Ah, tea drinking. That Great British tradition. So passionate are we about tea that the American's knew that we'd get very annoyed with them if they were to throw it in Boston Harbour way back when. In its early European history, tea was mainly the tipple of the upper classes, but we in the United Kingdom loved it so much, we spread it to absolutely everyone, rich or poor. Whether it's the hardy builder's brew, an Earl Grey with a slice of lemon, or one of those fancy new fruit infusions that aren't new at all but are very confusing and delicious, any time is tea time on our fair shores. But where can we find the best tea in the world? Here is the hunt for a proper cuppa, and if you've got a spare day (or maybe a week), you could hunt it with us.
As with many things, China got there first. Tea in China dates all the way back to 2737 BCE, which makes it 4755 years old (as of this year, 2018). Apparently, the Chinese emperor Shennong founded tea when, whilst his servants were boiling his water to clean it, a leaf fell in his pot. Though the tea turned brown, the servants didn't notice, and the emperor drank it. The rest, as they say, is history. One of the most famous Chinese teas is Oolong, or 'black dragon tea', and it must be steeped in water at the temperature of 93°C -95°C, and only for 2 to 3 minutes. The best thing about this tea is that it's reusable. The best leaves are said to be able to hold about 5 pots of tea in them, and usually, the third or fourth steeping is the most delicious. There is actually a tea ceremony based around Oolong tea, called the gongfu tea ceremony, which uses up to 16 pieces of equipment in its preparation.
Both one of the largest producers of tea in the world, and the country that consumes 70% of all of the tea produced there, India is without a doubt a bastion of the tea industry. It is actually Indian tea that we favour here in the U.K., and sadly tea was one of the main trades of the East India Company, the most lucrative and brutal company in the history of the world. Tea is produced in several states in India, but the most famous is Assam. Often more of a breakfast tea because of its delicious and malty flavour and strong taste, this tea thrives here because of the rains and the high temperatures of the monsoon season blending perfectly to create the ideal greenhouse conditions. It was Robert Bruce (not Robert the Bruce as I nearly thought), a Scottish traveller, who first contacted the Singhpo tribe in order to convince them that their tea was amazing and that they should share it with the world, and now Assam is not only the largest tea-growing region in India, it is the largest in the world.
It's strange to think that South Africa has the capability to grow tea. After all, it doesn't have the humid conditions that are ideal for growing such a plant, but tea it does grow, and one of the most famous in the world. Roobios, or redbush tea, has been drunk for many generations, and enjoys a slightly bitter but wonderfully herbal kind of taste. This is a fairly adaptable tea, and it can be flavoured by adding the more widely used milk and sugar, but it can also be enjoyed with a touch of honey or a slice of citrus. The rooibos tea plant isn't only used for tea, however, and you can also make liquer from it, alternating the leaf to stem ratio to affect the flavour of the drink. Sadly, this tea is only found in a very small part of Africa, and it relies on the surrounding micro-organisms and climate to sustain it. Therefore, climate change poses a very real threat to the brew, and we could be in danger of losing it forever.
Let's be real, do you need to go anywhere else? Admittedly, this is cheating, because technically we do import our tea from other countries, but we do know our brews and how best to blend them. In Harrogate, we have the world-famous Bettys Tea Rooms (always spelt without an apostrophe). In fact, the equally world-famous Yorkshire Tea factory is in the Harrogate area of Starbeck, where the large teapot clock on the front of the factory tips on the hour, every hour. Afternoon tea is a way of life here, and you can drink your brew of choice at around 3pm in the afternoon (that delightful midway break between lunch and dinner), with perhaps some finger sandwiches and some cream cakes. It's all so very posh, and no one can resist a tiered platter of delectable goodies whilst enjoying the drink that Britain is known for in all corners of the planet.