Wine Culture and Information - Volume 17
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  Not Just Wine Issue 37, January 2006   
The Culture of TeaThe Culture of Tea AquavitaeAquavitae Wine ParadeWine Parade  Contents 
Issue 36, December 2005 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 38, February 2006

The Culture of Tea

Produced by the infusion in water of its small and aromatic green leaves, tea plays an important role in the customs and in the culture of many countries of the world

 Since men discovered the infusion of the small tea leaves could give an aromatic and healthy beverage, they never stopped using it. Tea, one of the most ancient beverages known, goes beyond this simple definition. In past times, its leaves were used as money as well as a good for paying imperial taxes in ancient China, always playing an essential and important role in trading. Tea has also been fundamental for the birth of United States of America, as it was the cause of the independence risings against England. On December 16th, 1773, in Boston, some members of the Sons of Liberty - dressed as Mohawk native Indians - assaulted three ships of the British East India Company and threw the precious load of tea into the sea. It was a form of protest against the Tea Act - emanated by the mother country England - which imposed taxes on tea therefore causing malcontent in people. This episode is known as the Boston Tea Party.

 The history of tea has its origin in very ancient times. Some documents date back the “discovery” of this precious beverage in 2737 BC, when the famous emperor Sheng Nung - who was sitting at the feet of a tea tree - was waiting for its water to boil. The ancient custom of boiling and drinking warm water was very common in China, both because it was believed the water had a better quenching and healthy effect, as well as because of hygienic reasons. It is told some tea leaves fell from the tree and landed in the emperor's cup. When he drunk from his cup, the emperor found that water to be excellent: this is how the first tea infusion was born. Despite there are no reliable documents about this event - frequently mentioned as a legend instead of a real event - the tea plant is known in China for more than 3,000 years. In fact, the first written documents in which the term tea is mentioned - referred as the infusion of the leaves of the homonymous plant - are dated back to this period.

 

Tea in China and in the East

 Today tea represents in China a fundamental cultural element - one of those factors which also determines identity - a role which has been played for thousands of years in the country. Considered by Chinese more than a national beverage, tea is in fact frequently drunk as a healthy beverage, capable of soothing or preventing some diseases. Healthy benefits of tea are in fact mentioned in many medicine book of ancient China, and even Huang Di - the legendary Yellow Emperor - wrote about healthy effects of tea on its Nei Jing Su Wen, the book of inner medicine. The consumption of tea in China soon become a social custom, so important that was even created an art who set the principles for its brewing. The art of Chinese tea will be strongly influenced by one of the most important figures of the history of this beverage - Lu Yu - who in 760 AD wrote his renowned book Cha Jing, that is the Book of Tea. Cha Jing is the first book of the history completely dedicated to tea, in which - and for the first time - every aspect of the beverage is thoroughly explained, from cultivation of the plant to the processing, as well as the rules for brewing and poems and aphorisms about tea.


Samovar, protagonist of Russian tea
culture
Samovar, protagonist of Russian tea culture

 The work of Lu Yu is still today considered as an important reference for every tea enthusiast. His figure, his thoughts and his lifestyle - completely dedicated to the cult of tea and to the harmonious relationship of man with nature - have been so important as to consider Lu Yu as the god of tea. Soon after, everywhere in China were established the so called tea houses, public places where people gathered together, talking and drinking tea. Tea houses are still today very common in the country and represent an important reference for social life. In China the consumption of tea is almost completely about green tea, of which exists hundreds of different varieties, each having its aromas, flavors and properties. In China are also appreciated the so called Hua Cha - that is tea aromatized with flower petals, such as jasmine and chrysanthemums - as well as semi-fermented teas. China is the country having the most ancient tea culture - the plant of tea, the Camellia Sinensis is in fact from China - and the way of preparing the infusion has changed in the course of the centuries. Today, just like in most of the countries in the world, tea in China is prepared by the infusion of the leaves in hot water.

 Among the most ancient civilization of the world, China has played a fundamental role in the cultural development of other eastern countries, also introducing the culture and the consumption of tea. Japan, Taiwan, Korea and Vietnam - countries in which the consumption of tea represents an important social custom - have received from China the culture for this beverage. Of them, Japan certainly is the country which has been amazed by the charm of tea, as to create a rigid and formal ceremony, the famous Cha No Yu, literally hot water for tea. In Cha No Yu, the preparation of tea gets high dignity and every movement, instant, object and the place where it is being celebrated in, must scrupulously follow a precise ritual and form, both by the one who is offering and making tea, as well as by guests. Indeed, behind the rigid rules of the Cha No Yu, it is looked for the expression of the relationship of men with himself, a moment in which it is being exalted the dignity and the respect for oneself and for the others, a precise searching and exaltation of the beauty and hospitality.

 The fundamental sense of Cha No Yu can be summarized with an episode in which Sen No Rikyu, the greatest and most important Cha No Yu master, was protagonist. Lived in Japan during the 1500's, the thought of Sen No Rikyu has determined both the spreading of the culture and consumption of tea in Japan, as well as of the suggestive ceremony. It is told Sen No Rikyu was invited by a farmer in his house for a tea. The master accepted and brought with him some disciples. The farmer - excited for the honor of having the great master in his house - prepared the tea with pretty clumsy movements in front of Rikyu, who stayed impassive. When they were on their way home, the disciples - scoffing at the poor farmer - told the master how that humble man could invite the great master and offered the tea in such a way. Sen No Rikyu replied that man performed the Cha No Yu impeccably. To the astonishment of his disciples, the master said that man offered a tea to him with sincerity and with his heart, therefore he made no mistake.


 

 The consumption of tea in Japan is not exclusively associated to the ritual ceremony of Cha No Yu. The beverage is consumed by Japanese even in less formal moments and the consumption is almost exclusively about green tea. Another eastern country in which tea has an important social role is Korea. Tea was introduced in the country in the sixth or seventh century AD by some Buddhist monks coming back from China. Even in Korea - just like in China and in Japan - is celebrated a formal ceremony for the preparation and the service of tea. In Korea the consumption of tea is almost exclusively about green tea and the beverage is part of the customs and culture of the country, whose people drink it - usually with no ritual ceremonies - in different moments of the day. Even in Taiwan the culture of tea is a very important social expression and the consumption of the beverage is very common in the country. Here it is mainly produced and consumed semi-fermented tea - the so called Wu Long Cha, literally black dragon tea - however green tea is pretty common as well.

 Another important country for the culture of tea is India. As opposed to other eastern countries - in which it is being cultivated the Camellia Sinensis variety - here it is being cultivated the local Camellia Assamica variety. It is from this variety which is produced most of the black tea exported and consumed in the European countries and in North America. The consumption of tea in India is very common, a custom which is mainly represented by black tea and which is spread all over the country, as well as in the nearby island of Sri Lanka, another important tea producer. In India tea is mainly prepared by the simple infusion of the leaves in water, however it is pretty common the custom of adding seed and spices in order to aromatize the beverage, as well as preparing the infusion of the leaves in milk instead of water.

 

Tea in the Rest of the World

 Despite in Europe and in western countries the culture of tea has strongly been influenced by England, tea arrives for the first time in the old continent with a Dutch ship. It was in fact in 1610 that for the first time the green and aromatic small leaves of tea arrived in Europe, without having any success, though. It was only around 1650 tea arrived in England - at those times strong consumer of coffee - and which slowly become, also thanks to its spreading among noble classes, the national beverage. Before arriving in Europe, tea was already known in the countries of the middle east, whose people are still particularly devoted to the consumption of this beverage. In fact, there are many countries of the middle east in which green tea in widely consumed, frequently aromatized with mint leaves and very sweetened, a custom which is also common in the countries of northern Africa.

 Among the countries of northern Africa, it is pretty singular the method used in Tunisia for making tea, similar to the countries of Arab culture - that is very sweet and aromatized with mint leaves - to which are also added pine nuts. Famous consumer of tea, the Tuareg people have for this beverage a particular predilection. Tea is generally served at the end of every meal, in particular after the evening meal. Tuareg are used to consume green tea - frequently aromatized with mint leaves - which they boil for three times in order to obtain a more and more delicate beverage. At the end of every boiling, tea is alternatively poured in two carafes, by keeping them well apart in order to form abundant froth. Tuareg are used to say the first infusion - strong and dark - is hard like death, the second one is strong like life and the third one - more delicate and light - sweet like love. In Arab countries it is common to offer tea to the guests and the beverage is also consumed during meals, whereas in bazaars, merchants are used to offer tea to their clients, during the long and characteristic negotiation preceding the selling.

 The culture of tea is very common and strong in Russia too. Tea arrived for the first time in the country in 1618, when Zar Alexis received as a gift the leaves from the Emperor of China. Later, with the increasing of consumptions and its spreading, tea became a precious good of trading. Zarine Elisabeth even organized long expeditions of caravans from China in order to lay in supplies of the precious tea leaves. In Russia the consumption of tea is still today an important social aspect: everywhere in the country are found Chai-Naya, that is tea houses, just like in China. The consumption of tea in Russia is associated to the characteristic samovar - a particular boiler made of copper or brass of the seventeenth century - to whose top is found a teapot containing very concentrated tea. About a quarter of tea is poured in the cup - most frequently a glass with silver handles - which is then filled with hot water drawn off from samovar's tap. The typical way of drinking tea consists in putting a sugar lump or a teaspoon of jam in the mouth, followed by a sip of tea, to which can also be added a slice of lemon.

 England is the country that more than every other has influenced the culture of tea in all the other European countries. Typical of the English culture are in fact the custom of adding milk to tea as well as the five o'clock tea, a custom which originated from English noble classes, still today considered as a fundamental rule by the ones who like having tea the English way. The consumption of tea in England is almost exclusively about black tea, a custom that will influence the spreading of tea in all the other countries of Europe, as well as the way of brewing the beverage. Despite in England there is no formal tea ceremony - as opposed to eastern countries - the “rite” of five o'clock tea however has rules for the making of tea, for foods to be served with the beverage as well as the behavior of guests. Tea is the most ancient beverage - after water, of course - and its importance has been such that it contributed to the creation of rites, ceremonies and cultures in every countries in which it has been introduced. Despite social and cultural differences, in every country of the world, tea always represents a peaceful and tranquil occasion, both to oneself and to the others, a way to take care of oneself and to escape from the frenzy of modern times, which man stubbornly forces himself to. This is the magic of the small and aromatic tea leaves, too.

 



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  Not Just Wine Issue 37, January 2006   
The Culture of TeaThe Culture of Tea AquavitaeAquavitae Wine ParadeWine Parade  Contents 
Issue 36, December 2005 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 38, February 2006

Aquavitae

Review of Grappa, Distillates and Brandy

 

Distillates are rated according to DiWineTaste's evaluation method. Please see score legend in the "Wines of the Month" section.



Grappa Spalletti, Tenute Folonari (Tuscany, Italy)
Grappa Spalletti
Tenute Folonari (Tuscany, Italy)
(Distiller: Distillerie Bonollo)
Raw matter: Pomace of Sangiovese
Price: € 6.50 - 70cl Score:
This grappa is colorless, limpid and crystalline. The nose denotes intense, clean and pleasing aromas of plum, black cherry, honey, hazelnut and licorice, with almost imperceptible alcohol pungency. In the mouth has intense flavors with perceptible alcohol pungency, good correspondence to the nose, balanced sweet hint. The finish is persistent with flavors of plum and licorice. This grappa is distilled with discontinuous steam alembic still in copper boilers. Alcohol 40%.



Grappa di TorCalvano Fattoria di Gracciano Svetoni, Tenute Folonari (Tuscany, Italy)
Grappa di TorCalvano Fattoria di Gracciano Svetoni
Tenute Folonari (Tuscany, Italy)
(Distiller: Distillerie Berta)
Raw matter: Pomace of Sangiovese
Price: € 19.50 - 50cl Score: Wine that excels in its category
The grappa is colorless, limpid and crystalline. The nose reveals intense, clean and pleasing aromas of plum, black cherry, violet, licorice and anise, with almost imperceptible alcohol pungency. In the mouth has intense flavors with perceptible alcohol pungency, good correspondence to the nose, balanced sweet hint. The finish is persistent with flavors of plum and black cherry. This grappa is distilled with discontinuous steam alembic still in copper boilers. Alcohol 43%.



Grappa Cabreo Il Borgo, Tenute Folonari (Tuscany, Italy)
Grappa Cabreo Il Borgo
Tenute Folonari (Tuscany, Italy)
(Distiller: Distillerie Berta)
Raw matter: Pomace of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese
Price: € 19.50 - 50cl Score: Wine that excels in its category
This grappa is colorless, limpid and crystalline. The nose reveals intense, clean, pleasing and refined aromas of black cherry, blueberry, plum, raspberry and cyclamen, with almost imperceptible alcohol pungency. In the mouth has intense flavors with perceptible alcohol pungency, good correspondence to the nose, balanced sweet hints. The finish is persistent with flavors of black cherry, plum and raspberry. This grappa is distilled with discontinuous steam alembic still in copper boilers. Alcohol 43%.



Grappa La Morbida, Roner (Alto Adige, Italy)
Grappa La Morbida
Roner (Alto Adige, Italy)
Raw matter: Pomace of Moscato Bianco and Chardonnay
Price: € 13.10 - 70cl Score:
This grappa is colorless, limpid and crystalline. The nose reveals intense, clean, pleasing and refined aromas of pear, apple, banana, broom, white rose and honey, with almost imperceptible alcohol pungency. In the mouth has intense flavors, perceptible alcohol pungency which tends to dissolve rapidly, good correspondence to the nose, pleasing smoothness and balanced sweet hint. The finish is persistent with flavors of pear, peach and honey. This grappa is produced with double distillation in bainmarie alembic stills. Alcohol 40%.



Acquavite di Mele Caldiff Privat 2004, Roner (Alto Adige, Italy)
Acquavite di Mele Caldiff Privat 2004
Roner (Alto Adige, Italy)
Raw matter: Gravensteiner Apples
Price: € 18.95 - 70cl Score:
This distillate shows an intense amber yellow color, limpid and crystalline. The nose reveals intense, clean, pleasing, refined and elegant aromas of apple, vanilla, caramel, tobacco, licorice, dried fig, honey and hazelnut, with almost imperceptible alcohol pungency. In the mouth is elegant with intense flavors, perceptible alcohol pungency which dissolves rapidly, excellent correspondence to the nose, pleasing smoothness and balanced sweet hint, very agreeable. The finish is very persistent with long flavors of apple, dried fig, licorice and honey. A very well made distillate. This fruit brandy is produced with double distillation in bainmarie alembic stills and ages for 2 years in barrique. Alcohol 43%.





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  Not Just Wine Issue 37, January 2006   
The Culture of TeaThe Culture of Tea AquavitaeAquavitae Wine ParadeWine Parade  Contents 
Issue 36, December 2005 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 38, February 2006

Wine Parade


 

The best 15 wines according to DiWineTaste's readers. To express your best three wines send us an E-mail or fill in the form available at our WEB site.


Rank Wine, Producer
1 Aglianico del Vulture La Firma 2002, Cantine del Notaio (Italy)
2 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 1998, Santa Sofia (Italy)
3 Palazzo della Torre 2000, Allegrini (Italy)
4 Trento Talento Brut Riserva Methius 1998, Dorigati (Italy)
5 Colli Orientali del Friuli Rosazzo Bianco Terre Alte 2002, Livio Felluga (Italy)
6 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Riparosso 2001, Illuminati (Italy)
7 Riesling Central Otago 2004, Felton Road (New Zealand)
8 Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2002, Domaine Billaud-Simon (France)
9 Brunello di Montalcino 1999, Castello Banfi (Italy)
10 Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Emile 1999, Maison Trimbach (France)
11 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2000, Zenato (Italy)
12 Harmonium 2001, Firriato (Italy)
13 Wine Obsession 2001, Vignamaggio (Italy)
14 Rêve 2001, Velenosi Ercole (Italy)
15 Edizione Cinque Autoctoni 2001, Farnese (Italy)

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