Tag Archives: food history

International Tea Day: A Celebration of Tea from China

News and Travel Editor

Did you know that tea is the second most consumed drink in the world, behind only water at no. 1? And that the average Briton drinks 876 cups of tea per year? If you’re as obsessed with tea as I am, then today is the day we’ve all been waiting for – International Tea Day!

Celebrated annually on December 15th since 2005, International Tea Day officially draws public attention to the impact of the international tea trade on estate workers and small-scale growers. Fairtrade have very much been leading the fight on this and you can check out the work they’re doing here.

As many of you will probably know, China is huge on all types of tea. In fact, it is estimated that there are at least 1500 kinds of tea! To celebrate, here is a rundown of our favourite tea facts and legends from China, as well as one of our favourite China Icons videos of Kate Humble receiving a tea making masterclass…

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Image by David Boté Estrada. Licensed under CC 2.0.

Did you know that tea is thought to have originated in China over 4000 years ago? The legend goes that tea was discovered by accident by Chinese Emperor Shennong in 2737 BC. One of Emperor Shennong’s far-sighted policies required water to be boiled before drinking to prevent the spread of disease (very forward thinking!). One day, whilst sat under a tree with a boiling cup of water, a tea leaf allegedly drifted into his tea and after drinking it, the Emperor stated ‘one can think quicker, sleep less, move lighter, and see clearer.’ Thus, tea was born.

For nearly 3000 years, tea was used for medicinal purposes and it wasn’t until the Tang Dynasty (618-907) that tea began to be enjoyed as an art form by all social classes. Nevertheless, Chrysanthemum tea remains a medicinal favourite in China and Korea as it’s thought to reduce fevers and ease headaches.

Tea also wasn’t just used for drinking… Believe it or not, tea was also used as a form of currency in Ancient China! Tea leaves were pressed into bricks and scored on one side to be broken up if change was needed.

Tea later became popular in Buddhist monasteries to keep monks awake during the hours of meditation. Because of the popularity tea gained, monks started to cultivate huge fields of tea. It was in one of these monasteries that a young orphan called Lu Yu was educated and wrote the book: The Book of Tea. This was a detailed account of ways to cultivate and prepare tea, tea drinking customs, the best water for tea brewing and different classifications of tea.

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So there you have it, whether you’re ill, tired or fully fit, you should never pass an opportunity to have a cup of (Chinese) tea. In the West, we have a lot of catching up to do. Whereas people in the East have generally been consuming tea for thousands of years, us backward folk in the West have only been drinking tea for 400 years, so we’re officially about 4000 years behind. There has never been a better excuse than International Tea Day to start catching up.

If you want to know more about Chinese tea, check out our video below of the lovely Kate Humble receiving a private masterclass in the delicate art of Chinese Tea making.

Legends of Tofu

News and Travel Editor

In today’s upload, we’re meeting a married couple who have devoted their lives to making Tofu.

So we now know how to make Tofu, but where did it come from? The earliest existing document containing mention of the term “doufu” (Chinese for Tofu) is the Ch’ing I Lu, written by T’ao Ku in about 950 AD. There are several  Chinese legends concerning the origins of Tofu, but which is true?

  1. A popular theory is that tofu was invented by Liu An, King of Huai-nan, who lived in the southeast part of north China from 179-122 BC. Despite being the most well known story, it’s also the least likely to be true. There was no mention of tofu or any works commissioned by or about Liu An for over 1,000 years after his death. Linking his name with the development of tofu didn’t actually start until the 12th century AD.During the Sung dynasty (960-1279AD) tofu had become a common food for the lower classes. The first suggestion of some connection between Liu An and tofu appeared in the poems of scholar Chu Hsi (1130-1200). Here is his poem, “Doufu.” (Psst, if you’re interesting in reading about translating ancient Chinese poetry, have a look here)

    I have raised beans for many years, but the sprouts were rare.

    Exhausted in the garden, the heart already rotten

    Had I known Huai-nan’s skill earlier,

    I could have sat quietly, raking in the money.

  2. Another theory is known as ‘The Accidental Coagulation Theory’. It states that tofu was developed  accidentally some time before AD 600, when an unknown person seasoned a pureed soybean soup with unrefined sea salt and noticed that curds formed. This mystery person stumbled onto a game-changer!
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  3. The Indian Import Theory argues that tofu, or at least the method for its preparation, was imported from tribes or Buddhist monks from India.
  4. The Mongolian Import Theory states that the basic method for making tofu was adapted from the cheese-making process learned from milk-drinking Mongolian tribes living along the northern border of China.5th-cut-00_03_42_18-still015

Which legend do you believe?

Wherever it came from originally, Tofu developed from being a food for the lower classes to being a staple part of the Chinese diet. To try cooking with Tofu yourself and have a go at China Icon’s Vegan Tofu Mushroom rolls!