2,737 BCE: The Very Beginning

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The beginning of tea is so old, and so far before anyone sought to properly record anything, that it has become as myth; no one is sure whether this is the way tea’s discovery occurred or not. Regardless, it is nonetheless one of the most accepted explanations available, and thus remains prominent in almost all tea history books as well as Chinese tradition.

The tale begins with the Emperor Shen-Nung. This particular emperor liked his water to be as clean as possible – something that wasn’t always easy to obtain in his time – and so would order his servants to boil his water before it was drunk. Emperor Shen-Nung was quite happy to drink it hot, and would do so on a regular basis. All of his subjects were also instructed to boil their water.

The legend has it that Shen-Nung had taken his army on an expedition to a relatively distant location, and had stopped to rest for a while. Obediently, one of his servants began the preparation of a cup of boiled water, failing to notice the stray, wild tea leaf fall into the drink he was preparing. The servant also failed still to notice that the water had become brown in colour, and served it to the emperor anyway.

Shen-Nung then proceeded to drink the infusion, and with surprise and delight found it to be a very refreshing drink. He christened the new concoction “cha” (tea, in Chinese), and was the first to spread knowledge of it among his homeland.

During these early days, only green tea (arguably tea’s most traditional form) was produced.

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The Iron Goddess of Mercy

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You may be wondering which type of tea is featured above; it is in fact a very famous tea known as Tieguanyin, or more commonly as Iron Goddess of Mercy. It is one of a number of teas not classified as white, black, green or puerh; instead, it is known as an oolong (wūlóng) or blue tea. The name “blue” comes not from the overarching colour of the leaves or liquor, but instead the very subtle shades of blue that many beautiful oolong tea loose leaves display.

Iron Goddess itself is a fragrant, half-fermented Taiwanese roasted tea. When properly steeped, it yields a lovely deep yellow liquor. However, it isn’t the only oolong out there; there’s quite a variety of oolong teas to satisfy your taste buds, many of them well-revered.

Some people who are unused to drinking tea will take to oolongs faster than greens and whites. This is due to an oolong tea’s oxidation level being between that of green and black tea; most oolongs retain many characteristics of green tea without being quite as bitter, and taste much more like black tea. However, this of course differs from oolong to oolong, and depends greatly on the fermentation level. Oolong teas have the greatest variation in oxidation of any tea, with the exception of puerh.

That’s all for now, I hope you’ve enjoyed this first post on Teapress. Oolongs are a personal favourite tea of mine, so I thought I’d kick this blog off with one. But, there’s plenty more tea where this came from! At our home domain, www.australianteamasters.com.au, you can read a whole lot more about tea. So if you’re interested, drop by! We’d love to have you.

– Alex

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