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food / travel

Tea Farming In China, Boiled Down In Five Facts

Tea Farming In China, Boiled Down In Five Facts
Patrick Randall

The 12th Shanghai International Tea Culture Festival ended last week in the Chinese megalopolis. Hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world came to buy, taste and learn more about the ancient and ever-popular beverage.

But where does tea come from and how is it produced? Here are five facts tea drinkers can ponder over their next cup of chai, accompanied by some breathtaking photos of tea farmers in the southern Chinese county of Sanjiang Dong, courtesy of Xinhua and ZUMA.

1. The very first records of tea consumption go back to the 10th century BC. But Chinese legends say it was discovered by the Chinese Emperor Shennong in 2737 BC, when tea leaves fell into water he was boiling, which he then tasted and found refreshing. Also known as the "Emperor of the Five Grains," Shennong is credited with inventing hoes, plows, axes and digging wells.

2. Although India is the largest tea-drinking country, China is its biggest producer, turning out about 30% of the world’s supply. There are four main tea-producing areas in China, each one with special kinds of leaves: the Jiangbei and Jiangnan districts, southern China and southwest provinces.

3. The smaller the leaf, the more valuable the tea. One of the world’s most expensive teas is served for about $200 per cup. Tea bushes are fertilized with panda waste, which preserves a large part of the nutrients found in the bamboo the pandas eat.

4. Some of the oldest cultivated tea trees can be found in the mystical forests of the southwestern Yunnan province, also called the "land of tea." The most ancient tree there is said to be more about 3,200 years old.

5. Tea is consumed as a beverage during meals or for simple pleasure, but this wasn't always the case. In Ancient China, tea was generally used as medicine. Now that the beverage has become synonymous with comfort and social gatherings, there are now some 1,000 varieties of tea.

BONUS Did you know that in China, there is a special ritual to prepare and present tea that some call the "kung fu tea ceremony?" The aim is simple: make the tea as tasty as possible.

Read more about tea here, or news about a different kind of Chinese farming.

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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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