Heidi Trautmann

Heidi Trautmann Column 38 - Let’s talk about Culture and ….. Tea and the Art of Tea - Tea-ism


By Heidi Trautmann


Ever heard of tea-ism? When you drink tea not to quench your thirst but to celebrate a ceremony to promote harmony within humanity, within yourself and nature, a sort of concentration on the small basic things in life, getting into balance before you face daily life again, is another kind of creative meditation. And the person who performs and enjoys this ceremony is a tea-ist, so it says in a discussion about tea and the description of the Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzö.

My wish to know more about tea and to deepen my knowledge developed when we travelled along the Black Sea provinces where tea is grown up the hills in this damp climate of the area, and when we visited the Research Tea Institute in Rize where a young lady took us through the roads of tea processing and showed us the many fields where experiments with tea were carried out. She called herself a food engineer, i.e. she had to do with the product research which is at the end of the processing line.

But let us have a look into the history of tea which is quite interesting. One of the many legends says that a legendary emperor of China strolled through his garden sipping from a bowl of hot water when some leaves from a nearby tree were blown into it which coloured the water and when he tasted it he found it very pleasant and stimulating.

Around 1500 BC tea was used as a medicinal drink in China. Knowledgeable men – these could also be people living in nature such as shepherds - tasted from all that nature had to offer to find out its characteristics and healing and/or poisonous effects respectively, early mediciners and pharmacists. 

The processing of tea in China changed over the many thousands of years, from tea bricks which were also used as currency in remote areas, to loose leaves, roasted, steamed, in powder form. It reached Japan and other Asian countries and was first introduced to Westeners in the 16th century, i.e. to the Portuguese merchants and priests who had trade settlements in Macau and there the name Chá was created. In England tea drinking became popular in the 17th century. The British had ‘brought out’ some seeds from China and started cultivating tea in India to break the Chinese monopole.

The cultivation of tea in Turkey is not that old; Turkey was mainly a coffee drinking country but  since the downfall of the Ottoman Empire and the loss of countries where coffee was produced, Atatürk enforced the cultivation of tea. Today Turkey is one of the leading tea producers and exporters. I enjoy the Turkish tea best; it has a strong but mild taste and is stimulating. I love the custom of tea being brought around from tea shops on the swinging tray, steaming hot in glasses.


Middle European countries are not fanatic tea drinkers except the British. In Germany for example tea is drunk along the north coast more than in the rest of the country. You don’t invite people for tea and cucumber sandwich but for coffee and cake; in Germany tea became popular in the 80s among the young people and tea places were established in schools and universities. In England tea drinking belongs to the traditional life style but also in all the former colonies. I remember the years I lived in South Africa, and in the company I worked for the tea boy came around and served tea with milk and very sweet…not my taste, I prefer as I said the Turkish way…..or in Lagos and Port Harcourt when early morning tea was served before you were even awake.

There were fights around the tea, for example the Boston Tea Party where tea was destroyed to protest against the heavy duty by the British and the East Indian Company.


Camellia sinensis - if you leave it to grow, it becomes a tree - is regularly pruned into bushes, waist high usually, so the harvesting can be easily done,. The light green younger leaves and the buds are preferably harvested for tea production; different leaf ages = from light to dark green give differing tea qualities. Fresh leaves contain about 4% caffeine. The small young leaves are hand picked every one or two weeks.

There are first of all black tea, green tea and white tea, all of them from the same plant. It is not only the age of leaves but also the method of processing that determines its quality. The higher the tea plantation, the slower the growth and the better the quality.  It is the exposure to different levels of oxidation that determines whether tea becomes black, green or white.

The white tea is obviously the best and most expensive because the very young leaves and tips are being used; they are harvested at certain times of the year and therefore more rare; they are immediately fired after the harvest before any oxidation can occur.

For the green tea oxidation is also prevented, but is initially steamed prior to firing which stops fermentation.

Black tea is the most common tea in Western countries. It is fully oxidized, that is exposed to air,  until the colour turns black and is then fired. This fermentation process augments the caffeine contents.

We have seen the production plant at the Institute in Rize; I have some figures available from 2004, today they are more than double:  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. Furthermore, in 2004, Turkey had the highest per capita tea consumption in the world, at 2.5 kg per person—followed by the United Kingdom (2.1 kg per person). That is a lot.

The Turkish tea is prepared in a caydanlik, two pots on top of each other, in the upper one the concentrate and in the lower boiling water to dilute the tea, similar to the Russian Samowar.


Tea and the arts. Tea has inspired the initiated tea-ists to create ceremonies around it and I am sure that even those who have never been to China or Japan have an idea what the ceremony is like and what it stands for. Special ceramic has been created for the ceremonies and many beautiful Japanese paintings tell and teach those interested the steps of tea ceremony.

Tea has also inspired those mighty of words, thus poetry and famous quotes have been created and not only by Chinese tea-ists.


If you are cold, tea will warm you;
If you are too heated, it will cool you;
If you are depressed, it will cheer you;
If you are exhausted, it will calm you.
William Gladstone

The first cup moistens my lips and throat.
The second shatters my loneliness.
The third causes the wrongs of life to fade gently from my recollection.
The fourth purifies my soul.
The fifth lifts me to the realms of the unwinking gods

Chinese Mystic, Tang Dynasty

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