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Tea is an aromatic beverage commonly prepared by pouring hot or boiling water over cured or fresh leaves of the Camellia sinensis, an evergreen shrub native to East Asia. After water, it is the most widely consumed drink in the world. There are many different types of tea; some, like Darjeeling and Chinese greens, have a cooling, slightly bitter, and astringent flavour, while others have vastly different profiles that include sweet, nutty, floral, or grassy notes. Tea has a stimulating effect in humans primarily due to its caffeine content.

The tea plant Camellia sinensis originated in the region encompassing today's Northeast India, north Myanmar, Southwest China and Tibet, where it was used as a medicinal drink by various ethnic groups in the region. An early credible record of tea drinking dates to the 3rd century AD, in a medical text written by Hua Tuo. It was popularised as a recreational drink during the Chinese Tang dynasty, and tea drinking spread to other East Asian countries. Portuguese priests and merchants introduced it to Europe during the 16th century. During the 17th century, drinking tea became fashionable among the English, who started to plant tea on a large scale in India.

The term herbal tea refers to drinks not made from Camellia sinensis: infusions of fruit, leaves, or other parts of the plant, such as steeps of rosehip, chamomile, or rooibos. These may be called tisanes or herbal infusions to prevent confusion with "tea" made from the tea plant.

Through the centuries, a variety of techniques for processing tea, and a number of different forms of tea, were developed. During the Tang dynasty, tea was steamed, then pounded and shaped into cake form, while in the Song dynasty, loose-leaf tea was developed and became popular. During the Yuan and Ming dynasties, unoxidized tea leaves were first pan-fried, then rolled and dried, a process that stops the oxidation process that turns the leaves dark, thereby allowing tea to remain green. In the 15th century, oolong tea, in which the leaves were allowed to partially oxidize before pan-frying, was developed. Western tastes, however, favoured the fully oxidized black tea, and the leaves were allowed to oxidize further. Yellow tea was an accidental discovery in the production of green tea during the Ming dynasty, when apparently careless practices allowed the leaves to turn yellow, which yielded a different flavour.

Physically speaking, tea has properties of both a solution and a suspension. It is a solution of all the water-soluble compounds that have been extracted from the tea leaves, such as the polyphenols and amino acids, but is a suspension when all of the insoluble components are considered, such as the cellulose in the tea leaves.

Caffeine constitutes about 3% of tea's dry weight, translating to between 30 and 90 milligrams per 250-millilitre (8 1⁄2 US fl oz) cup depending on the type, brand, and brewing method. A study found that the caffeine content of one gram of black tea ranged from 22–28 mg, while the caffeine content of one gram of green tea ranged from 11–20 mg, reflecting a significant difference. Tea also contains small amounts of theobromine and theophylline, which are stimulants, and xanthines similar to caffeine.

Black and green teas contain no essential nutrients in significant amounts, with the exception of the dietary mineral manganese, at 0.5 mg per cup or 26% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI). Fluoride is sometimes present in tea; certain types of "brick tea", made from old leaves and stems, have the highest levels, enough to pose a health risk if much tea is drunk, which has been attributed to high levels of fluoride in soils, acidic soils, and long brewing.

The astringency in tea can be attributed to the presence of polyphenols. These are the most abundant compounds in tea leaves, making up 30–40% of their composition. Polyphenols include flavonoids, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), and other catechins. It has been suggested that green and black teas may protect against cancer or other diseases such as obesity or Alzheimer's disease, but the compounds found in green tea have not been conclusively demonstrated to have any effect on human diseases.

Drinking tea is often believed to result in calm alertness;[citation needed] it contains L-theanine, theophylline, and bound caffeine (sometimes called theine). Decaffeinated brands are also sold. While herbal teas are also referred to as tea, most of them do not contain leaves from the tea plant. While tea is the second most consumed beverage on Earth after water, in many cultures it is also consumed at elevated social events, such as the tea party.

Tea ceremonies have arisen in different cultures, such as the Chinese and Japanese traditions, each of which employ certain techniques and ritualised protocol of brewing and serving tea for enjoyment in a refined setting. One form of Chinese tea ceremony is the Gongfu tea ceremony, which typically uses small Yixing clay teapots and oolong tea.

In the United Kingdom, 63% of people drink tea daily. It is customary for a host to offer tea to guests soon after their arrival. Tea is consumed both at home and outside the home, often in cafés or tea rooms. Afternoon tea with cakes on fine porcelain is a cultural stereotype. In southwest England, many cafés serve a cream tea, consisting of scones, clotted cream, and jam alongside a pot of tea. In some parts of Britain and India, 'tea' may also refer to the evening meal.

Ireland, as of 2016, was the second-biggest per capita consumer of tea in the world. Local blends are the most popular in Ireland, including Irish breakfast tea, using Rwandan, Kenyan and Assam teas. The annual national average of tea consumption in Ireland is 2.7kg to 4kg per person. Tea in Ireland is usually taken with milk or sugar and brewed longer for a stronger taste.

Turkish tea is an important part of that country's cuisine and is the most commonly consumed hot drink, despite the country's long history of coffee consumption. In 2004, Turkey produced 205,500 tonnes of tea (6.4% of the world's total tea production), which made it one of the largest tea markets in the world, with 120,000 tons being consumed in Turkey and the rest being exported. In 2010, Turkey had the highest per capita consumption in the world at 2.7 kg. As of 2013, the per-capita consumption of Turkish tea exceeds 10 cups per day and 13.8 kg per year. Tea is grown mostly in Rize Province on the Black Sea coast.

Russia has a long, rich tea history dating to 1638 when tea was introduced to Tsar Michael. Social gatherings were considered incomplete without tea, which was traditionally brewed in a samovar.

In Pakistan, both black and green teas are popular and are known locally as sabz chai and kahwah, respectively. The popular green tea called kahwah is often served after every meal in the Pashtun belt of Balochistan and in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In central and southern Punjab and the metropolitan Sindh region of Pakistan, tea with milk and sugar (sometimes with pistachios, cardamom, etc.), commonly referred to as chai, is widely consumed. It is the most common beverage of households in the region. In the northern Pakistani regions of Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan, a salty, buttered Tibetan-style tea is consumed.

Indian tea culture is strong; the drink is the most popular hot beverage in the country. It is consumed daily in almost all houses, offered to guests, consumed in high amounts in domestic and official surroundings, and is made with the addition of milk with or without spices, and usually sweetened. It is sometimes served with biscuits to be dipped in the tea and eaten before consuming the tea. More often than not, it is drunk in "doses" of small cups (referred to as "cutting" chai if sold at street tea vendors) rather than one large cup.

In Burma (Myanmar), tea is consumed not only as hot drinks, but also as sweet tea and green tea known locally as laphet-yay and laphet-yay-gyan, respectively. Pickled tea leaves, known locally as lahpet, are also a national delicacy. Pickled tea is usually eaten with roasted sesame seeds, crispy fried beans, roasted peanuts and fried garlic chips.

In Mali, gunpowder tea is served in series of three, starting with the highest oxidisation or strongest, unsweetened tea, locally referred to as "strong like death", followed by a second serving, where the same tea leaves are boiled again with some sugar added ("pleasant as life"), and a third one, where the same tea leaves are boiled for the third time with yet more sugar added ("sweet as love"). Green tea is the central ingredient of a distinctly Malian custom, the "Grin", an informal social gathering that cuts across social and economic lines, starting in front of family compound gates in the afternoons and extending late into the night, and is widely popular in Bamako and other large urban areas.

In the United States, 80% of tea is consumed as iced tea. Sweet tea is native to the southeastern U.S. and is iconic in its cuisine.

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