Posted in Kafevend Blog
What on earth is Bohea, we hear you ask? We must admit we didn't know ourselves until recently, which is a shame as it played an important role in the early days of tea in England. Tea first started arriving here in the 1650s, and like any newfangled exotic good was only drunk by those with the money to afford it. The royal wedding in 1662 also played a part, as King Charles' new wife, Catherine of Braganza, was already an avid tea drinker. She introduced tea to the English royal court where it quickly caught on and helped to popularise it.
The growing popularity of Bohea
In those early days, bohea was the name given to any and every tea. Its proper pronunciation belies its Chinese origins: bu-ee or wu-ee. It takes its name from the Wuyi mountains that lay on the border between the country's Jiangxi and Fujian provinces, an area with a long history of tea production. The earliest shipments of tea that arrived in England consisted of lightly processed green tea. The problem with this type was that it did not reach its destination in a good state due to having spent months aboard a vessel at sea, and demand soon grew for a more resilient tea that would not spoil in the ship's hold. Chinese tea processors stepped up to the task by selling the merchants black tea, where the leaves had been dried to prevent the oxidation which was affecting the green tea during its trip.
Alongside providing a blanket term for tea in England, bohea is also the name for a more specific type of tea. Some of you may be familiar with lapsang souchong- certainly if you've ever tried some, it's hard to forget. It's a variety that's typically made with less valuable leaves which are smoked over pinewood fires, imparting a very strong smoky flavour. This method was seen as a way of gaining some value out of the less desirable leaves picked from lower down the stem. When demand for it grew abroad, it was no doubt to the amusement of the Chinese tea makers!
The tea family
Bohea was the precursor to lapsang souchong, first made in the Wuyi mountains. According to legend, the creation of this tea was an accident- soldiers travelling through the area slept in a hut containing freshly picked tea and they inadvertently bruised it. Not wanting to lose the crop, the farmers dried it out over pine wood fires. Whether this is how it came about or not, the original Wuyi mountain produced bohea is more delicately flavoured using local pine. Lapsang souchong on the other hand is often made using pine oil, resulting in a much more pungent taste. So if you've tried lapsang souchong in the past and been less than keen on its flavour, the more subtle tones of bohea could be just what you're looking for!