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The cups that cheer.

Prince Bodhi-Dharma, a descendent of Bud-dha, dedicated his life to prayer and asceticism. One day, tiredness overcame him, and he fell into a deep sleep. When he awoke, he was so angry at his weakness that he plucked off his eyelids and threw them to the ground, already wet with his tears. A tree grew up on this site whose stimulant leaves were very effective against fatigue. This was discovered by Shennong, the mythical emperor of China, when he was in the forest, and some leaves fell from this tree into the water he was boiling. This, as the legend goes, was the first cup of tea.

If he ever existed, Shennong could not have prepared a cup of tea this way, as fresh tea leaves boiled in water give an undrinkably bitter concoction. Making the leaves of the tea plant into the delicate and stimulating beverage that is now drunk has required several different empirical approaches and a great deal of know-how. Tea's long history began in China before the Tang period (seventh-tenth centuries A.D.). In the eighth century, the scholar Lu You wrote a treatise on tea Cha King, and later Li Xi Lai, a poet of the Song dynasty (tenth-thirteenth century), praised tea as a genuine work of art. During this period, tea reached Japan, where it rapidly became part of Zen Buddhist culture, and Japanese culture in general. Sen no Rikyu formalized the rituals of the tea ceremony, or cha-no-yu (literally "hot water tea"), performed in the intimate, silent and restrained manner, expressed by the poet Ryota (1718-1787) in a famous haiku poem:

"Three in silence: the host, the guest and the chrysanthemum."

Marco Polo (1254-1324) brought the first reports of tea to Europe, but it did not appear on the market until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, though it was considered more as a medicine. Cha is the name it was known by in Korea and China, except in the Fujian region, where it is called te. As tea was first exported to Europe from the ports in Fujian, it was known by the name used there. The Portuguese are known to have heard of tea in the late sixteenth century, and a cargo of tea reached The Netherlands in 1606. By the mid-seventeenth century, tea was widely consumed in England's "coffee houses." Tea was so common in England that Charles II sought to ban it, as he was concerned by these "conspiratorial" gatherings. The British government later changed its tactics, and taxed tea very heavily, so that it became one of the state's main sources of income. From the sixteenth to nineteenth century, British taxes on tea were 119%.

It is well known that the tea trade encouraged sailing ships and construction of faster and faster ships, particularly the British and United States "tea clippers" of the nineteenth century. And it is also well known that the struggle against the British monopoly on tea played an important historic role in the American War of Indepen-dence. "Five o'clock tea," the British equivalent of cha-no-yu, was introduced in the mid-eighteenth century by the Duchess of Bedford. Tea is now mainly consumed in the East and the Islamic, Anglo-Saxon, and Slav cultures. World consumption is about 2.2 million short tons a year, most of it produced by Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Kenya, Malawi, the Caucasus, and especially, in the Chinese and Japanese evergreen broadleaf forests.

The whole tea industry and culture is based on the lanceolate leaves of the tea plant (Camellia sinensis, Theaceae), a small evergreen broadleaf tree from southern China (C. sinensis var. sinensis) and the Indian region of Assam (C. sinensis var. assamica). In cultivation it is systematically pruned back to keep it a shrub. Pruning keeps the plant small and manageable, as well as stimulating the production of new shoots, which are the most suitable for preparing tea.

When leaves are picked they are graded on the basis of their proximity to the growing tip; pekoe (orange pekoe are the leaves around the growing tip, followed by pekoe and pekoe souchong), souchong, and congou. This classification is also valid for black tea, the most common in the Orient, which is prepared by withering and drying the leaves, which are then pressed and twisted, and mildly fermented. This can break the leaves, and the whole leaf ("leaf") is considered better than the broken leaves ("broken") or the bits ("fannings" and "dust"). These different types of tea reach the market in different forms and mixes. The tea may be sold as such, named by its origin or botanical variety (Ceylon, Assam, Darjeeling, Yunnan, etc.), or it may be aromatized, for example Earl Grey tea is aromatized with essence of the bergamot orange, and Chinese "lapsang" tea is aromatized with smoke.

Green tea, which is the most appreciated in the Orient, is not fermented, and the leaves are thus usually whole. The highest quality grades, the youngest and smallest leaves, are known as "gunpowder," followed by "hyson," "twankay," "hyson skin," and "dust." This is the type of tea is drunk in the Arabic cultures, with mint and lots of sugar, or as Cantonese tea perfumed with jasmine. Oolong tea is only partially fermented.

Black and green teas both contain minerals, several vitamins, alcohols, tannins (5-12%), and the caffeine-like theine (1.5-3.5%), and the higher the quality, the more they contain. These components are responsible for the smell, body and color of the tea, and its stimulating effects. These substances are released by correct preparation of the infusion, perfected over fifteen centuries of trial and error.

Tea has its equivalent, yerba mate, in the Mission broadleaf formations. The Spanish soldiers on an expedition through the Guayra area (the historical region between the Parana River and the Atlantic and the Tiete River and the Iguazu River) were the first to report the use of yerba mate. They noticed the general use of an infusion called caa-i ("herb water"), which was taken by sipping from a small container through a special "straw," with a plug of fibers at the base to stop the leaves from being swallowed. The Spanish soldiers were interested enough to try the drink, and confirmed its stimulant properties. They called it yerba de Paraguay, and then yerba mate, a name derived from the Quechua word mate, the equivalent of the Guarani term cuia, the name for the fruit of the vinegar gourd used to hold the infusion.

The habit of drinking yerba mate became widespread in the colony, and the Catholic Church denounced it to the Inquisition of Lima as "clearly a suggestion of the devil's," Yerba mate spread so fast that it became the most common unit of exchange in Paraguay. When the Jesuits realized it was impossible to ban the "devil's herb," they started to cultivate it (see also p. 223). They adopted and improved the Guarani's system of cultivation to produce caa mini, just leaves, with no stems. After the expulsion of the Jesuits (1767-1768), the yerba mate plantations, ervais, were gradually abandoned, and natural populations, especially in Brazil, were once again the main source of yerba mate. In 1820, the French physician and naturalist Aime Goujand Bonpland (1773-1858) started to study yerba mate and managed to reproduce it after a few years. After this, large-scale plantations were once more created, and these spread rapidly in Argentina after 1903.

The infusion of yerba mate, called chimarrao by the Brazilian gauchos, was considered the symbol of hospitality. The naturalist Auguste Saint-Hilaire (1779-1853) wrote "The use of this beverage is widespread. It is drunk on rising from bed, and several times a day. The kettle of boiling water is kept on the boil, and as soon as a stranger arrives, they are offered mate." Mate can be drunk alone, but generally, it is drunk in rounds. Normally, one person (the cebador in Spanish and cevador in Portuguese) serves the others, repeatedly filling the cuia or mate with hot water and always offering it with the right hand, until the yerba mate is exhausted.

Yerba mate is simply the leaves of a holly (Ilex paraguariensis), an evergreen broadleaf from the subtropical and temperate regions of South America, between 18[degrees]S and 30[degrees]S (southern Brazil, northeastern Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and southern Bolivia). In addition to sugars and minerals, yerba mate contains choline, several vitamins and mateine (0.5-1% in the leaves used for the infusion), the alkaloid responsible for yerba mate's stimulant action.

Yerba mate shrubs give their first crop of leaves after four years, and then are harvested every year or two. The collected leaves are first given a heat shock (sapeco), then dried in the open air, and they are eventually ground (cancheo). In some producer regions, especially in Argentina, the yerba mate is usually left to stand for about nine months for it to acquire its distinctive body and bouquet, and then shredded and mixed to their taste. People from Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina usually take yerba mate coarsely ground, while southern Brazil-ians grind it to a very fine powder, as yerba mate, in addition to its rituals and role as a sign of social identity, also has its gourmet requirements.
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Publication:Encyclopedia of the Biosphere
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2000
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