A Travelling Botanist: There’s always time for tea

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Guest blog series by: Sophie Mogg

Manchester Museum is currently planning a brand new HLF funded South Asia exhibit and held a fantastic Big Saturday with a South Asian theme. There were plenty of wonderful experiences to be had from traditional South Asian food to Bhangracise lessons that featured throughout the museum. You can find more about the event here.

We shared some beautiful specimens from our herbarium and Materia Medica collection depicting several culturally and economically important plant species from South Asia.  This blog post will focus on the beautiful beverage, tea.

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Camellia sinensis var. assamica

Originating in China during the Tang dynasty (618-907), the practice of drinking tea quickly spread to other parts of South Asia. Camellia sinensis var. assamica is typically a small evergreen shrub that will grow on to produce a small tree if left undisturbed. Native to the state of Assam, India, this variety produces a full-bodied black tea with a malty flavour.

Within the Assam state, this variety of tea is grown on plantations operating on a separate timezone (IST +1)  to the rest of India. The first harvest occurs in March, typically referred to as the first flush. The second flush producing much fuller flavoured tippy tea occurs much later in the season. Following harvesting, leaves must first must undergo several labour intensive processes involving: fermenting, curling and drying. Subsequently leaves are graded by size and shape before being exported to other countries. The bud and smaller surrounding leaves are often graded the highest, with hand-picking of these leaves being repeated every few weeks. Larger leaves are graded lower, due to their chemical composition differing to the young leaves.

Tea is not only the second-most widely consumed beverage across the world, it is also involved in the Ayurveda practice of medicine. Tea would be mixed with a variety of herbs such as rooibos, rosehips and chamomile for their medicinal benefits.

In the upcoming weeks I will be following the silk and spice trade routes from Asia to the UK so stay tuned to learn more about fantastic plants of the past and present and where you might find them. If you have any suggestions not listed below, please leave a comment!

If you would like to find further information on Camellia sinensis and the production of tea please follow the links below:

Camellia sinensis
Tea production
Tea grading

 

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5 thoughts on “A Travelling Botanist: There’s always time for tea

    Shona Patel said:
    October 27, 2016 at 4:46 pm

    Reblogged this on Tea Buddy and commented:
    A nice sum up of Assam Tea by guest blogger Sophie Mogg for the Manchester Museum Herbarium. Thanks for sharing!.

    Shona Patel said:
    October 27, 2016 at 4:47 pm

    Wonderful write up! Thank you! 🙂 Shona

    […] like tea, is hand-harvested with each flower only yielding 3 strands. The flowers bloom at dawn, gradually […]

    […] Many parts of the Moringa tree are utilised in South Asian cooking. The young seed pods, more often referred to as drumsticks, are used in a variety of dishes such as curries, sambars, kormas and dals. The drumsticks can also be incorporated into soups such as the Burmese Dunt-dalun chin-yei. This is true also for the fruit of the drumsticks, the white seeds can either be cooked as you would green peas or incorporated into a variety of soups.  Flowers can also be used, generally being boiled or fried and incorporated into a variety of friend snacks such as pakoras and fritters or alternatively used in tea. […]

    A Travelling Botanist: « Herbology Manchester said:
    November 21, 2016 at 3:32 pm

    […] Tea can also be used as a dye, with different varieties of tea producing their own unique shades. With any kind of dye the colour will fade with time but it can be stabilised by using vinegar.  As previously mentioned in my other posts both saffron and henna are used as dyes also. […]

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