Tea in general

Tea in general

The history of tea

Tea has the distinction of being the most ancient beverage in the world. Its story can be traced back some 5,ooo years and there are many different legends associated with the discovery of this beverage.

The Chinese story is that a historyfew tea leaves blew into a cup of hot water held by their emperor Shen Nung 2737 B.C.. The ruler declared the resulting brew a considerable improvement over plain water.

The Indians say drowsy Buddha chewed some tea leaves from a nearby bush while meditating and woke right up.

The Japanese insist this same Buddha flung his sleepy eyelids to the ground and up sprang the first tea bushes!

Whatever the legend, it seems that the tea plant originated in China, probably in the region that borders Burma, North Vietnam and Yunnan, and that the tradition of drinking an infusion of the tea plant´s leaves was initiated by the Chinese.

The Dutch brought tea from China to Europe in the 17th century. The East India Company which was in regular contact with the Far East shipped tea for the first time to Holland in 1610, then to France and England. In 1657, Thomas Garraway began serving tea to the customers of his coffee house in London. Initially reserved for princes, tea became appreciated among the high society which frequented the coffee houses, soon to be renamed tea houses.

Tea was first brought to America by English and Dutch emigrants. The popularity of these rare imports sent tea clippers - lightweight sailing vessels used to transport tea - racing along the major shipping routes to bring back the prized cargo.

As tea prizes were set prohibitively high by the Chinese producers, the English found a means of bargaining by bringing opium illicitly to China. This is how the Opium War began. However, the English still needed to meet the growing demand for tea, and began to establish plantations in India in 1834 and on the island of Ceylon in 1857. Tea was a heavily taxed commodity under the British Empire. In 1773, settlers in Boston decided to protest by boycotting imports, and then threw one ship´s cargo into the sea, an event named the Boston Tea Party. The English authorities retaliated, thus sparking off the War of Independence.

What is tea?

camellia_sinensisTea leaves originate from a tropical and subtropical evergreen known to scientists as Camellia Sinensis. All 3000 different varieties of tea consumed in the world come from this one plant and its hybrids. After the tea leaves are harvested, it´s the method of processing that turns them into one of four basic forms of tea - black, green, white and oolong.

More than three-quarters of the tea harvested in the world becomes black tea, the form consumed by most Europeans and Americans. Leaves are crushed and exposed to the air to undergo natural chemical changes before they are dried. The fermentation turns the leaves brown and accounts for black tea´s distinctive taste. Smoky black teas are obtained from mature leaves which are slightly grilled on a hot iron sheet and then spread on bamboo racks over a spruce fire. Aroma teas are black tea leaves mixed with dried flowers, herbs or other spices.

Green tea, the oldest form, is favoured mainly in Japan and China. Here the leaves undergo less processing; only heated (by steaming or pan-roasting) and dried, they retain their green colour. Green tea is an excellent thirst-quencher and can be drunk throughout the day.

Yellow tea is a mild tea which is slightly fermented by a natural process. As exclusively the youngest tips are picked, this tea is very rare. After picking the leaves they are stacked upon each other or wrapped in cloth or paper. The natural oxidation process caused by the heat inside the stack generates the yellow colour of this tea as the green colour (chlorophyll) is destroyed and the yellow colour (xantophyll) appears.

White tea slighty fermented (up to 2%) tea. Like yellow tea, it is prepared with tender new buds and tips picked from young shoots. The production of white tea is a delicate process and the quality of the end product depends essentially on the withering stage which is difficult to control: the leaves redden with too much humidity and blacken with insufficient heat.

Oolong is a semi-fermented tea, i.e. a form halfway between black and green tea. This tea is plucked from fairly mature shoots on which the end bud has almost grown into a leaf. Because of their low theine levels, semi-fermented teas are particularly good to drink in the late afternoon or evening.

Moreover there are many herbal teas on the market which are an infusion of leaves, flowers or herbs. They do not contain one single leaf of Camellia Sinensis and their properties are therefore different from the genuine tea. Herbal teas have however a thousand years old tradition in Asia too because of their health properties (see Healthy herbal tea in our shop).

Leaf Tea

Leaf tea is often compared to wine: you can judge it by its colour, its aroma, its body, its strength. A good black is like a full red. A light green is like a Beaujolais. You can drink it young or drink it aged. There is also ordinary tea, house tea and gourmet tea. And like wine, tea needs a cool, dark and dry storing place. But unlike wine, your mind gets clearer the more tea you drink!

The leaf of green and semi-fermented teas is generally whole and is not graded. The same applies to some black teas, particularly from China, whose names are sufficiently self-explanatory in terms of quality. For the other black teas, the grade is very important as it gives information concerning the plucking (quality) and the leaf size (whole, broken or crushed).

It is important to note that in grading terms, `orange´ signifies `royal´ (from the Dutch dynasty `Oranje Nassau´). `Pekoe´(from the Chinese word for down or hair, `pak-ho´) refers to the bud at the tip of each stem.

Whole leaf

F.O.P. (Flowery Orange Pekoe)
This is the finest quality plucking. It consists of the end bud and the next two leaves. The buds, which become golden with fermentation, are called `golden tips´.

O.P. (Orange Pekoe)
Yellow leaves which are well rolled up. This appellation refers to a fine quality tea but which is plucked later in the year, when the end bud has become a leaf.

P. (Pekoe)
A leaf of lesser quality which, after treatment, is shorter than the O.P. It contains no tips.

S. (Souchong)
The leaf is plucked from the bottom of the tea bush. More mature and containing very little theine, the leaf is often rolled lengthwise and is mostly used for smoky China teas.

Broken leaf tea

The leaf is broken up and infusion produces a darker, fuller liquor. Between the B.O.P. and the T.G.B.O.P. categories of tea, the proportion of golden tips increases and the tea is of finer quality.

  • B.O.P. (broken orange pekoe)
  • F.B.O.P. (flowery broken orange pekoe)
  • G.B.O.P. (golden broken orange pekoe)
  • T.G.B.O.P. (tippy golden broken orange pekoe)

Crushed leaves

F. (fannings):
flat grainy particles that are smaller than broken leaf. Infusion produces a full-bodied and highly coloury liquor.

Dust (used mainly for mass-produced tea bags.

Green Tea

Green tea accompanies almost every meal in Northern Asia and is being recognized as an "elixir of life". Unlike black tea, the tea leaves are not fermented. As they are only heated and dried, they retain their green colour.

The healthy effect of green tea is well known beyond Asia. Green tea is rich in vitamin C, vitamin E, amino acids, calcium and trace elements. It helps to enhance the immune system and to lower the cholesteral level. It reduces blood pressure and the fat absorption of the body. The caffein level included is reduced by theanin.

Green tea should never be brewed with boiling water, as it would loose its aroma. Its flavour is best when the tea is prepared according to the traditional tea ceremony, which has a tradition thousands of years old in Northern Asia (tea ceremony).

Green tea is most healthy when prepared with green tea powder because the ingredients of the tea leaves, which are ground into powder, are entirely absorbed by the body. See also our recipes.

Fruit Tea

The general definition of fruit tea is tea made from pure fruits. As this tea does not contain ingredients from the tea plant camellia sinensis its effects are not comparable to green or black teas which contain theine.

Root Tea

Root tea can be defined as tea which is made from natural roots. Usually it does not contain leaves from the tea plant Camellia Sinensis and its properties are therefore different from leaf tea.

The root teas available at salacca come from South Korea:

Red Ginseng has been cultivated in Korea and used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. The herbaceous perennial with the botanical name Panax chinseng grows only on specially prepared soil and must not be harvested once over six years old. During this period it extracts nutrients from the soil in such an intensive way that for five years afterwards no other plant can grow on this piece of soil.

The Red Ginseng tea imported by salacca comes from selected estates controlled by the government-owned Korean Ginseng Corporation which runs a monopoly system under which only standard quality ginseng is purchased from cultivators.

The Red Ginseng tea imported by salacca comes from selected estates controlled by the government-owned Korean Ginseng Corporation which runs a monopoly system under which only standard quality ginseng is purchased from cultivators.

What is the difference between red and white ginseng tea?

Red ginseng is more effective because it is mostly harvested only after 6 years and the roots are treated according to a special steaming procedure.

White ginseng is mostly harvested already after 3-4 years and the roots are dried under the sun.

Ginger Tea is, similar to ginseng, made from a root plant. The ginger tuber with the botanical name Zingiber officinale grows underground. Over thousands of years it has been used in oriental medicine and cookery.

Ginger contains gingerole, which is a natural antiseptic substance. Due to its circulation promoting properties it also enhances digestion and nutrient resorption, it strengthens the heart and relieves migraine.


Some history and botany

It is not known well in Europe yet. Bamboo, native to Southeast Asia and the islands of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific, is priceless to man. Bamboo is not a tree; it belongs to the family of grasses which regroups 75 categories and more than 1000 species. For thousands of years the natives of these regions have known about the multiple and health properties of bamboo leaves. This plant, which in the Far East is considered as one of the most precious gifts of nature, is finally available in Western countries. As well as being a delicious thirst quencher it has many other virtues and is 100% natural.

Scientific research on the bamboo plant goes back to the early 19th century. Only 10 years ago scientists started to discover the hidden secrets of this interesting plant. In 1994 the National University of Seoul in Korea initiated a broad research project on this subject. Fascinated by the thought that the true potential of the bamboo plant is yet undiscovered by scientific medicine, several intensive projects are in progress.

Bamboo is the fastest growing plant on earth. Depending on the climatic conditions, some varieties can grow 80 cm to 1.6 m per day. As bamboo is an exceptionally powerful and resistant plant, it is actually the only plant which survived the atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Due to this wide range of extraordinary properties bamboo tea is finding more and more devotees in Asian countries. It is only a question of time until this tea, which is probably the most ancient health drink of mankind, will spread to Europe as well.



Bamboo is a plant similar to a shrub or a tree and belongs to the Gramineae family, which is particularly common in tropical and sub-tropical areas. There are approximately 45 categories and 480 species, which can obtain heights between 1 meter and giants of 50 meters and diameters up to 30 cm.

In the food industry, bamboo is known as bamboo shoots. Although 90% of the shoots is water, they are rich in proteins and dietary fibers which contain few calories. The main constituents of bamboo are tyrosine, arginine, histidine and leucine. Tyrosine, an amino acid that is found in bamboo shoots, is the main component of the adrenal glands and a precursor of adrenaline which facilitates metabolic processes in the body. Moreover bamboo shoots contain many minerals, as e.g. potassium or iron. According to the pharmaceutical dictionary “Hunnius”, the amino acids found in bamboo help eliminate toxic substances from the body. The skin might become smoother. Bamboo protects the skin against bacteria and fungi. Moreover, it acts as a diuretic as well as burning off excess body fats.

Various positive effects

Why is bamboo leaf tea so appreciated and why has it found so many devotees in such a relatively short time outside of Asia as well? The big advantage of this tea is its broad spectrum of uses. Moreover it does not contain theine and does therefore not affect the oral mucosa. This is an interesting side effect which complements the tea´s other positive effects. Years of experience show that the regular consumption of bamboo tea is positive in many respects:

Dehydrating and digestive properties

Bamboo can enhance diuresis and thus help the dehydrating and detoxifying of the body. When consumed after a meal, bamboo can stimulate digestion and thus create a pleasant feeling of ease.

Suitable for diabetics

As bamboo tea tastes very good without sugar, it is suitable for people with diabetes.


Put 0.7 g of bamboo leaves per person into a tea pot and add hot (80-90°C) water. Depending on the preferred strength of flavour you may brew the tea between 15 seconds to three minutes.

You can immediately pour hot water over the tea leaves once or twice again.


Photo Sources: BOH Plantations Sdn. Bhd., Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.