Tea In Asia

The history of tea is a fascinating one, originating in China where evidence of tea consumption has been found in tombs dating from 206 BC. Tea is having something of a renaissance, fuelled by a trend for artisan produce and reports of its wide ranging health benefits. It is widely believed that antioxidants in tea (polyphenols and catechins) help reduce blood pressure, lower the risk of cancer and unclog arteries. Furthermore, green tea is thought to increase the body's ability to burn fat as fuel, and improve muscle endurance. In this blog we celebrate the miraculous leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant, and the wonderful places in the Far East where it grows. Pop the kettle on and continue reading for some tea-inspired travel ideas!

China Tea Tour
Our tea tour of China "The Origins of Tea" traces the origins of the Great British cuppa, visiting some of the country's finest plantations and learning about the four types of tea - black, green, white and oolong. To produce black tea, leaves are bruised - and "oxidised" - which turns them from green to a dark brownish-black colour. The other three types of tea come from the same plant, but are dried or fermented rather than being oxidised. The first record of tea being exported to Europe was in 1606, when the Dutch shipped the first batch of tea from China. Popularity of the beverage then spread amongst the elite of continental Europe, and in 1664 the East India Company imported the first batch of Chinese tea to Britain weighing just 100 lbs. Our tour takes you on a journey across eastern China to see green and white teas in Hangzhou and the Yellow Mountain, the world's most expensive black tea in Wuyishan and oolong tea in Chaozhou. The journey finishes in much the same way as the tea merchants of old would have done, in the Cantonese city of Guangzhou in the Pearl River Delta. This was the departure point for the famous tea clippers such as the Cutty Sark, which carried 1,305,812 lbs of tea on her first trip back to the docks in East London.

Tea Ceremonies
For a rather ordinary looking plant, it is amazing to think how tea has managed to reach such an elevated, almost venerated, status in some parts of Asia, and how it has contributed so enormously to the culture of countries like China, Japan, Korea, India & Sri Lanka - not to mention the United Kingdom! Originating in China, tea drinking was initially undertaken for medicinal purposes before it became a recreational drink and ultimately a refined cultural activity. From China the enjoyment of tea spread to its neighbours Japan and Korea where the act of drinking, and preparing, tea became an art form when tea ceremonies started in the 9th Century. In terms of their ceremonies Japan and Korea took different paths on the route to tea enlightenment. The Korean approach was to create a simple, formal setting within which to enjoy the naturalness of the drink itself. Japan, on the other hand adopted a much more intricate approach using Zen & minimalist philosophies to create an esoteric art where the slightest movement of cup, bowl or instrument carried great weight. However, these differences apart, both countries used the ceremony as a way of showing off eloquence, good grace and a mastery of exquisite etiquette. Such was the significance of the tea ceremony that even the Japanese warrior class, the Samurai, were fully versed in the ‘way of tea' between the 13th-16th Centuries. These days you can get a sense of a by-gone era at traditional tea ceremonies performed in hotels, and tea houses, around Kyoto or Seoul, and occasionally the odd ryokan will welcome visitors with this fascinating ritual.

Tea in Taiwan
To say that tea is important to Taiwanese culture would be an understatement. Tea plantations can be found across the island, and all varieties of tea can be grown, drunk, and bought everywhere you go. Visit a Taiwanese family at their home and you will be met with a standard greeting of "come in and drink tea". Taiwan is a small island, and easy to discover in a single trip. An interest in tea can be easily incorporated into any of our existing or tailor-made tours around Taiwan. Our "Treasures of Taiwan" tour follows a circular route around the island, and includes several of the island's key tea-producing regions; in particular around Alishan and Sun Moon Lake. For an easy day trip from Taipei, the historic tea growing area around Maokong is easily reached on the outskirts of the city. Taiwan is one of the best places in the Far East for an intensive tea tour, due to the relatively small size of the island and the huge variety of tea produced here.