The common beverages, tea, coffee and cocoa, are in such general use today that it is difficult to realize that two of them were not introduced into Europe until the seventeenth century, and the other only a hundred years earlier, though other nations had known them long before. Tea drinking began in Japan in 692 A. D., while coffee, though not known to the Greeks and Romans, had been used in Abyssinia and Ethiopia from time immemorial.
The tea plant seems to be a native of Assam, a province of Burmah, but it has been grown in China and Japan for fifteen hundred years. Two different types of the plant are illustrated by the Assamese and Chinese varieties. The tea of Assam grows luxuriantly, but is sensitive to drought, cold or winds. Its leaves are of bright green, sometimes reaching a size of nine inches in length and three in width, while the young leaf is of soft texture and golden color. It may produce as many as twenty "flushes," or successive crops of young leaf during each picking season. The Chinese plant is tough and hardy, able to endure severities of climate, and to grow in poor soil with deficient moisture. The leaf is smaller, tougher and darker than that of the Assam tea plant. Between these two extremes exist all varieties of tea. Most varieties produce three or four crops a year.
The tea plant produces small white flowers which eventually yield the seed from which cultivated tea is raised. In cultivating the plant an effort is made to produce abundant young leaf, since good tea is made from this alone. Pekoe tea is the choicest variety. The undeveloped bud at the end of a young shoot is called the pekoe tip, or flowery pekoe. It is said that this tea rarely comes to this country. From it is made Mandarin tea, that commands a very high price in its native country. The next leaves produce orange pekoe and pekoe. Souchong is the next larger leaf and Congou the next. A still larger leaf formerly on the market more generally than now yields Bohea.
a - Flowery Pekoe, b - Orange Pekoe, c - Pekoe, d - Souchong (first). e - Souchong (second). f - Congou. H - Bohea.
All of these different varieties may be made either into black or green tea, though some plants yield leaves better adapted for the manufacture of black tea, and some that serve better for green. Japan tea, for example, is usually made into green, while the Indian are generally black. Chinese tea provides both varieties. The difference between black and green tea is, however, in the method of preparation. Green tea is prepared by withering the leaves in iron vessels over a quick fire, or by steaming them on mats. The leaf is then rolled in order to break up the tissue containing the essential oil. It is then re-heated and subjected to long continued drying over a low fire. In black tea the fresh leaf is spread out to wilt in the sun, then rolled, spread out thinly, moistened and allowed to ferment. The leaves are then dried and fired in a furnace or over a charcoal fire.