The nature and style of tea preparation were quite different from the way we experience tea today. Tea leaves were processed into compressed “cakes”. The dried “teacake”, generally called brick tea was ground in a stone mortar. Hot water was added to the resulting powder, or it was boiled in earthenware kettles then consumed. In 1391, the Ming court issued a decree that only loose tea would be accepted as a “tribute”. As a result, loose tea production increased and processing techniques advanced. Soon, most tea was distributed in full-leaf, loose form and steeped in earthenware vessels.
The teabag is 100 years old, but not everyone is celebrating. Like many inventions, the teabag came about by accident. Struggling to cut costs, Thomas Sullivan, a New York coffee merchant who turned to tea, sent out samples in small silk sachets rather than as loose tea. His penny-pinching was misunderstood by his customers who failed to realise that they were supposed to cut open the sachet and empty its contents into a pot before brewing their tea. The result was an instant success with American tea drinkers. If your idea of a good cup of tea starts with plain paper tea bags from the grocery store, you are likely missing out on truly superior tea. However there are some excellent teas bagged in silken infusers out there, made up of whole tea leaves. Quality tea merchants often carry these bags as well as loose.
And finally there is Blooming Tea. The artistic flower tea or Blooming tea was invented in 1986 by Mr. Fangsheng Wang from An Hui province of China. After the artistic flower tea was invented, many more types were developed. These teas are all made by hand using the most complicated technology. Hand made “blooming” tea balls are created only from specially selected leaves. This early season harvest is only available 2-3 weeks each year. They are tied together around fresh flower blossoms. They are then carefully rolled into a tight ball before gentle steaming. The newly formed balls are then dried. The fresh flowers inside give the tea its delicate flavor and aroma as well as infinitely adding to the aesthetic, and providing traditional herbal remedies for everything from high blood pressure to lack of love!