Tea 101

All tea comes from a single plant ...
All tea comes from a single plant, the "Camellia sinensis", an evergreen shrub that may grow up to 18
meters in the wild. When cultivated for harvest the tea bushes are kept to a height of about 1 meter (by
constant picking). There are over 3000 varieties of tea each with its own specific characteristics. The
naming and growing of teas has many similarities to wine. Just as Bordeaux wine is named after the
Bordeaux region in France, Assam is named after the Assam region in India, and Keemun is named
after the Keemun region of China. Like wine, tea comes from one bush, and where the tea is grown, the
climate, soil conditions, and how the tea is processed, determines the flavor characteristics of the tea.

"Better to be deprived of food for three days than tea for one." (Chinese Proverb)

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Tea is harvested after each flush - the sprouting of the top two leaves and bud. The top two
leaves and bud are hand plucked and then processed into any of the four types of tea, which are
Black, Green, Oolong, and White.


Black tea is withered, fully oxidized (fermented) and dried. Black tea yields a hearty, ambercolored
brew. It is the type of tea most consumed in the West. Some of the popular black teas
include English Breakfast, and Darjeeling.


Green tea skips the oxidizing step. It is simply withered and then dried (sometimes roasted). It
has a more delicate taste and is pale green / golden in color.


Oolong tea, popular in China, Taiwan and Japan, is withered, partially fermented (between 30%
and 70%), and dried. Oolong is a cross between black and green tea in color and taste.


White tea is the least processed. A very rare tea from China, White tea is not oxidized or rolled,
but simply withered and dried by steaming.


The main chemical substances in tea are essential oils, caffeine, and polyphenols (mistakenly
known by many people as tannins). The essential oils give us the aroma of the tea, the caffeine
stimulates the central nervous system, and the polyphenols account for the much publicized
antioxidant and anti-disease properties.


Tea is not to be confused with herbal infusions. Herbal infusions are packaged like tea, infused
like tea, and enjoyed like tea, however the herbs do not come from the camellia sinensis bush and
therefore are not teas (see previous article). Herbal infusions are made of grasses like lemongrass,
barks like cinnamon, fruits like orange peel, flowers like chamomile and hibiscus, and many other
botanicals.