The Chinese accepted the medicinal values of tea as early as the fourth century BC. Wild tea leaves were gathered from trees and bushes and combined with water to produce a tonic. During the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 AD) it was found that covering the leaves and steeping them in hot water produced a more flavoursome brew. Thus, the first teapot was developed.
Farmers began cultivating small tea bushes to keep up with the demand and a system of drying and processing gradually developed. In the third century BC a Chinese surgeon recommended drinking tea to increase concentration and alertness.
Well, we all love a cuppa whether we think it will keep us alert or relax us. But tea also has many other uses. In China some teas are used as the cooking liquid for noodles. Tea also makes a great marinade; dry leaves can be used as a base for smoking fish, poultry, meats, vegetables or cheese; combined with spices, tea makes a tasty meat rub for barbecues; add it to bakes and desserts for flavour; or for hard-boil eggs, crack the shells and cook in tea for that marbled look.
Then of course there are numerous novel uses for left-over tea — rinse your hair for shine, reduce under-eye bags, relieve insect bite pain, or use as mulch around plants and add to compost.
A Chinese-inspired dish.
1 cup prepared black tea
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 clove garlic, crushed
3cm knob root ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2-1 red chilli, seeded and sliced
500g skinned and boned chicken breast
Combine all the ingredients — except the chicken — in a large frying pan. Simmer for 2 minutes.
Add the chicken. Cover and poach for 15-20 minutes or until cooked, turning over every 5 minutes. Remove and tent with foil. Rest for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, boil the liquid until reduced by about one quarter. Slice the chicken and serve the sauce on top.
Great accompanied by steamed Shanghai cabbage. Serves 4.
Brighten your mid-winter brunches with this tea tonic.
8 fruit tea bags eg superfruits, raspberry, wildberry, cranberry
2 cups boiling water
1 cup clear apple juice
6-8 ice cubes
500ml-1 litre soda water or sparkling wine, chilled
Place the tea bags in a large heat-proof jug. Add the boiling water. Stand until cool. Strain into a serving jug and chill. Add the apple juice and ice cubes. Half fill glasses and top up with the chilled soda water or sparkling wine. Serves 6-8
PUMPKIN & GINGER TEA LOAF
Ensure the mashed pumpkin is fairly dry. Prepare the tea using 2-3 tea bags and allow to steep for 10 minutes.
1 cup mashed pumpkin
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup each: strong lemon & ginger tea, canola oil
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon each: baking soda, ground mixed spice
1/2 teaspoon each: salt, baking powder
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Lightly oil and flour a 23cm x 12cm loaf pan.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the pumpkin, sugar, tea, canola oil and eggs. Beat until well mixed.
Sift the flour, baking soda, ground mixed spice, salt and baking powder in a separate bowl. Stir to combine. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture, beating until smooth.
Pour into the loaf pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool for 10-15 minutes. Remove from the pan. Serve sliced.