By Ayesha Anjum
Tue, 05, 24

This week, You! shares the history of tea and explores various tea varieties to highlight this year’s International Tea Day…


international tea day

Tea is one of the most consumed beverages in the world, whether it be homemade or from a shop, hot or cold, with milk or without milk, it’s always delicious, refreshing and energising. Tea is an integral part of social settings, especially in Pakistan. It’s the first thing that comes to mind when we think of hanging out with our friends or when family is coming over. International Tea Day is celebrated on May 21st to recognise tea’s history, its global impact, and the role in supporting communities and fighting poverty. It also aims to promote sustainable tea production and consumption practices, and raise awareness of the tea industry’s impact on workers and growers.

Tea-rrific history

Tea was actually an accidental invention. Tea’s origins were accidental. Per Chinese legend, Emperor Shen Nong stumbled upon tea circa 2737 BCE when leaves fell into his boiling water. Intrigued by the aroma and taste, he sampled the brew, finding it refreshing. Gradually, it shifted from a medicinal herb to a popular beverage, initially cultivated using simple methods like sun-drying and steaming. Trade and cultural exchanges spread tea globally, reaching Japan in the 8th century through Buddhist monks. Tea became deeply rooted in Japanese culture, depicted in various art forms. In Europe, Portuguese and Dutch traders introduced tea during the 16th and 17th centuries, gaining popularity among the aristocracy and later becoming a staple. British influence in the global tea trade surged during the 17th and 18th centuries, with the British East India Company facilitating imports from China and later from India. Tea became integral to British culture, spreading to their colonies and influencing tea culture worldwide. In the early 19th century, Scottish explorers Robert and Charles Bruce learned about tea cultivation in Assam from the Singpho tribe. Establishing the Assam Tea Company in 1839, they expanded tea cultivation to Darjeeling, Nilgiris, and other regions, supported by the British East India Company’s search for alternatives to Chinese tea.

Tea-licious teas

Tea has become one of the most popular drinks in the world, there are many factors to that other than the fact that it’s absolutely delicious. While caffeine levels vary by type and brewing time, black tea typically contains the highest caffeine content, followed by oolong, green, and white tea. Additionally, tea boasts antioxidants like catechins and flavonoids, linked to improved heart health, reduced cancer risk, and enhanced cognitive function.

China and India lead global tea production, each renowned for distinct tea varieties. China boasts a rich tea cultivation history, while India is celebrated for robust black teas like Assam and Darjeeling.

Tea consumption customs vary worldwide. Americans favour iced black tea, often flavoured and sweetened. British tea, referred to as a ‘cuppa’ typically features Earl Grey tea with milk and sugar to taste. In Pakistan, black tea with milk and cardamom pods is popular. Arabs prefer black or hibiscus tea, sweetened heavily and served in small portions without milk. Chinese tea appreciation borders on artistry, with Oolong and other varieties meticulously steeped and enjoyed without sugar or milk, often in small gaiwans.

Tea comes in various types, each offering unique flavours, aromas, and health benefits. Here’s an overview of some popular types:


Green Tea: Known for its fresh, grassy flavour, green tea undergoes minimal oxidation during processing. It’s rich in antioxidants like catechins, believed to promote heart health and aid in weight management. Varieties include Japanese Sencha, Chinese Longjing, and Matcha, a powdered green tea used in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies.

Black Tea: Fully oxidised, black tea has a robust flavour with malty and sometimes smoky notes. It’s the most common type globally and often used in blends like Earl Grey and English Breakfast. Assam and Darjeeling from India, and Keemun from China, are famous black tea varieties.

Oolong Tea: Partially oxidised, oolong tea falls between green and black tea in terms of oxidation levels, resulting in a diverse range of flavours. It can be floral, fruity, or toasty, depending on the oxidation degree and processing techniques. Popular varieties include Tieguanyin (Iron Goddess) from China and Formosa Oolong from Taiwan.

White Tea: Made from young tea leaves and buds, white tea undergoes minimal processing, often withered and dried in natural sunlight. It has a delicate flavour profile with subtle floral and sweet notes. Silver Needle and Bai Mu Dan are well-known white tea varieties.

Herbal Tea: Technically not ‘tea’ as it doesn’t come from the Camellia sinensis plant, herbal teas are infusions made from dried herbs, fruits, flowers, or spices. They offer a wide range of flavours and purported health benefits. Examples include chamomile, peppermint, rooibos, and hibiscus.

Pu-erh Tea: A fermented tea originating from China’s Yunnan province, Pu-erh tea undergoes microbial fermentation, resulting in a unique earthy and mellow flavour profile. It’s often compressed into cakes or bricks for aging, with older vintages prized for their complexity and smoothness.

Yellow Tea: Rare and prized for its delicate flavour, yellow tea undergoes a unique processing method similar to green tea but with an additional step called ‘yellowing.’ This imparts a mellower flavour compared to green tea. Examples include Junshan Yinzhen from China.