Climate Change Affecting Your Tea

First, and most importantly, I want to give a huge shout-out to my mommy on her birthday!   She has been putting up with my brother for almost 30 years and with me for almost 27 years.   Definitely a saint 🙂   I hope she has a very happy birthday today!

My Mommy And Daddy At My Brother's Wedding

My Mommy And Daddy At My Brother’s Wedding

Now, on to tea…

We all have at least heard of climate change.   Polar bears being stuck on small ice sheets slowly melting into the ocean.   The world having more drastic weather patterns.   We need to start reversing the effects.

Whatever your thoughts on climate change, whether it is man-made or normal weather pattern shifts, or if it is even happening, Science magazine states that the climate is affecting our tea.

Selena Ahmed is an ethnobotanist (one who studies the relationship that exists between people and plants) at Montana State University in Bozeman.   Right now, she is over in China’s Yunnan province to see how climate change is affecting the taste of their tea.

The reasoning behind all of this?   The mix of phyochemicals responsible for the taste in tea may be more sensitive to the constant change of the climate than the yield of the actual crop.   So, while the Yunnan province farmers might be having a huge crop each year, the crop might not taste as good.   The rainfall is highly important to the tea process.   More rain will mean that the tea grows faster, which may sound like a good thing, but that means that the quality of the tea goes down.   Before the monsoon season in China, the tea can fetch $680 per kilogram.   However, after the rainy season, the price drops to $405.

Due to climate change, the temperature in Yunnan’s capital has climbed 1.5 degrees Celsius over the past 50 years and monsoon season has been arriving later.   In 2011, is arrived 22 days later than in 1980.

This change in the weather has also allowed some less-than-ideal pests, such as caterpillars and tea mosquitoes, to raid the tea plants and destroy the leaves that brew the tea in the first place.   This raises the pesticide use to try and combat these pests, which in turn affects the consumer.   Ten Ren, for example, was cited by the FDA for having pesticide-tainted tea.   What is one to do if their crop is being eaten before it can even be picked?

To study this relationship, Ahmed traveled to Yunnan, which is known for its pu-erh tea (a personal favorite of mine.   Earthy and almost like drinking a rich coffee).   This four-year project, backed by the U.S. National Science Foundation, will examine the linkage among climate change, tea quality, and farmer livelihood.

Hopefully, the planet can be saved soon and the effects of global warming turned around even faster.   After all, as far as I know, Earth is the only place to get a good cuppa.   Let’s make sure we keep it preserved.

The Dreaded Tea Talks

An interesting method of interrogation.   Rather than abide by the “good-cop-bad-cop” concept that has become popular in movies, TV and pop culture as taken a turn towards tea over in China.

While normally, tea is looked at as a relaxing drink, causing elation and even improvements in health, when a person in China says that they are getting a “tea talk” or are being “forced to drink tea,” it is a highly negative experience.

What is more interesting is that these tea talks, per Global Voices Advocacy, “have become so common that Chinese netizens, in particular those who are active and influential, regard it as part of everyday life.”

Good Tea Or Bad Tea?

Good Tea Or Bad Tea?

People are called for tea talks for various reasons.   Perhaps it is for a person’s political posts on the internet.   Maybe you shared something that shouldn’t have been shared or shared information the wrong way.   Maybe you even signed an online petition.   Whatever the reason, the police in China can pick up the phone and request a cup of tea in order to make sure that you as a political leader are behaving in what they deem a “responsible” manner.

The police sometimes ask for the sources of the political dissenters’ information during these talks.   If the dissenter does not comply, (s)he can be held for spreading rumors or causing a public disorder.   Other times, these tea talks can serve as more of a warning, letting the opinionated know that they are being watched.   Even worse, some dissenters report that “the tea was really bitter.”

Global Voices Advocacy summarized opinion leader’s Wu Gan‘s advice on how to deal with the tea talks, quoted below:

“1. Don’t be afraid and don’t be angry.

2. Only talk about yourself. Try your best not to provide information about others.

3. Tell the police that you believe in what you have done and that you are prepared to face the consequences.

4. Don’t take their questions personally.

5. Don’t humiliate or criticize them during or after the tea talk.

6. Don’t trust them and don’t assume that you’ll be able to persuade them to take your side.

7. If you don’t want to engage with them, you may consider signing the guarantee document. [This document certifies a citizen’s promise to follow police instructions, which might stipulate that they may not blog about certain topics or discuss politics online. This document is not legally binding, so you do not have to abide by what you have signed.]

8. If you want to minimize risk, avoid getting involved in local incidents. Pay attention to other provinces as you are outside their jurisdiction. [Internal security police usually operate at the provincial level. The standard procedure for carrying out cross-border operations has to go through the local police unit, which requires a lot of paper work.]

9. They may try to put pressure on your friends, family, or employer. Try to tell your social circle about it and get their support for your cause.”

Thankfully, I must say, I’ve never had to face such pressures as a “tea talk” and I pray I never will.   It’s just amazing how something so sinister can begin with the sentence, “Let’s have some tea.”

Tea Ceremony: Destination Russia


Tea was introduced to Russia in the mid-1600s when the Chinese ambassador to Moscow of the time made a gift of tea to Tsar Aleksey Mikhaylovich.   Russia was trying to establish trade with China and tea soon became popular.   In 1558, Tsar Ivan IV provided the Stroganov merchant family possession of Siberia.   However, the only clause was that the family had to occupy a vast region.   The Cossacks, who acted as protection for the tsars, started establishing communities.   When Russian explorer Deshnev reached the Pacific coast in 1645, Russia and China had a boarder dispute.   Thus, the Treaty of Nerchinsk was drafted and signed in 1689, allowing a common boundary line between China and Russia and allowing trade caravans to pass peacefully.

The trade route was difficult, since the road was over mountainous terrain and the journey took over 16 months.   Thus, tea prices were very high and was a luxury only afforded to royalty and the very wealthy.   In the 1700s, tea prices went down a little, allowing laymen to start drinking the amazing beverage.   The trade caravans ceased to exist when the Trans-Siberian Railroad was completed in the 1900s.   Now, tea and vodka are the two primary beverages in Russia.

Russians took to tea because it was warm and hearty, preferring stronger, darker brews that are sweetened with sugar, jam or honey.

A samovar and podstakanniki were both beautiful and functional.

A samovar and podstakanniki were both beautiful and functional.

Intricate samovars, an adaptation of the Tibetan hot pot, was both a heater and a source to boil water.   Tea is sipped from podstakanniki (under the glass): silver holders which hold the hot tea glass.

Conducting a Russian Tea Ceremony:

Russian tea is typically comprised of two or three types and flavors, brewed dark and in separate pots.   When mixed in the cup, additional water is added to dilute the stronger brew.

The teapots are designed to sit onto of one another with the bottom pot holding the hot water.   The next pit will be for very dark tea.   Finally, the highest pot holds herbal or mint-flavored tea.   This saves space and allows the tea to stay hot longer.

The samovar has become a focal point in the Russian household, acting as both a functional item and a beautiful centerpiece for social gatherings.   It would be used as a sort of bragging right, allowing guests to admire the ornate one.

Women serve the tea to family and guests.   It is served at all meals and pretty much and time of the day.   Sometimes, you can find street vendors with samovars marketing cups of hot tea to tourists.

Photo Credit:   2011.   samovar_P1070701_big.JPEG, 26 Jan 2012.   JPEG.

Source Credit:

DeLaine, Linda.   “Tea Time in Russia.”   Russian Life, 2012.   26 Jan 2012.   Web.

Tea Ceremony: Destination China

History of the Chinese Tea Ceremony:

In China, tea was also used initially for medicinal purposes, much like the tea in Japan.   This was strictly within the confines of the temples that dotted the landscape.   Soon, monks began to evolve their tea usage and use it to teach a respect for nature, humility and an overall sense of peace and calmness.   Monks tried to display these philosophical ideas through their tea ceremonies, mixing Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism in their tea ceremonies.   Soon, like the Japanese, the tea ceremonies evolved into a memorial service for both noblemen and family members.

A Young Girl Conducting A Tea Ceremony

A Young Girl Conducting A Tea Ceremony

The Japanese came to China and learned more about the Chinese tea ceremony, breaking off and forming their own tea ceremony.   Originally, the ceremony was called cha dao, or the way of tea.   However, in the 1970s, the Chinese felt a need to differentiate their tea ceremony from the Japanese and re-named their process to cha yi, or the art of tea.

The Chinese tea ceremony has six major parts to it in order to summarize the technical aspects and the skills needed for success.   They are:

–          Attitude.   The host should reflect a happy, calm, relaxed and confident demeanor.

–          Tea selection.   Tea not only needs to taste good; it needs to have a wonderful name and a beautiful background story.

–          Water selection.   Tea is only as good as the water it is put in.   The water should be pure, light and clean.

–          Teaware selection.   Guests should be able to admire and appreciate the beauty of the items.

–          Ambiance.   The ceremony should be in a clean, quiet room that is enhanced with touches of artwork.

–          Technique.   This not only means the manner in which the tea is brewed.   It involves the full body – hand movement, facial expression, grace and demeanor.

Conducting a Chinese Tea Ceremony:

Chinese tea ceremonies are not as ritualistic as Japanese tea ceremonies, but do deserve the same attention and respect as one might offer any culture.   You will need:

A tea-pot

A tea strainer

A kettle

A tea pitcher

A brewing tray

A deep pot or bowl, meant to wash the tea-pot, tea cups and to discard used tea

A tea towel

Water (if possible, get high-quality water)

Loose tea leaves (traditionally, it is oolong, though any tea will suffice)

A tea pick to unclog the tea-pot

A tea leaf holder


Scent cups (a cup with a narrow neck so that one can appreciate the aroma of the tea)

Tea cups (handless cups for drinking the tea)


–          Cure the tea cups in the same way that you did for the Japanese tea ceremony.   However, rather than use tea to soak the tea items, hot water will do.   Use the tongs to take the cups and pot out of the hot water, so as not to burn yourself!

–          Pour a cup of tea and pass it around to your guests so that they can smell the tea, appreciate the aroma, the look and the quality.

–          Make a full pot of tea for your guests now.   Take the tea leaves out of the tea leaf holder and pour the tea leaves into the tea-pot.   Place the tea-pot into the bowl and pour the water from the kettle into the tea-pot from shoulder height.   The tea-pot should overflow.

–          Scoop away any bubbles and tea leaves and put the lid on the tea-pot.   Pour hot water on the pot so that the internal and external temperatures are the same.

–          Pour all the tea into the tea pitcher and fill the tea scent cups.   Place the tea cups upside down on the scent cups.   This act is said to bring prosperity and happiness.

–          This part might take practice for some.   Take the tea cups and flip them so the tea goes from the scent cups into the tea cups.   Do not drink the tea just yet.   Pour this tea into the bowl.

–          Using the same tea leaves that have been in the tea-pot, pour heated water into the tea-pot.   This time, pour the water just above the tea pot.   This is so you do not remove the flavor from the tea leaves too quickly.   Place the lid on the tea pot.

–          Pour the brewed tea into the pitcher.   Pour the tea into the tea scent cups.   Transfer this tea into the tea cups.   You will use this tea for drinking.

–          As a guest, it is proper to thank the person who refills your tea-cup by tapping your pointer and middle finger against your tea-cup.   This is appropriate for more casual settings.

–          The tea drinker cradles the tea-cup in both hands and they savor the aroma before drinking.   The tea should be drunk in three sips total.   The first sip should be small.   The second sip is the biggest sip that the drinker should take.   Finally, the third sip is to empty the cup and savor the aftertaste.

–          After the tea has been finished, use the tongs to empty out the tea leaves from the tea pot.   Discard used tea leaves in the bowl.

–          Finally, the used tea leaves are shown to the guests so that the quality can be appreciated.   The tea ceremony is ended.

Photo Credit:

China Connections Tour.   2012.   Chinese_Tea_10.jpg, 10 Jan 2012.   JPEG.

Source Credit:

Mack, Lauren.   “Brew Perfect Chinese Tea with Gōngfū Chá, a Traditional Chinese Tea Ceremony.”, 2012.   Web.   10 Jan 2012.

Seven Cups: Fine Chinese Teas.   “Chinese Tea Ceremony History.”, 2001.   Web.   11 Jan 2012.

A (Somewhat) Brief History Of Tea

According to the Chinese Historical and Cultural Project, “Tea is among the world’s oldest and most revered beverages.   It is today’s most popular beverage in the world, next to water.”

Chinese legend states that the Chinese Emperor Shen Nong stumbled upon what we know now as tea in 2737 BCE.   The Emperor was a scholar, herbalist, creative scientist and patron of the arts.   Amongst his many beliefs was that drinking boiled water contributed to good health.   Subjects and servants alike had to boil their water before drinking it as a form of hygienic precaution, which probably served them well in that age, anyway.

One day, Emperor Nong was traveling abroad and decided to take a rest.   The servants obediently began to boil water for all to drink.   As the water simmered over the hot flames, dried leaves from a nearby camellia bush

The Famous Tea Plant

The popular tea company Teavana offers to fill some holes in tea’s exciting past.   “The history of tea is fascinating and offers great insight into the history of our world,” they state.   “Since tea was first discovered in China, it has traveled the world conquering the thirsts of virtually every country on the planet.”   By the time of the Western Zhou Dynasty, tea started being used in religious offerings.   During the Han Dynasty in 202 BCE to about 220 CE, the plants sadly became limited and became a drink of royalty.

During the Tang Dynasty, which was 618 to 907 CE, more plants were discovered and tea drinking became once again for both the wealthy and the poor.   The Chinese government even went as far to build tea shops so that people could enjoy this illustrious drink!

Japanese priests studying in China during the Tang Dynasty soon found this elixir and decided to bring it back home, thus helping tea to spread to other countries.   At first, the Japanese also kept tea strictly for the rich and for medicinal usage.   It was tied to Zen Buddhism as the monks would drink it to stay awake and meditate.   They even developed a whole tea ceremony to accompany this!

Because the Japanese emperor enjoyed the tea so much, he decided to get the tea seeds from China and plant tea of his own in Japan, making it readily available to the populace.

Finally, tea made it over to our favorite country of royals, England, during the 17th century when King Charles II married Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza.   I would like to argue that their greatest accomplishment was making tea the drink of royalty for England and making it a popular import of the famous East India Company, though I am sure that historians would beg to differ with me.   Afternoon tea and tea parties became popular for aristocratic societies.

And what is a beverage without a bit of a tainted history?   Taxes were high on tea, though it was regularly imported into England.   In response, smugglers would obtain and sell tea illegally to those who normally could not afford it!   The East India Company did not want to lose their profits and thus began exporting to America at a heavy tax.   Citizens rebelled with the famous Boston Tea Party.

Now, tea is enjoyed by both “royalty” and “laymen” alike, celebrated with the rich and the poor.   With its illustrious and (albeit) long history, tea is sure to celebrate a rich life and continue to flourish as a popular beverage.

Photo Credit:   Camellias-R-Us: Sinensis.JPEG, 23 Nov 2011.   JPEG.


“Tea’s Wonderful History.”   Chinese Historical and Cultural Project.   Chinese Historical and Cultural Project, 11 June 2011.   Web.   20 Oct 2011.

“The History of Tea.”   Teavana.   Teavana, n.d.   Web.   20 Oct 2011.