the spread west
tree to teapot
colonization and tea
A History of Teapots
From Tree to TeapotCamellia sinensis, provides the young leaves and leaf buds from which drinking tea is processed. The method of production determines which of the 3,000 possible varieties of tea results from this plant. Like wines, teas are usually namesakes of their origin -- Darjeeling, Assam, and so on. The drinking leaves are classified as either green or black; many people mistakenly differentiate the two by recognizing black tea as "fermented" tea. As opposed to true fermentation, black tea is produced by oxidizing the alkaloid caffeine and the polyphenols which constitute up to one-third of the tea leaf. In this way, the tannins found in black teas are formed.
Tea has been prepared in a multitude of ways throughout history-including pickling, steaming, hand-rolling, cooking in pans, and sunning as various steps of the processes. This page will concentrate on the large scale manufacture of tea, in an attempt to outline the basic modern methods used. However, many of the books in our bibliography provide information about other types of smaller scale tea preparation-interesting for cultural and technical studies.
Production of Black Tea
Production of Green Tea (basic Japanese method)
Post ProductionBoth green tea and black tea may be finished in several forms. Black tea may be formed into bricks-usually these blocks include pieces of stem and stalk, and are lower quality, cheaper teas which in the past have been exported to the former USSR and Tibet. Green tea may be powdered, a popular Japanese tradition known as "milled tea." Both black and green teas are most commonly known globally in their loose leaf form, ready for infusion. The tea bag, invented in 1904 as a silk prototype, is now widely used in its disposable form.
It should be mentioned that most commercial tea bags are made from chlorine-bleached materials. Look for non-bleached products to avoid the health risks associated with chlorine-bleaching, namely the presence of carcinogens. Or, buy loose leaf tea and prepare it with re-usable cloth tea bags, metal infusors or basket infusors that can be placed over the rim of your favorite mug. You may want to consider purchasing a teapot with a built in sieve, like the traditional artisan YiXing teapots available at www.yixing.com. These tea making wares are not only safe, but will save natural resources and reduce waste.