THE CHA'AH TEA HERB ("CH'A", "CHA-TISANE", "CHA")

APPEARANCE - TERRITORY - USAGES - REPRODUCTION - MYTH/LORE - RESEARCHERS

As the name implies, Cha’ah is one of the large family of brewable herbs. Its greenish leaves curl tightly when completely dried and cured, and when dropped into boiling water release their subtle, earthy flavour. The resulting infusion is a comforting, flavourful beverage usually known as Cha, for which any number of health benefits are claimed.

The Cha'ah Tea Herb

View picture in full size Picture description. A sketch out of one of Dalmac's Brandivere's early journals, showing the Cha'ah Tea Plant. Image drawn by Bard Judith.

Appearance. The Plant. This scrubby bush favours a warmer, moist climate to develop its sensitive, flavourful leaves. Growing between one to two and a half fores, the plant has three to seven main stems which emerge from a shallow ‘nest’ of interwoven roots, just a finger’s length below the soil. About two handspans from the ground, each stem begins to branch off into multiple greenish-grey twigs and twiglets, which in turn bud out into faintly shiny, greyish nodes. These nodes swell and split, the shiny outer coating shredding away, and unfurl into pairs of soft green leaves.

Cha’ah bears its creamy white blooms with their plump orange centres throughout the spring and summer, giving it an ever-decorative and cheerful appearance. The flower is generally shaped like a half-dome with five irregular, short, fat petals around it, the whole being only about the size of a one-san coin. If the harvest bodes fair to be ample in a particular year, a few fields are set aside for picking chaflowers, of which a pleasant hot beverage can be made, sold under the name of ‘Chaflower Brew’ (see below) or ‘Snowdrops’.

Cha leaves remain green through summer and in the autumn months begin drying into their final hue, which varies depending on the plant type; they are usually harvested from the Month of Burning Heavens to the Passing Clouds Month (with the exception of Querin-cha, see below).

Cha’ah-plantation owners judge a cha’ah leaf on three qualities: Hue, Moisture, and Shape, as explained below.

The hue of the dry leaf of course depends upon the type of Cha’ah plant; there is the deep turkoise colour of the Ypheró-cha'ah, which will become a pale sky-blue tea when brewed. There is the very similar Thyrón-cha'ah, difficult to tell apart from Sky Cha until steeped, when it shows its stronger blue-green shade and characteristic salt tang. Of course Baian-cha takes its title from the rich gold of both the dried leaf and the final tisane, while Efer-cha is merely a redder, spicier result of the baián-cha'ah leaf having been picked earlier on and dried over cinna-bark.

Wotho Kin Overborroughs

View picture in full size Picture description. The prosperous hobbit merchant, plantation-owner, and cha’ah connoisseur Wotho Kin Overborroughs, his fields stretching behind him. Image by Bard Judith.

Note: Caution should be taken when buying the packaged Efer-cha, as some farmers mix in other tisane leaves and dried chaflower centres to assist the flame-colour of the finished brew, and it is not always easy to detect. Although it makes a perfectly acceptable drink, such a mixture is technically a herbal tisane, and should never be sold as pure Cha! Please also note that this ‘false Efer-cha’ mixture should also not be confused with the legitimately-marketed ‘Chaflower Brew’, a herbal tisane made only from the dried petals of the Cha’ah flower. The latter will be sold as crumbly white spheres; one placed into a cup will dissolve almost completely, tinting the scalding water a delicate mithril with hints of green, giving off a subtle spiced-honey scent, and leaving a powdery residue in the bottom of the cup.

Hál-cha'ah is possibly the most unusual variant, being a dark Santhran purple while on the plant; the leaf dries into a tightly curled brownish-purple ‘ball’, and brews up to an almost amethystine hue in the pot. Some novelty-seekers are currently attempting to breed and cross-breed new varieties; the most promising of these is the as yet-unnamed cross between the Efér-cha'ah plant and the Hál-cha'ah, which brews up into a striking pink shade. However, as the taste so far ranges from ‘undistinguished’ to ‘muddy’ (in the words of Mr. Overborroughs – see below), there is obviously still work to be done here.

The Drink. Cha, the beverage, is a tea, tisane or infusion, made by soaking the dried leaves of cha’ah in boiling water. Colour ranges from light blue through soft green, to pale amber, to orange, to deep purplish-brown, depending on the cha'ah type, its quality, and how it has been processed.

Cha cups are always made from the whitest of porcelain, so that the true colour of the cha may be discerned immediately. The exterior may be decorated and glazed in any number of fashions [1], but the interior must be a true white kaolin clay. Beware of cha-houses which serve your beverage in heavy-walled, dark-coloured mugs – this is generally a sign that the tea is weak or adulterated in some fashion, or at the very least that they make their pottery do double duty for other drinks and do not reserve cha-cups for cha alone. This lazy practise is bound to affect the flavour of the tea in time, and is not to be expected in an upperclass establishment, nor, we should hope, in a private household.

The list below is courtesy of Wotho Kin Overborroughs, a prosperous hobbit merchant, plantation-owner, and cha’ah connoisseur currently residing in New-Santhala, who has kindly given us his personal comments and opinions of the various teas. 
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Styrásh Name Human Name Description
Ypheró-cha'ah (sky) Fero-cha, Sky Tea

A pale blue, very refreshing, with almost a minty, mil’no-scented taste. Complements khmeen pastries and fáberige tarts, and is often served thus at hobbit high tea with plenty of clotted cream on the side… However, it is also believed to provoke the mind to full alertness and as such is quite a favourite of students about to enter a season of testing, or scholars who must complete an academic task!

Thyrón-cha'ah (sea) Thyron-cha, Sea Tea

Dark green with turquoise hints, deliberately savory; a tang of salt is added in the processing. This invigorating drink is best taken with breakfast and washes down a couple of rashers of bacon with fried eyren quite nicely. As with most cha, Thyron-cha has the property of keeping sleep from one’s eyes; this is one of the stronger varieties, resembling its cousin, kafe, but with a much mellower overtone.

Baián-cha'ah (gold) Baian-cha, Gold Tea

Translucent gold, with a rich, sweet flavour. One of the most popular teas, especially taken with a little malise-honey. In winter a drop of scutch improves its warming qualities, but it is most commonly consumed in the spring as a tonic after too many months of a winter diet. Refreshing and sensuous, Gold Tea is the queen of cha’ah.

Efér-cha'ah (fire) Efer-cha, Fire Tea

Deep reddish-amber in colour, a cinna scent and a smoky aftertaste resulting from drying the cha’ah leaves over coals of scrap lumber from the cinnabark pine. (Note that Efer-cha actually comes from the same plant as Baian-cha – the difference is created in the processing of the leaves, as detailed above) Fire Tea has a decided stimulant effect, to the extent that it is believed to be something of a mild aphrodisiac.

Hál-cha'ah (ground) Hal-cha, Earth Tea

Brown with purple undertones, an appropriately earthy scent and a palate-satisfying ‘bite’. Often served during meals, with heavier, spicier foods, as its flavour can stand up to competition. It is also considered good for the digestion and is sometimes even used in cooking as a marinade or a sauce base.

Querín-cha'ah (leaf) Querin-cha, Spring Tea

A pale green hue, with a tender aroma. This is the only variety that is not harvested naturally dried in the fall. Rather, the leaves of Querin-cha are picked early in the season and retain a very natural emerald colour and fresh scent even when dried. This is a palate-cleansing tea and is never served with anything more substantial than a delicate cookie or perhaps a golden-rain wafer.

Territory. The plant is commercially farmed primarily through the Heath of Cijur (from whence the plain’s alternate name of Cha’ahlands) between the forests of Almatrar and the Paelelon, though it can be found in the wilds of Sarvonia both as far up as Veltin and as far down as Klinsor. The muggy climate of the Heath, warm and damp most of the year, seems to foster the development of the tender leaf to an extent not known elsewhere. In fact, Cha’ah plantations are the main, if not the sole, industry of the region; the oddly-named town of Hog exists primarily because of the unremitting demand through the kingdom for the stimulating, comforting drink. Yorick also owes part of its growth to Cha farming and trade, and a number of New-Santhalan beverage merchants retain ‘summer cottages’ on its outskirts. Return to the top

Usages. The single most obvious use of the Cha’ah plant is to be brewed into cha. The drink is not only considered delicious by most people and races, but it is well-known as a health stimulant.

“Cha brightens the eyes, enlivens the heart, strengthens the liver as no ale can claim / Cha for the maidens, cha for the sages, cha for the babe and the mother the same…” (old Hoggenheath saying)

However, there are other uses, less obvious but equally delightful. The ‘old leaves’ (ones which have been brewed and are still steeping at the bottom of the pot) are often made into a poultice for weary eyes, a remedy of which any woman from princess to peasant can avail herself – nay, even pauper, as a scup of ‘old leaves’ may be had from any teahouse for the begging. Old leaves can also be scattered around the base of fruit trees, orchard-owners claiming that it keeps certain pests from the fruit.

The fully-dried stalks of seven-year plants (the time at which most bushes ‘bear out’ or begin to lose in quality) make a very hot, very bright flame when lit. The tinder of most travellers’ flintboxes is composed partly of powdered cha’ah stalk. In fact, the plant is so inflammable that it is fortunate to favour a damp climate, or Santharia would lose most of its fields in droughts!

Baian Wine is also available but uncommon. It must be made from a fermentation of the leaves and the petals, and ‘fortified’ with a fine white wine to be at all drinkable, but there are some who favour its particular taste.
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Reproduction. In both the natural and the cultivated state, the tea plant reproduces by malise-assisted fertilization. However, its farmers assist it by taking shoots of the young plant; the fresh twigs are cut from the bush, the raw ends dipped in honey, which is believed to assist rooting, and then planted in freshly-turned earth under a protective ‘sun-screen’ woven from thin willow. In about two weeks’ time most of the cuttings will have rooted and can be transplanted to the desired area and/or exposed to the sun as with their older brethren.
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Myth/Lore. Cha’ah has been cultivated and drunk in the central area of the Kingdom since long before it was a kingdom. Its leisurely enjoyment has been considered a hallmark of culture and refinement, distinguishing Santharians from the beer-tippling northern ‘barbarians’ and the kafe-preferring Southerners. As a result, a number of traditions and customs have grown up around the beverage, particularly in the larger cities, to the extent that ‘cha’istas’ or ‘tea-fanciers’ hold tea-tastings with the same ceremony and disdain that oenophiles use when comparing rare wines!

We have been able to obtain a leaf from one of these “cha'istas’” notebooks which seems to show his notes and preparation for one such ceremonial tasting, including his opening remarks and private sidenotes, and offer it here for your edification and enjoyment…

Excerpt from a Cha'istas Notebook. “The Vartues of Tea are widely known and need no Especial Explanation from my Humble Self… (pause here for Reasurances) …However, only the Connesiers / Connasieurs / Conneisurs only the most Sophisticated of us are Truely able to Appresiate the Delicate Flavours of Cha as it is prepar’d Properly with due Ritual. (gesture to Cha-table so Everyone can notice new Cups)

“I am Sartin that we all Know that Cha should only be made with spring Watter, and that it should be at a Rolling Bubble when Leaf and Watter are Combin’d. I am Sure that none of us Needs to be told that Watter is added to Leaf, never Leaf to Watter. I am Convinsed that we would Never dream of Rattling a Spoon in the Cup lest we Bruise the tender Leafs! Nor would any here who Name themselves True Sofisticates so forget Themselfs as to Stir the Cha otherwise than in a deosil fashion!
(Look Shock’d, pause here for Aknowledgements)

(Increase Volume as speaking these Next lines) “But did you Know that Truely great Cha begins even before the Kettle is on the Boil? Even before the Tea is Dryed? Even before the Leaf leaves is Pluck’d from - the Plant? Aye, my Friends, the True Connesewer of Tea begins his Infatuation with the living Leaf. Note this well, if You would Drink this Ambrozial Beverage at the Height of its Perfection! (pause for Taking-Out of Notebooks)

“The Cha Leafs must be Pluck’d just after Dawn by Females only, and they must wear Silk garments or at the very Least silken gloves that the Leafs not be Bruis’d. Each Leaf is laid in single layer upon a Screen of the finest wov’n Willow over the embers of a bark Fire which must be Tend’d with care so it Smoakes not. For a full Sercuit of Injera’s light Bake the Leafs at steady heat. Then they must be Cool’d in the shade of a Pavillion, Sort’d and Packag’d by Hand, again those of Silken-glove’d Females. There are Those who say they must be Maidens as well…
(pause here for Laughter from the Gentlemen and feign’d Shock from the Ladies) but I myself think that an Unnecessary Precaution…”

“The Leafs may be Packag’d in paper, lacking Parchment, but only Yealm or Baych Paper will Suffise. Boat is the Preferr’d transport, as it joggles the Cha less than Wagon, but this may not be Possible in many Locations…”

(Note from Compendium Editors: Unfortunately we have only this side of the leaf – the reverse holds notes for the ceremony itself, as given below – and the rest of the speech must have been continued on the next page. We regret that we were unable to preserve any more of this delightful document for posterity as it doubtless deserves…)

- Place Cups invert’d on Embroaider’d shendarsilk Cloth
- Ensure Fire burning Well, have servant place Birch logges in woodbox, keep High
- The Silver spoons for Everyone! Count first
- Set Malise honey by fire to Remain liquid
- Don’t forget Scald pots before Putting in Cha Leafs
- STIR DEOSIL!
- Sip once then Spit as Elegantly as Possible
- Second sip – look Abstract’d, half-close Eyes before Swallowing
- Second cup – Be sure Close to Duchess Lerinaila, murmur Name under Breath, if Challeng’d by - Freinds Claim I was saying Name of Tea – ‘Querin-cha’, but look Yearningly at Her
- Remind Freinds more than Four cups not Consider’d Elegant
- Save Old Leaves for Mother’s Poultice!

Hobbits are particularly fond of cha and have been responsible for developing several of the processes which flavours and prepares the basic leaf, although it is believed that elves were the original cultivators of the wild plant, back in the mists of the ages. Again, we have Master Overborroughs to thank for the following ‘tea-tale’, which we trust you will enjoy reading over a cup of the appropriate cha’ah! (Still to be added!)

In Vezash and Brinsley the aunties swish the last gulp of tea around the cup and then fling it out, along with the brewed leaves, onto a clean plate. They say that they can predict the drinker’s short-term future in this way, by ‘reading’ the shapes and contortions that the damp leaves make on the china.

In Onved, also a tea-loving town, the residue is pressed against the side of the cup to squeeze out the last dregs, then picked up and shaped into a ball in the palm of the hand. If the ball holds its shape well, that indicates good fortune; however, if it crumbles, the drinker must immediately toss it onto the ground (preferably outside, of course!) to avert the threat of bad luck.

A fresh-cut branch of cha’ah plant, with the young leaves on it, may be hung up in a room to attract fortune / purify the air / bring harmony to the household, depending upon whom you ask.

And finally, we can leave you with no better advice than this little couplet, from the Brinsley Delta: “Tea at morning, tea at night / Makes the heart and stomach right…”
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Researchers. The Compendium wishes to thank Rik Kyusen (Tharian plantation owner), Bleri Chynden (Ximaxian wind mage, tea-fancier) and Wotho Kin Overborroughs (hobbit merchant) for their greatly helpful contributions to the information contained in this entry. Direct research was also done in Hog and on-site at various plantations in the Heath area. Return to the top

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[1] In fact, we know of one tea-fancier who has separate cup-sets for each type of cha’ah leaf, the exterior artistically designed to complement the tea’s colour! The Hal-cha pattern, for example, is a dark berry-purple with kao-kao glaze drips running elegantly from the brim to the base, the Efer-cha cup enamelled with copper flames. The Thyron-cha cup has a leaping dolphin for a handle - the eyes inset with tiny turkoise chips - while the resplendently gilded Baian-cha cup is etched with bright malise in flight back to their hive. [Back]

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