An ancient beverage, tea has been drunk for pleasure and health for thousands of years. Even before it is brewed, a tea leaf is steeped in legend, history, geography, and politics. Here you can learn all about this fascinating plant.
All tea comes from one plant, Camellia sinensis. The differences in the many teas we have -- Whites, Greens, Oolongs, Blacks, and Pu-Erhs -- is in the specific varietal that was used, the local environment the tea was grown in, and the way it was processed.
White tea is minimally processed; it is generally only picked and air dried. The highest-quality white teas are picked early in the spring before the leaf buds have opened, and while still covered with silkywhite hair. The traditional varietals used for white tea have abundant downy hair on the young leaf shoots. These delicate teas have clear flavors that tend toward savory, nutty, and vegetal. Traditionally harvested in China, they are the focus of many studies on health benefits for their high levels of antioxidants.
Green tea is picked and quickly heated by steaming or pan firing. The goodness of the leaf is sealed inside. Green tea has a short life span - it doesn't stay fresh long. The most well-known greens come from China and Japan. The flavors are grassy, vegetal, nutty, and sweet. Because the leaf is so delicate, the tea should be brewed in water that is well below boiling to prevent cooking the leaves and destroying the subtle notes of the tea.
Oolong tea is oxidized and often rolled after picking, allowing the essential oils to react with the air. This process turns the leaf darker and produces distinctive fragrances before heat is added to set the taste. The resulting tea can be anywhere between a green and a black tea, depending on the processing method. Oolongs can be recognized by their large leaves and a complexity of flavor that ranges from highly floral and intensely fruity to mildly roasted with honey nuances. The tea maker must carefully balance many elements in the critical few hours after the leaf is picked including weather conditions, quality of the leaf, and the time the leaf oxidizes. The finest oolongs are often prepared and enjoyed Gong Fu style to savor their complex tastes and fragrances.
Black tea, or red tea as it is known in China, is a result of the complete oxidation of the leaf. First produced in China, the tea increased in popularity when the British cultivated the plant in India, Sri Lanka, and Africa. First the leaf is spread out and left to wither (wilt), losing some moisture, stiffness and much of its weight. Then it's rolled, exposing essential oils to the air and starting the oxidization process. When this is complete the leaf is heated to stop the process, graded for quality and packed. Black teas are known for their robust, full-bodied flavors of cocoa, earth, molasses, and honey.
Pu-erh tea is aged, post-fermented, and often compressed into bricks. Its name comes from the town of Pu-erh in Southwestern China. Pu-erhs have a strong earthy taste that gains complexity over time. Some prized pu-erh teas are more than 50 years old and are very rare. Drunk for centuries by the Chinese, pu-erh is said to lower cholesterol, aid digestion, and cure hangovers.
Herbal infusions, or tisanes, are not teas. They are made from other plants and flowers, and they do not contain any caffeine. Common examples are lemon verbena, chamomile, lavender, and mint.
Rooibos teas are easily identifiable with the unmistakably distinct reddish color similar to a South African sunset. As popular as the red Rooibos is you can also find green Rooibos, that are just as great tasting. Rooibos teas are known to be delicious as iced tea or hot tea and come in a wide variety of flavors. Strong and sweet as it is, Rooibos is naturally caffeine free, and great for anyone from children to adults. It is believed by many to aid the digestive system, and help strengthen the immune system.
This great tea, is harvested from an Argentinean wild grown shrub. Maté tea is very similar in its character to coffee, with it being rich in caffeine. Although it does not poses the addictive coffee profile and it will not make you jumpy or restless. On the contrary, it will energize you, and many also believe it acts as an appetite suppressant. It's also a great source of vitamins and minerals. Back in time mate is what was drank as coffee. So go ahead and step back into a better time with a tall glass.