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Tea 101 - What Is Tea?


Tea in a Pot and Cup
Tea in a Pot and Cup


Let’s start with the basic, eh?  What is tea?

Tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world, second only to water.  Tea comes from the plant Camellia sinensis.  The plant grows most favorably in the sub-tropical regions filled with loose soil, high altitudes and hot temperature.  It originated in Asia but now grows all over the world.  Technically tea is anything derived from the Camellia sinensis plant.  Any other ‘tea’ whose leaves do not come from this plant is usually referred to as an herbal tea or tisane.  Tisane includes Rooibos, fruit teas and chamomile.

Tea has three important components:

  1. Caffeine – naturally found, provides the natural energy boost.
  2. Essential oils – supplies the teas delightful aroma and taste
  3. Polyphenols – provides the bitter taste of the tea; it also carries most of the tea’s health benefits.

Tea can be broken up into difference types, based on how they are processed.

White teas are the least processed tea.  They were named for the white downy fur that covers the young leaves.   Tea growers will simply pluck these young buds and allow them to air dry for at least a day.  These teas are also not rolled or shaped like the other teas.  Once brewed, this tea creates a pale green or yellow liquid with a very delicate flavor and aroma.

Yellow teas are processed similarly to green.  Yellow tea leaves are dampened and heated more slowly until they yellow.

Green teas are plucked, withered and rolled.  These leaves are still not oxidized.  They go through a process of heating which stops the browning of the leaves, thus the green color of the leaves remain.  Once brewed, green teas are a pale green or yellow liquid with a grassy flavored.

Oolong teas are the most time consuming in making.  These leaves are rolled and oxidized repeatedly until the manufacturers get the desired results.  These leaves are only partially oxidized, usually oxidized somewhere between 8% to 80%.  This process can take hours to days.  Oolongs have more complex flavors than white and green teas and less bitter taste.  Instead, oolongs have a fruity flavor that is welcoming to newbies to tea drinking.

Black teas are usually created in a day.  These leaves are rolled and oxidized completely.  The liquor that is created is somewhere between a deep red or dark brown.  Black teas are usually the strongest flavors with the bitterest taste.  This tea is usually enjoyed with sugar and milk.

Pu-erh teas is a completely different beast.  It first undergoes a similar process as a green tea.  Then it is packed tightly into bricks and allowed to sit (like wine) where it undergoes a fermentation process that changes the chemical make-up of the tea.  This creates a whole new type of tea.

This is just a quick rundown of what is tea.  Was this helpful to you all, dear readers?