« AnteriorContinuar »
Sly Reynard surveyed them with gluttonous eyes,
A spider, that sat in her web on the wall, Perceived the poor creatures, and pitied their fall; She cried, “ Of such murders, how guiltless am
41.-THE FAIRIES' GIFTS.
By the cradle of a young prince, who afterwards became one of the greatest rulers his country had ever had, stood two beneficent fairies.
“I give to this, my darling," said one of them, “the sharp-sighted glance of the eagle, from whom, in his wide domain, not even the tiniest gnat remains concealed."
“ Thy gift is a very good one,” interrupted the second fairy. “ The prince will be a far-seeing, intelligent king. But the eagle does not only possess the sharpness of sight which enables him to see the smallest gnat; he possesses also a noble contempt for chasing them, and this shall, the young prince receive from me as my gift."
42.—THE TEA PLANT.
nav-i-ga-tion fer-ment-a-tion spon-ta-ne-ous re-fer-a-ble fo-li-age
bam-boo leg-is-la-tion char-coal
at-tain The tea plant is an evergreen shrub which attains in a state of nature a height of from twentyfive to thirty feet, but under cultivation seldom exceeds five or six feet in height, owing to the removal of its foliage by the cultivator, All the numerous varieties of tea known in commerce are referable to one or other of the two grand divisions of green and black tea. Both are most undoubtedly produced by the same plant, the difference in their colour resulting simply from a difference in their mode of preparation,
The preparation of green tea may be described in general terms as follows:-The leaves are gathered from the shrub, and placed in bamboo baskets; they are then put into shallow iron pans, placed over charcoal fires, and stirred continually and briskly, the rising steam being fanned away. After this they are removed from the pans, and while still flaccid with the contained moisture, are placed before the twisters on a table made of split bamboo, and therefore presenting ridges. The twisters roll them over with their hands until twisted. The leaves are then spread out, and exposed to the action of the air, and afterwards returned to the drying-pans, exposed there to additional heat, and kept continually stirred until the drying is complete, when they are picked, sifted, sorted, and so prepared for
packing Black tea is prepared in the same manner, with this difference, that the fresh leaves, as soon as collected, are thrown together into heaps, and allowed to lie until a slight degree of fermentation ensues, or a spontaneous heating similar to that which takes place in a damp haystack. This partial fermentation of the tea leaves darkens their colour. All the black teas are grown in Fokien, a hilly and prosperous district about 200 miles to the north-east of Canton. The green teas are raised in the district of Kianguan, about 750 miles from the same city.
Owing to certain peculiarities in Chinese legislation, landed property is much subdivided, so that the tea is generally cultivated in small gardens or plantations, the leaves being picked by the family of the cultivator. The first gathering takes place in early spring in the month of April ; pekoe and hyson are made from this crop. Pekoe gets its name from pekov, “white hairs,” in allusion to the down on the young spring leaves; the name of hyson comes from a word meaning, “ before the rains," when that kind of tea is gathered. April is scarcely over before the air becomes heavy with damp, rain falls, and this, combined with the warmth of the atmosphere, causes the tea shrubs soon to put forth, in the month of May, the leaves of the second crop. A third gathering is made about the middle of June, and a fourth in August. The leaves of the first gathering are the most valuable, and from these the finest imperial and hyson, with pekoe, and similar qualities of black
teas are prepared. The leaves of the last crop are large and old, and consequently make preparations very inferior in flavour and value.
During the harvest season, when the weather is dry, the Chinese may be seen in little family groups on every hill-side, engaged in gathering the tea leaves. They strip off the leaves with astonishing rapidity, and throw them into small round baskets made for this purpose out of split bamboo. These baskets, when filled, are emptied into larger ones, and immediately conveyed to market, where a class of Chinese make it a business to collect them in large quantities, and partly manufacture them, drying them under a shed.
A second class, known as the tea merchants, purchase the tea in this half-prepared state, and complete the manufacture, employing in the operation women and children. The tea merchants begin to arrive in Canton about the middle of October, and the busy season continues until the beginning of March, being briskest in November, December, and January. The tea is brought to Canton either by land carriage, or by inland navigation. The roads are too bad to admit of beasts of burden attached to wheel vehicles, so that the land carriage is usually effected by porters.
In China tea is the common beverage of the people, being sold in the public-houses in every town, and along the public roads, like beer in England. It is quite common for travellers on foot to lay down their load, refresh themselves with a cup of warm tea, and then proceed on their journey. A Chinaman never drinks cold water, which he abhors, and considers unholy; tea is his favourite drink from morning to night, not mixed with milk or sugar, but the essence of the herb itself drawn out with pure water. The Chinese Empire could hardly exist were it deprived of the tea plant, so habituated are they to its use.
The Japanese usually make tea by reducing the leaves to powder, and then pouring boiling water on them.
The Chinese colour with Prussian blue the teas which they ship for the foreign market. Only a little of this dye is employed, so that its use is not productive of evil results. Still the tea would be better without it. The Chinese never dye the teas they retain for their own use. The green teas of commerce are too often only black teas coloured with Prussian blue. Nevertheless, very little adulteration of tea is practised by the Chinese. A few leaves of plants growing in China are found occasionally amongst the tea leaves, but not to any great extent
The leaves of such British plants as the beech, elm, willow, poplar, hawthorn, and sloe, are far more abundant, proving that the tea is adulterated after it has arrived in this country. The adulteration is easily detected by comparing the leaves from the tea-pot with the genuine tea leaf.
Tea was first brought to Europe by the Dutch in 1610, and they had for a long time the monopoly of the trade. But the British East India Company entering the field as a competitor, soon obtained a fair share of the business. The sole