A History of Tea Drinking in Russia, Part 1

Standard

With the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games under way, there is much to be said about Russia. Many don’t realise, however, that Russia has a long history of drinking tea – even longer than Britain, believe it or not – and the country itself still greatly appreciates a good cup of tea to this very day.

A good 100 years before Britain got its first taste of steeped heaven, Russia was importing tea from China. The rest of Europe would have to wait as Russia developed a bustling and thriving culture of serving tea.

During the 19th century, tea had become so strongly associated with the people of Russia that despite the fact tea was produced in China, certain types of black tea were known as “Russian” teas anyway. Russian Caravan is a traditional black tea and is known for its smoky character. It received its name due to its method of importation; generally via caravans led by camels. Black tea is still the most popular tea in Russia, however many residents are now drinking green tea as well.

Perhaps the biggest reason for Russia’s rich culture in tea is its climate; cold days high up in the Northern Hemisphere chill to the bone, but tea is one of the best and tastiest ways to warm up from the inside. Tea has had a profound affect on the Russian way of life since it was introduced in 1638; the Chinese Emperor from West Mongolia first presented the Russian Czar with tea as a gift, however it was refused. The Czar saw no apparent use for “a load of dead leaves”, however eventually accepted upon the Emperor’s insistence. And thus Russia’s tea culture began.

Getting to Russia from China, however, was no simple matter. It was a difficult slog from start to finish, and the harsh conditions importers faced meant that many turned down the offer despite demand. Russian aristocrats were therefore the first to serve the drink and make it acceptable within Russian culture, as its limited supply resulted in skyrocketing prices that few could afford.

When Russia marked sovereignty over Siberia in 1689, however, a tea trade route was created which made it easier for traders. Catherine the Great was the real pioneer in tea importation, however; by the time she had died in 1796, she had ordered the importation of so much tea that class and expense was no longer an issue. Even low-class workers could afford and enjoy the serenity that came with a good cup of loose-leaf tea.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this post on tea in Russia! Throughout the Olympic Games we will be creating a number of other Russia-themed posts, including more Russian tea history and all about the samovar.

Visit our website!   instagram   twitter logo   FB-fLogo-online

The Story of Jhentea and its Family History

Standard

Jhentea is a teashop in Taiwan that has a fascinating history, with four generations of tea experts and production in Taiwan, after their ancestors, Hon Chen’s offspring, escaped from Communist China. It began as a small family business cultivating tea in the Fujian Province, with great-great-grandfather Hon Chen – a very well-known and respected tea master within the local community. Chen’s offspring had already expanded small parts of this business in Taiwan when communist rule overcame China, and were fortunate enough to be able to escape there. Their main trade was Wu-Yi tea plants that grew to create beautiful oolong teas. This business grew such that it was able to trade with global customers.

The first tea garden to be owned in Taiwan by the family was bought by Li Chen, Hon Chen’s son. It cost 2 Dragon Dollars (a currency used in China long ago) and was on Taipei’s mountainside. Taiwan’s beautiful climate had made it renowned as a land of new opportunity, and its weather complimented the art of growing tea beautifully. In this tea garden, Wu-Yi and Oolong was cultivated, despite not being native to the region – the climate was still ideal.

Japanese rule became a big problem for many residents in Taiwan, bringing with it waves of hardship and fear. As a result, the family, led by Li’s son, Jeder Chen, moved their production of tea to a different side of Taipei Mountain. They settled in a mountainous region of Yi Lan, and began to plant. A small community had formed in an effort to hide out here, and much effort and community spirit went into helping each other through the hardship.

Jeder had fled to the mountainous region of Yi Lan with Dong Lai Chen, his second wife. It was there they raised 7 children together, however after the true hardship of Japanese rule was over, Jeder Chen returned with his first wife. Dong Lai Chen was left on the plantation and raised her children alone, each learning and doing what they could manage on the plantation. Through her experience and knowledge, Dong Lai became the first female tea master in the region – however as a female, she was forced to work hard to gain a reputation among other tea masters.

Full-production of tea was reassumed after 1942, when the Japanese occupation was nearly over and Chiang Kai-Shek assumed power. Tea had become a valuable trade commodity, and Taiwan’s oolong teas became some of the most highly-regarded all over the world.

Fu Chen, Dong Lai’s eldest daughter, became the major cultivator in the Chen family tea garden, while 4 out of the other 6 siblings became involved in the family’s legacy as well. Fu Chen became the second female tea master in the family, and opened the Chen family’s first shop. She married SeHo Fang, who had a vision for a retail store, as well as the branding of their crop. It was named Long Yuan, similar to “dragon dollar” in Chinese.

Fu Chen’s beautiful teas won many competitions, and was a regular entrant. Her daughter, Ai Fang, was brought up in the way of tea and became the family’s third female tea master, continuing four generations of valuable tea knowledge and exceptional cultivation.

Ai Fang is particularly concerned with educating her customers about everything related to tea, and has a modern view of the world. Her daughter, Kuei Fang, became an artist and travelled to New York – however she discovered that what her family created was quite rare, and so much effort was rarely put into a good cup of tea as her family had done. In response to this, she and Ai entered a rebranding project of Long Yuan into Jhentea, to bring the shop into the modern age. It is their wish for this to help bring Ai Chen’s story and knowledge of tea onto a worldwide platform, so that even more people can appreciate tea.

You can find out more about Jhentea at http://www.jhentea.com/our-story/

Visit our website!   instagram   twitter logo   FB-fLogo-online

An Exciting Offer in Tea Education

Standard

An exciting opportunity has come about in the tea world recently, thanks to the hard efforts of the ITEI, or Internation Tea Education Institute. Hosted by four tea experts – Sylvana Levesque, Brigitte Horrenberger, Susan Peters and Sandy Li – a 10 day intensive is being held in Zhejiang Province, China, where you can learn about Chinese teas in a way that no other educational experience could hope to provide.

Students will take part in a large variety of educational tea activities from renowned local producers, growers, and experts. Focused on will be the famous Chinese green tea Dragon Well, or Long Jing.

The tour begins on September 15, 2014, and continues for a total of 10 days and 9 nights.

Included in the cost of the tour:

  • 10 days and 9 nights in the Hangzhou region of Zhejiang Province. Beautiful five-star hotel accommodations are provided throughout the tour
  • Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner are all provided daily
  • Transport to all locations in the tour, including to and from Hangzhou Airport
  • A professional photographer to document your learning experience, as well as four tea experts to guide and educate you
  • All activities, entrance fees, etc. are included
  • An “Advanced Certificate for Education in Chinese Tea Study & Travel” will be awarded to each student upon their completion of the tour

Not included:

  • Airfares (this allows students to extend their trip beyond the tour dates).
  • Travel insurance

A tuition fee of $4,250 for ITEI and CTMA (Canadian Tea Masters Association) members, or $4,475 for non-members. Further details will be announced soon and displayed on the ITEI website in the tea tours section. For bookings and more information, please feel free to contact Sylvana P. Levesque, at info@i-tei.org.

Visit our website!   instagram   twitter logo   FB-fLogo-online

The Big Red Robe

Standard

Although oolong tea may not immediately be thought of as blue in colour, in China the humble oolong is a drink commonly referred to as “blue tea”, thanks to its (often, not always) tinged-blue colour. Due to an oxidation process that leaves them anywhere between 10 – 70% oxidised, their flavours are much less delicate than green and white teas, and it is possible for them to give off a roasted note.

Da Hong Pao, or “Big Red Robe” as it is known in many western countries, is an extremely famous Wu Yi rock tea which is renowned for its rich flavours. The tea’s history goes back to the Ming Dynasty, where supposedly its leaves cured an emperor’s mother from serious illness. In recognition of its apparent healing powers, the emperor ordered that the bush from whence the leaves came to be clothed in big red robes, thus giving it its name. It also sometimes goes by “Scarlet Robe”, however this is less common.

The leaves are very twisted-looking and brown in colour, which is uncommon among many oolongs. Floral notes adorn its beautiful, rich flavours.

Visit our website!   instagram   twitter logo   FB-fLogo-online

2,737 BCE: The Very Beginning

Standard

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.

Visit our website!   instagram   twitter logo   FB-fLogo-online