I got to visit a couple of tea plantations. I really enjoyed seeing the tea plants and learning about them, the process of preparing the leaves and the best way to prepare a cuppa.
India grows a lot of tea and most of it is drunk within the country. Kerala has some massive tea plantations and in Kumily there is one that you can visit and see the plant being prepared. Unfortunately, at Connemara they do not allow photography inside the factory which is a shame as it was interesting and beautiful (if you like rusty machinery, which we do). If you want to see inside a similar factory check out this video.Our tour was run by a local tea expert who was extremely knowledgeable and took us through the history of tea before we went out to see the bushes. They are grown in the mountains as they need a temperate climate with decent sunlight and rainfall. Oak trees are interspersed with the tea bushes to give shade as too much sun scorches the leaves. Actually they are not bushes they are trees but due to the constant harvesting never grow tall. They can be harvested for about one hundred years and then they have to be taken out and new ones planted.Fortunately tea is a productive plant and can be harvested every twenty days. Only the young leaves are used and harvesting is done mainly by hand or nowadays also with shears. Top quality teas are usually harvested by hand so that only the tip and two leaves are used. This is where the polyphenols are and they are what gives tea its flavour. At Connemara the harvesters are all women and they pick around 20kg per day.
In England we drink tea leaves. They usually come in a bag and we brew them for a few minutes to achieve the right taste. In India most of the tea comes in dust form. It is the same leaves just ground smaller so that the end result is a stronger brew as the surface area is bigger. I had wondered why Indian chai is so orange and so strong. Even when a ton of milk, sugar and spices is added the tea flavour is still there. This is due to the dust.I have been looking for tea dust since I got home to make some chai as it does not work with tea leaves, the tea flavour is lost. Having said that I am still enjoying chai all the time. If you have never tried it I highly recommend adding some cinnamon, pepper, ginger or cardamom to your tea. There are also great chai mixes available these days. It is great in the winter to warm you up & I find it refreshing on a hot day.