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A cup of tea...or cha? 2024 - drweud
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A cup of tea…or cha?

A cup of tea...or cha?

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Celebrating tea as part of our heritage and history


Did you know that most countries around the world use the same two words for tea? One of the two forms is that used in English (tea), French (thé), Spanish (té) and Dutch (thee). The other form is a modified form of chá (in Mandarin and Cantonese), like chai in Hindi, tea in Arabic, and chay in Russian. This is for a surprising reason.

Both words originated in China, widely considered the “homeland of tea” and the place where the plant was first cultivated, and are derived from the Chinese symbol: 茶, which is pronounced in Mandarin and Cantonese as ” cha”. Countries around the world that use the word “cha” originally imported tea, via the Silk Road, from the northern regions of China, where the word is pronounced “cha”.

However, in the dialect spoken in the southern coastal province of Fujian, the word is pronounced “te”. This port is where Dutch merchants, during the 17th century, traded tea to bring it to Europe, and they brought with them the word “tea”. There are, of course, exceptions. But in most cases, no matter where you are in the world, chances are you can order a cup of tea using just those two words!

The origin of the word tea is just one element of its astonishing heritage. Its cultivation and production have been part of different cultures around the world for centuries. To celebrate, four notable tea-producing regions have been designated as internationally significant agricultural heritage systems because they combine unique landscapes, agricultural heritage and traditional farming methods passed down from one generation to the next.

Traditional agroecosystem of Pu’er tea in Yunnan province, China

Yunnan province is considered the origin of tea in the world. Yunnan’s Pu’er tea agroecosystem is the largest area covered by forest tea plantations in the world, with many tea plants grown in imitation of the forest ecosystem, created by ancestors thousands of years ago. years and cultivated using traditional methods. This system is rich in biological and cultural diversity, consisting of ancient wild tea plants, ancient tea plantations and ancient cultivated tea plantations.

Local communities grow tea in harmony with other products necessary for their livelihood and nutrition. Cultivated tea forests generally consist of three layers: the tree layer, the tea plant and shrub layer, and the grass layer. The tree layer consists of large natural trees that provide shade and protection from bad weather, while the layer of tea plants and shrubs provide a source of income for farmers. The grass layer contains natural grasses, as well as cultivated grains and vegetables.

Pest control is carried out using natural methods that help improve the flavor of the tea. Local communities plant trees, flowers, fruit trees and vegetables on farms.

A cup of tea...or cha?
A cup of tea...or cha?

Jasmine and tea cultivation system in Fuzhou city, China

Jasmine plants and tea plants typically grow in different environments, but due to the diverse local climate and mountain slopes of the Fuzhou region, the landscape allows both to grow equally. This unique ecosystem means the tea is naturally flavored with jasmine, a method developed in this region over 1,000 years ago and still used today.

The jasmine tea system is a major source of livelihood for the local community, and the ecosystem in which this tea grows supports the cultivation of diverse cultures. Mushrooms, jasmine tea, milk and meat are produced in the region, thanks to jasmine and tea trees which promote water and soil conservation in several ways. Jasmines also provide protection from the elements. By planting it in river plains and shallow waters, it prevents rain from directly eroding river banks and limits soil and water erosion.

Integrated traditional herbal tea system in Shizuoka, Japan

Shizuoka Prefecture is considered the largest tea-producing region in Japan, with an annual tea production value of approximately
293,647,475 US dollars (31.9 billion yen). About 78 percent of farmers in the region depend on tea for their income. The region is famous for its steamed tea, which is distinguished by its distinctive flavor and dark green color.

Tea growers also use common fields called tea growers. Chagusaba Planting and harvesting natural grass which is cut and spread in tea fields to improve soil management and tea quality. Some Chagusaba fields are commons from which local communities can access grass resources when they need them, while some Chagusaba fields are managed in a more structured way. The management of semi-natural meadows contributes to the benefit of biodiversity. A complementary tradition called Yui, a set of social rules that guide the local farming community, has preserved Chagusaba’s fields through cooperation between local communities. The Chagusaba and tea fields are arranged in a mosaic pattern creating a picturesque landscape.

Tea cultivation extended to mountain slopes where grain and vegetable production was difficult, while Chagusaba fields were cultivated in steep areas where it was difficult to even grow tea.

A cup of tea...or cha?

Tea grown in the Hwagae-myeon region of the Republic of Korea is naturally adapted to mountain slopes and harsh conditions. Hadong County Office©

Traditional Hadong tea farming system in Hwagae-myeon, Korea

The traditional Hadong tea farming system is an agricultural system established by local communities through 1,000 years of adaptation to the arid environment of Mount Jiri. More than 90 percent of the Hwagae-myeon region is covered in steep mountainous terrain with frequent flooding during the monsoon season, making sedentary agricultural activities here very difficult. The people of Huagai depend on tea cultivation for their livelihood rather than rice fields.

Over the past 1,200 years, Hadong tea plants have adapted to a harsh environment, spreading through insects and wind, giving each tea field genetic diversity. The tea fields around the Huagai River at the foot of the mountain grow in harmony with the surrounding natural environment, preserving excellent biodiversity. There are many varieties of traditional Hadong tea, which promotes biodiversity in the region. The forests and rivers provide habitat for various species of animals and plants indigenous to the Mount Jiri region.

Tea has traveled the world over the centuries, from its origins in China thousands of years ago to its place today as a staple in the homes of many people around the world. Tea production and processing is the main source of income for millions of families in developing countries, providing income to millions of poor families living in a number of least developed countries. Tea production is key to fighting hunger, reducing extreme poverty, empowering women and ensuring sustainable land use. Therefore, the United Nations designated May 21 as International Tea Day to celebrate tea production and raise awareness about the importance of tea for rural development, sustainable livelihoods and its contribution to food security and sustainable development goals.

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This story is an updated version of the one published in 20 Can 2021.

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