Tea is used by more than one-half the human race; and, although the United States is not a tea-drinking country, one and one-half pounds are consumed per capita per annum.
All tea is grown from one species of shrub, Thea, the leaves of which constitute the tea of commerce. Climate, elevation, soil, cultivation, and care in picking and curing all go to make up the differences. First-quality tea is made from young, whole leaves. Two kinds of tea are considered:—
Black tea, made from leaves which have been allowed to ferment before curing.
Green tea, made from unfermented leaves artificially colored.
The best black tea comes from India and Ceylon. Some familiar brands are Oolong, Formosa, English Breakfast, Orange Pekoe, and Flowery Pekoe. The last two named, often employed at the “five o’clock tea,” command high prices; they are made from the youngest leaves. Orange Pekoe is scented with orange leaves. The best green tea comes from Japan. Some familiar brands are Hyson, Japan, and Gunpowder.
From analysis, it has been found that tea is rich in proteid, but taken as an infusion acts as a stimulant rather than as a nutrient. The nutriment is gained from sugar and milk served with it. The stimulating property of tea is due to the alkaloid, theine, together with an essential oil; it contains an astringent, tannin. Black tea contains less theine, essential oil, and tannin, than green tea. The tannic acid, developed from the tannin by infusion, injures the coating of the stomach.
Although tea is not a substitute for food, it appears so for a considerable period of time, as its stimulating effect is immediate. It is certain that less food is required where much tea is taken, for by its use there is less wear of the tissues, consequently less need of repair. When taken to excess, it so acts on the nervous system as to produce sleeplessness and insomnia, and finally makes a complete wreck of its victim. Taken in moderation, it acts as a mild stimulant, and ingests a considerable amount of water into the system; it heats the body in winter, and cools the body in summer.
Freshly boiled water should be used for making tea. Boiled, because below the boiling-point the stimulating property, theine, would not be extracted. Freshly boiled, because long cooking renders it flat and insipid to taste on account of escape of its atmospheric gases. Tea should always be infused, never boiled. Long steeping destroys the delicate flavor by developing a larger amount of tannic acid.