Most of us love to sip a hot cup of tea during chilly winter evenings or an iced tea during a sultry summer. It is truly a wonderful beverage and a precious gift to mankind. But do you know that it was once used as a form of money? Surprised? Yes! It is true! It was crafted as tea bricks and used as money in China, Mongolia, Tibet, Siberia, Turkmenistan and Russia from 9th to 20th century. The culture had also spread in Europe though not in America!
It all first started in China! In and around the 9th century, traders had to transport everything on horses and camel’s back. Thus, all items were so crafted that they took as little space as possible. With this in mind, the Chinese compressed the thoroughly dried and ground tea leaves in various shaped molds to create a brick out of them. They could then be transported easily. Later, these started being used as a form of money. At this point, binding agents like flour, manure or even blood was mixed with it so that it remained intact while passing hands as money. It was also divided into five types of quality with each carrying a different stamp and a different value. The distinction was made with respect to their color; tea leaves quality, their fermentation as well as the proportion of tea leaves and wood.
Perhaps one of the most striking visual presentations of processed tea, the tea bricks still exist and are even manufactured today! The tea brewed from a tea brick has its own unique taste and flavor which is immensely enjoyed by the tea lovers worldwide! Do you know, in ancient times the bricks was first roasted over fire before being broken and added to boiling water to brew tea! Roasting the brick added a unique flavor to the tea as well as removed all impurities, thereby making the drink healthy to drink! The Chinese were known to also add onion, ginger as well as orange to the water for enhanced taste and flavor!
To manufacture tea bricks, the sun dried tea is beaten well on hot plates with sticks to break it well and evenly. Then, it is sifted, steamed over boiling water and finally pressed into molds. Sometimes a little soot was mixed to it, especially if it was of inferior quality, to enhance its color. The higher qualities were steamed and fermented in a cloth bag which was suspended over the boiler. A softened mash was also placed in a wooden mold having some rice water so that the mass remained adhered. As layers kept adding, the mix was compressed using powerful blows via an iron hammer. Next the powder of completely dried coarse twigs powder was sprinkled over the mass and in between layers. Once it completely filled the mold, it was taken apart and then baked over fire till completely dry.
Today, the tea bricks are mostly made from whole leaves. Varieties like Pu-Erh tea bricks are brewed for drinking tea while others are mostly sold as souvenirs as well as novelty items. One of its standard shape and sizes is that of a dome of 100 gm which is popular as ‘tuocha’, ‘bird’s nest tea’ or even as ‘bowl tea’. Its other popular forms are as tea cake or ‘beencha’ and flat brick tea brick or ‘fang cha’. These are even scored in the back with indentations to facilitate easy breakage for brewing! Tea bricks tend to age and its flavor gets enhanced with aging, much like wine!
Next time, when you sip your cuppa of tea brewed from the rich flavors from Goodwyn Tea, remember its history and feel like a king! And don’t forget to taste a cup of tea brewed from tea bricks!