Will you join me for a cup of tea and a chat? Certainly. And what will we chat about? About tea, of course.

A cup of freshly brewed and steaming tea is quite invigorating. Tea rivals coffee for the top place among the most popular beverages.

In some countries, such as England, China, Japan and the Soviet Union, tea is the national drink.

Many more millions in various countries throughout the world drink tea regularly. The Englishman is the biggest tea drinker in the world. He uses on an average eleven pounds of tea each year.

Since between 150 and 200 cups of tea can be brewed from one pound of tea, the average Englishman drinks five to six cups of tea a day.

It is believed that the tea shrub is native of China, where tea-drinking probably started. A legend tells of a Chinese emperor, called "Divine Healer," who reigned more than 4,000 years ago, in whose royal garden all healing plants grew. Among them was the tea shrub.

The first record of tea-cultivation and tea-drinking dates back some 1,600 years, to Emperor Chang I of China. In it we find a careful description of how the tea plant is cultivated and how tea is prepared.

The Japanese grew tea as early as the year 800, nearly 1,200 years ago. In Europe, however, tea became known much later, about the end of the 13th century. That was when the famed explorer of the Orient, Marco Polo, returned from the Far East with wonderful stories about his adventures and travels.

Tea was one of the strange products which he brought from China, where he claimed to have been the guest of the Mongol ruler Kublai Khan.

But it was not until about the year 1700 that Europeans began to drink tea, when Dutch merchants brought tea-leaves from China.

Soon the English began to import tea regularly, and tea became the Englishman's favorite drink.

Tea cultivation began to flourish in British India in the year 1834, and soon thereafter developed also in Formosa and Ceylon. Today, India, Ceylon, Indonesia and China export 800 million pounds of tea each year, besides the tea they use themselves.

Tea drinking habits vary in different countries. It is usually served hot. Iced tea is an American invention, which has been introduced in America in recent years, especially during the hot summer months. The Englishman usually drinks very strong tea, with a little cream or milk.

A cup of tea in England looks like a cup of coffee. At about 4 p.m. most Englishmen interrupt their business or work, and go into their favorite cafeteria for a pot of tea. At about the same time the English housewife interrupts her chores at home, and sits down to a pot of tea, often in the company of a neighbor.

In Japan tea drinking is an important social custom; they observe strict rules and manners during the tea drinking ceremony.

The Russian likes his tea steaming hot, with lemon and sugar. Oriental people almost never use sugar in their tea.

There is a great variety of tea, distinguished by color and aroma.

The English Breakfast tea is a blend of hearty India and Ceylon teas. It is a light-bodied black tea with a rich deep color. The most popular tea in America is Orangc Pekoe. The finest Orange Pekoe is grown in the highlands of Ceylon. lt is a blend of flowery leaf black teas, highly flavored. Then there are various exotic teas, such as Darjeeling, grown in the foothills of the Himalaya mountains near the town of Darjeeling, the summer capital of Bengal. This tea is distinguished for its delicate aroma and delicious flavor.

Formosa Oolong is a semi-fermented black tea with an unusual flavor and aroma. Known as the "champagne of teas," it is grown on the mountains of the island of Formosa, also called Taiwan.

Jasmine Tea is an aromatic tea, delicately blended with the fragrance of Jasmine flowers. Mandalrine, and Assam are other exotic teas cultivated in famous tea gardens in China and India, respectively.

[Mate is a South American tea made from the dried leaves and shoots of a holly tree that grows in that part of the wolrd. It is also known as Paraguay Tea, and it is used extensively in Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil and other countries in South America.]

The wild tea plant that grows in the Far East reaches a height of thirty feet or more. But the cultivated tea plant is a small, branching shrub, kept two to six feet high by constant pruning. The leaves of the tree plant are long and leathery, much like those of the familiar willow tree.

The tree plant blossoms once a year, producing beautiful rose or cream colored flowers.

Tea is planted as small bushes from four to five inches high. The plants are set close together in rows. When the bushes are three years old, they begin to leaf out enough to make picking profitable. But it takes at least two more years before they produce a full crop. The plant grows best in hot climate, but needs much rain. In Formosa and India, where it is warm the year round, tea leaves are picked as often as once a month; in cooler countries - two to four times a year.

The finest quality of tea comes from the young, tender leaves that are close to the end of the branches. Cheaper brands of tea are made from the older and coarser leaves. The very highest quality of tea is the pekoe tip, which is made from the leaf buds at the very end of the branch.

Next is the orange pekoe made from the youngest leaf that has already opened. The next youngest leaf produces pekoe. As soon as the tea leaves are picked, they are placed on bamboo, canvas, or wire-netting trays. They are covered with sheeting and left for a day or two to wilt. Then they are crushed between powerful rollers.

The crushed leaves are spread out on tables in cool, airy rooms. A chemical reaction sets in, called fermentation, as a result of the oxygen in the air reacting with the chemicals in the tea leaves. This turns the leaves black. The tea is then dried in big ovens, or firing machines.

Then it is cut into uniform pieces, siftened and graded, and finally packed for shipment.

Green Tea is produced by putting the tea leaves into firing machines immediately after picking. The heat closes the tiny pores of the tea leaves and prevents fermentation.

The seven leading tea producing countries in the world are: India, China, Ceylon, Japan, Indonesia, Pakistan and Formosa.

A freshly brewed cup of tea is stimulating, because, like coffee, it contains caffeine, which is a drug that increases blood pressure and is a mild stimulant. People who have high blood pressure are advised to keep away from tea and coffee, or to use them sparingly.

Many people who cannot tolerate coffee, prefer tea. On the other hand tea contains tannin, which is a mildly poisonous drug. However, tannin does not dissolve in water, unless it is boiled in the water for a long time. Therefore, when the tea brew (the boiling water poured over the tea leaves) is strained from the tea leaves when the desired strength is reached, without allowing the tea leaves to soak in the teapot too long, it will not have the bitter taste caused by tannin.

Now that we have become a little more closely acquainted with tea, we ask ourselves, What is there about tea that can teach us a useful lesson in our spiritual and religious life?

We have had occasion to mention before that everything in the physical world has its spiritual counterpart. Moreover, the spiritual counterpart is actually the source of the physical properties of a thing.

Tea, life coffee, is a mild stimulant; it stimulates the nervous system of our body. The spiritual counterpart of the physical stimulants are spiritulal stimulants; things that stimulate our soul.

The most important and effective spiritual stimulant is faith in G‑d.

When a person is tired physically, he loses his appetite for food precisely at a time when he needs it most; he feels weak and helpless. At such a time, a fresh cup of tea, or some similar mild stimulant, provides a welcome "uplift." It infuses a new vitality into him. It awakens his appetite, and stimulates his whole physical system. However, a person cannot live on stimulants. A stimulant stimulates the person - to get back "on his beam."

When a person is tired spiritually - through despondency and lack of faith - he sinks into a kind of depression which paralyses him both physically and spiritually. At such a time he needs a "spiritual cup of tea" - something that would stimulate his spirit; a dose of faith in G‑d.

The sacred Book of Psalms - Tehillim - composed by the Sweet Singer of Israel, King David, has the Divine quality to provide a spiritual uplift. Such Psalms as "G‑d is my shepherd, I shall not lack anything," or "G‑d is my light and my salvation," or "G‑d is with me; I shall not fear," and many others, are powerful spiritual stimulants.

There are various sacred sources which speak of, and explain, G‑d's benevolent Providence, and how it extends to each and everyone individually. So are our daily prayers powerful stimulants. But here, too, a Jew cannot live on stimulants alone. Their effect can wear off unless they are followed up. They must be followed up with the learning of Torah and the fulfillment of the Divine precepts - Mitzvot - in our daily life: these provide the actual nourishment of our soul.

There is one important difference, however, between physical stimulants and spiritual stimulants. Whereas children do not require physical stimulants, for their young growing bodies provide all the necessary stimulation, it is different insofar as their spiritleal life is concerned. Here they do need stimulation, and there is very little danger of giving them an overdose of it. But children, even more than grown-ups, cannot live on stimulants alone; they require a good "meal" - a life permeated with Torah and Mitzvot, so that when they grow up, they will always be animated by their faith in G‑d, to live their daily life in accordance with G‑d's Will.

So, dear reader, now that you found out the secret of Tea, let's take a spiritual Tea Break, and say a Chapter of Tehilim, or do a good deed - a Mitzvah - and get the stimulation for our Neshama - our Soul.