The tea plant belongs to the Camellia Sinensis family and originates from China. This is also where the leaves started to be used as the basis for a drink.
The first written record of tea dates back to 200 BC, when it was mentioned in a pharmacological treatise.
The Art of Tea appeared in the 8th century with the early methods of producing, processing and tasting tea.
Tea was consumed in turn as a kind of soup (adding a pinch of salt to the brewed tea), as a citrus-flavored soup (adding citrus peel, spices and fruits), as a decoction, then a drink for Buddhist monks - the very ones who introduced it to Japan in the 9th century. It was only exported fromChina to the West a couple of centuries later, during the Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644).
At this time, tea was drunk as it is made today: in a teapot, sometimes infused several times. Tea then absorbed the influence of the continents it crossed: in Japan it became the focus of a ceremony, in Russia it was made in a samovar, in the United Kingdom it was drunk strong, either black or with a splash of milk.
Tea was always associated with a real philosophy of life in Chinese and Japanese culture, before being introduced to the West by the Jesuits in the 15th century.
The tea plant is an evergreen tree which grows in tropical or sub-tropical regions. A high level of humidity, lots of sunshine and plenty of rain make the ideal planting conditions. It grows easily at altitude (Darjeeling
teas are grown in the Himalayan mountains). Tea plants are cultivated in tea-gardens which often give their names to certain growths of tea.
In the wild, the tea plant can reach 10 - 15 metres tall, but to make it easier to harvest its leaves, it is pruned to a height of about 1.10 metres from the ground. It has a lifespan of around forty years.
The tea leaves are plucked three times a year and each harvest period imparts a distinctive flavour to the tea. In the Himalayas, the first harvest takes place from mid-March to mid-April and produces teas with a mild, vegetal taste (this is the "First Flush") and rare and aromatic qualities.
The second or middle harvest takes place between mid-April and mid-May and produces teas with a more fruity and perfumed flavour.
The last period for tea-picking is between mid-May and mid-July, for the stronger and less delicate growths.