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Tea Leaves

BY AMAL BUMBIA (staff writer)

Tea leaves are an art.

Not for the purpose of divination, but in their nature and function.

A single leaf is an extravagant network of layers and veins that create unique patterns upon its surface while time determines the size and shade of green projected through the presence of chlorophyll.

Camellia sinensis is the root of a vast variety of teas ranging from black to oolong, representing the greatest conflict present in living creatures– the concept of nature versus nurture. While Camellia sinensis remains the natural base, environmental conditions and human manipulation of the leaves ultimately develop the different properties and flavor profiles found within different teas. Harvest time, oxidation, fermentation, soil quality--the mechanisms by which a tea leaf is grown, collected, and dried impacts its very essence. It takes skill to craft a particular aroma, to be able to take a plant and transform it into a drink that can be bitter, smoky, sweet, or floral depending on how it was processed and brewed.

Tea leaves are a primed canvas.

They emulate the elements of their surroundings.

They reflect their circumstances.

They are a historical representation of cultural unity, for the Camellia sinensis spread, most prominently via the Silk Road, across Eurasia, and through the world.

In China, green tea leaves are infused with jasmine or made into smoky gunpowder tea.

In India, black tea leaves become bittersweet Chai and musky Darjeeling.

In Japan, tea leaves are shaded to stimulate chlorophyll production and ground into bright green matcha.

In Sri Lanka, Ceylon and Assam black teas are brewed into a bright Nuwara Eliya.

In Taiwan, Formosa and pouchong oolong provide a delicate and sweet drink.

The diversity of tea varieties mirrors the diversity of the lands they come from. Teas are a product of cultural influence as much as they are of geography and human activity. This common, seemingly insignificant drink, has a long history and influence over many regions--it is a gateway to understanding the history and culture it is a part of.

As I let my leaves steep in near-boiled water, I marvel at the thin, dark curls as they expand and sink to the bottom of the cup, staining the water a light brown on their way down. When I sip, I am greeted with aroma before taste—mostly bitter, with hints of floral undertones. Some days, if I oversteep, the tea becomes almost astringent.

I enjoy it regardless, stopping when only the used leaves are left.

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