What is Tea?
Tea can mean so many things to so many cultures, but the basic facts of tea are the same. Tea comes from the tea Plant, Camellia Sinensis. It is a tree that can grow tall or it can be pruned to remain a bush that produces young buds as most widely recognized through the world. The young buds are the source of tea. Over 30 countries around the world grow this bush. The tea varieties all come from this same plant – green, oolong, black and white teas come from the Camillia sinensis bush – the difference is the processing!
Like fine vintage wines, each tea crop reflects the local characteristics of the land – the nature of the soil, the climate, the amount of sun and rain and the time of plucking.
Tea is produced by steeping the tea leaves in heated water. Steep = to soak in a liquid; to extract the essence of by soaking; to saturate.
Types of Tea
Tea breaks down into three basic types: black, green and oolong. In the U.S., over 90 percent of the tea consumed is black tea, which has been fully oxidized or fermented and yields a hearty-flavored, amber brew. Orange Pekoe is a blend of Ceylon teas that is the most widely used of the tea blends.
Green tea skips the oxidizing step. It has a more delicate taste and is light green/golden in color. Green tea, a staple in the Orient, is gaining popularity in the U.S. due in part to recent scientific studies linking green tea drinking with reduced cancer risk.
Oolong tea, popular in China, is partly oxidized and is a cross between black and green tea in color and taste.
While flavored teas evolve from these three basic teas, herbal teas contain no true tea leaves. Herbal and “medicinal” teas are created from the flowers, berries, peels, seeds, leaves and roots of many different plants.
The beverage of choice for most Asians. Green tea is steamed or fired before rolling to prevent oxidation/fermentation. In recent years, Green tea has garnered much media attention for its health benefits. Black and oolong teas are also found to offer some health benefits.
Green tea is most identified with delicate, exquisite aromas but of course the quality and taste can differ significantly. It is invigorating, aids digestion and is mildly stimulating, thus helping to clear the mind.
The caffeine level of green tea depends on production methods, steeping time, steeping temperature, plant variety, soil chemistry and many other factors which contribute to the end product. Green tea has less caffeine in the cup than black mostly due to the lower brewing times.
Compounds in Green Tea:
Antioxidants a general classification of biochemical compounds that can prevent or fight cancer causing cells. Compounds in tea:
|Polyphenols||10-25% Chemical compound that prevents oxidation and mutations of cells in the body. Anticarcinogenis, they help lower cholesterol and blood pressure, retard coagulation of red blood cells, helps eliminate body odors and help prevent food allergies. Catechins are the major group of polyphenols in green tea. The most important catechin seems to be epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG).|
|Caffeine||2-4% – Revives the spirit, strengthens the heart, acts as a diuretic, increases metabolic rate, helps prevent asthma, and boosts the central nervous system. Can increase alertness without the jitteriness of the caffeine in coffee and colas (which are assimilated into the body more quickly)|
|Carotene||13-29mg Resists oxidation and mutation; reduces cholesterol levels; prevents high blood pressure, high blood sugar, infections, and allergies to food; deters bad breath.|
|Flavonols||0.6-0.7% Help increase immune system, strengthen capillaries, resist oxidation, lower blood pressure and help illuminate body odors.|
|Fluoride||90-350ppm a mineral that helps prevent cavities and strengthens tooth enamel. As little as one cup a day can help reduce plaque formation and bacterial infection.|
|Glycosides||0.6% a broad range of chemical compounds found in plants having a wide range of effects on the body, such as preventing an increase in blood sugar and acting as an antidiabetic.|
|Hetero chain polysaccharide||0.6% – An element alleged to help prevent diabetes.|
|Magnesia||400-2,000 ppm Prevents oxidation and strengthens immune system.|
|Saponia||0.1% While only a trace amount is found in tea, it is known as an anticarcinogen and prevents inflammation associated with infections. Also known as saponin.|
|Selenium||1.0-1.8% ppm May help prevent oxidation, cancer and heart attacks.|
|Theanine||0.1% or less One of a very small group of amino acids found in tea.|
|Vitamin B-2 (riboflavin)||1% or less Appears in trace amounts.|
|Vitamin C||25-70 mg A compound that can help prevent scurvy and possibly degeneration of cells that can cause cancer. Does not exist in black tea because it is oxidized away.|
|Vitamin E||25-70mg A compound that can help prevent oxidation of cells in the body and possibly degeneration of cells that can cause cancer. It is also a powerful vitamin that can delay the effects of aging in both men & women.|
|Zinc||30-75 ppm Prevents abnormal indigestion, skin infections and suppressed immunity.|
The Journal of Nutrition reports: Consuming between 30 and 32 ounces of tea every day over a period of time (the fluid equivalent of 2.5 cans of soda) may reduce LDL (bad cholesterol) levels by more than 10% and decrease DNA damage caused by smoking.
In Japan, Matcha is considered an integral part of the very essence and soul of the country itself. Matcha is also Japan’s most important tea since it is the tea used in the famous tea ceremony, or Chanoyu. This ceremony is an elegantly rigid affair that developed over the centuries as a transformative and meditative practice. It was originally conceived by the ancient Samurai, the noble class of warriors famous for their elaborate costume and highly regimented lifestyle.
The Samurai learned the fine art of brewing Matcha from Buddhist monks sometime in the 13th century. Japanese monks believed the tea possessed qualities conducive to meditation and drank it during religious ceremonies. The Samurai learned that meditating through the drinking of Matcha could restore them physically and prepare them mentally for battle. Drawing on their strict code of conduct, they developed an elaborate framework called wabi within which to brew and consume Matcha. Wabi loosely translates as follows: Quiet, sober refinement characterized by humility and restraint that celebrates the mellow beauty that time and care impart. Over the centuries, this philosophy, developed by the Samurai, gave birth to the Japanese tea ceremony we are familiar with today. It is in reverence to their noble way of life that we present this amazing tea.
*Taken from the Certificate of Analysis #021068-1 Japan Measure Certificator Constituent Breakdown: Standard tables of Food Composition in Japan 5th Revised Editions
Gunpowder tea comes from the province of Zhejiang in China and from Taiwan.
When the tea is made the tiny pellets jingle and tinkle in the bowl or cup. Boiling water causes them to open up like flowers and sink slowly to the bottom in graceful patterns, which add a dimension of visual pleasure to tea drinking. This gunpowder produces a reasonably strong dark-green brew with a memorable fragrance, a slightly bitter but not unpleasant flavor and a long lasting finish. Gunpowder is denser than other teas so one or two teaspoons for a teapot is all that is required.
Legend has it that during the 1400’s an important samurai warlord in Hakone on the Izu Peninsula of Honshu Island (the Izu Peninsula is near the Shizuoka area) was having tea in the morning discussing a battle strategy with his patrol leaders. A servant by the name of Genamai was serving hot tea to the group. Leaning over to give tea to the warlord, rice that he had surreptitiously taken for a morning snack fell out of his pocket into the steaming hot tea. Some popped upon hitting the hot tea. The warlord was incensed, jumped up brandishing his samurai sword he promptly cut off Genamai’s head in one fell swoop. He then sat down to continue the meeting. Despite the fact that the tea had been tarnished he drank it anyway. The flavor was very unique and he enjoyed it tremendously. In honor of poor Genamai he pronounced that this rice and tea be served every morning and be called ‘Genmaicha’ (cha being the name of ‘tea’ in Japanese).
Oolong Tea (brown tea) is semi-fermented compared to Green Tea (unfermented) and Black Tea (fully fermented). Oolongs are easily recognized by the appearance of the leaves which are stout, crinkled and when infused, often tend greenish with reddish edges. The process to yield Oolong is the most complicated – with repeated wilting and shaking in bamboo baskets to arrive at the perfect state that captures the fragrant essence of the leaf. Oolongs have the widest variety of color from pale orange to brown liquors to dark richer liquors. The flavor profiles can vary tremendously according to the tea maker’s skills and the soil conditions of the tea bushes.
Black tea is the most commonly used tea in the United States accounting for 96 percent of annual tea consumption. Black tea undergoes four major stages of production – withering, rolling, oxidation and drying. The oxidation stage differentiates the black tea from other tea types.
The longer the tea is exposed to oxygen – between 45 minutes and three hours although two to two and a half hours is most common – turns tea from a green color to a copper red to a brown and finally to near black. Also referred to as fermentation, oxidation gives black tea its hearty flavor.
White tea is extremely rare and not often found outside of China. This delicate tea is plucked before they open and are withered to allow the natural moisture to evaporate and then are gently dried. Only special “two leaves and a bud” are selected with the ideal being two leaves wrapped around a newly developing shoot. The curled up buds have a silvery/ white appearance. The flavor is subtle and should be appreciated. The health benefits are similar to green tea.
Red Tea or Rooibos (pronounced “roy boss”)
Rooibos (Red bush) is found north of Cape Town, South Africa. It is fast becoming popular among tea enthusiasts in the U.S. It is rich in essential minerals, low in tannin and has natural sweetners.
The story of rooibos began around the turn of the century in South Africa. The locals discovered that the needle-like leaves of the “Aspalathus Linearis” plant made a tasty and aromatic tea. Now as then, the green needles are picked, chopped, bruised, fermented and then sun dried. Those that consume rooibos have claimed that it has a soothing effect on headaches, disturbed sleep patterns and digestive problems.
200 ml (about 7 ounces) of brewed Rooibos contains the following nutrients:
Nutrient Function in the Body per 200 ml
|Iron (Fe)||Essential for transport of oxygen in the blood 0.07 mg|
|Potassium (K)||Assists certain metabolic functions 7.12 mg|
|Calcium (Ca)||Necessary for strong teeth and bones 1.09 mg|
|Copper (Cu)||Assists certain metabolic processes 0.07 mg|
|Zinc (Zn)||Necessary for normal growth and development of healthy skin 0.04 mg|
|Magnesium (Mg)||Promotes healthy nervous system and other metabolic processes 1.57 mg|
|Fluoride (F)||Necessary for strong teeth and bones 0.22 mg|
|Manganese (Mn)||Assists metabolic processes and bone growth and development 0.04 mg|
|Sodium (Na)||Necessary for fluid and acid-base balance 6.16 mg|
An herb from South Africa has a slightly sweet taste (honeyed apricot jam), has no caffeine and is low in tannin.
Other Categories of Tea
Tisanes or Herbal Infusions
Often referred to as herbal teas, but mostly don’t actually contain any part of the Camillia sinensis plant in the blends. Tisanes use a variety of flowers. Berries, seeds, peels, leaves and roots of different plants. Some common tisane ingredients include:
Chamomile, ginseng, rose petals, hibiscus, peppermint, valerian, dandelion, lavender, aniseed, ginger and jasmine. Tisanes are typically caffeine-free.
Flavored and Scented Teas
Confuse the issue somewhat, because tea blenders frequently use many of the same ingredients they use in tisanes to flavor or scent Camillia sinensis leaves. Because tea leaves are so absorbent, they pick up flavors and aromas very naturally. Jasmine Pearl, for instance, is scented by jasmine flower, which gives it the fragrance of a garden in bloom. Or a black tea may be flavored by orange peel to give it a citrusy overtone.
Specialty Blended Teas
Specialty blended teas are familiar to most consumers. They are blends of Camillia sinensis leaves of different origins, or of Camillia sinesis leaves with botanicals, flowers, flavoring oils or spices. Common examples of blended teas include English Breakfast and Irish Breakfast.
The Indian word for tea, is identified in North America as a sweet, spicy brew often combined with milk and sweetener. The more authentic term in India is “masala chai,” as this is the actual Indian beverage. Traditionally, Chai is made by adding a variety of spices – cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, anise peppercorn, ginger, and fennel – to a black tea brew. The final stage of Chai manufacture is to add the mixture to milk – cow, goat or buffalo, condensed or unsweetened evaporated – and then add a sweetener. In India, sugar is the preferred sweetener. US manufacturers usually use honey, sugar fructose, or a combination of all three. Many U.S. companies also experiment with the base, using green tea or herbals rather than black tea, and they vary the spice levels depending on the desired flavor. Most opt for sweet over savory flavors.
Functional tea is a tea or tisane blended or formulated to produce a specific physical or psychological health benefit. This is a growing category, as companies advertise their teas as ideal for providing energy, fighting sore throats, aiding digestion, or preventing memory loss. The health benefits of functional teas, however, are quite separate from the benefits of green, oolong and black teas as functionals are marked on specific short-term benefits, and the most promising research on green, oolong and black tea indicates long-term anti-cancerous properties.
Did you know, loose leaf tea … is usually higher quality; grown at higher altitudes
pests can’t survive; pesticides or fertilizers are usually not needed! But to be sure, try organic. Organic teas are grown without using any chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. Organic tea must be certified by an independent certifying agency, and it takes three years of chemical-free production for a plantation to be considered. Organic tea, like most other organic foods is a growing category as consumers continue to buy products that are better for the environment. Also, like other organic foods, the organic label is not a guarantee of quality; some organics taste great, some taste bland. Organic Teas maintain a smaller environmental footprint. The process is multi-stepped:
• Environmental protection of lands surrounding the gardens including natural wildlife habitats.
• Minimizing pollution and optimizing biological productivity.
• Replenishment and maintenance of garden soil fertility.
• Production on machines that handle organic leaf exclusively.
It’s not an easy task, there’s a reason our luxury organic teas are so rare!
Decaffeinated tea is provided to consumers who want to limit their caffeine intake. In the U.S., there are two primary methods of decaffeination: ethyly acetate and carbon dioxide. Both bond well with the caffeine molecule and are fairly safe and effective. But most experts agree that all teas lose some aroma and flavor during decaffeination. Another method is to decaffeinate teas during the steeping process. Caffeine extracts from tea leaves very quickly – 75-80 percent of the caffeine is dissolved into the water in the first minute if you’re using water just off the boil. So by pouring out the first infusion after the minute has elapsed and resteeping the tea, you will have a tea with very little caffeine.
Vianne’s teas are fairtrade teas. Fair trade tea is produced on estates that have good standards for their workers, such as fair pay, quality housing, healthcare, safe working conditions and children’s education.
Top World Exporters of Tea, 2006 (Camellia Sinensis)
Quantities are in metric tons
Tea has been the favorite beverage of emperors and explorers, sailors and scholars, general and presidents. Here are a few of the famous who have enjoyed “the cup that cheers” over the years.
….Samuel Johnson, the famous 18th century lexicographer, described himself as a “hardened and shameless tea drinker.” He was known to drink as many as twelve cups per sitting.
…Theodore Roosevelt, the ardent outdoorsman, was a great tea drinker, taking it along on his hunting trips in Africa. Later as president he continued to drink tea with meals from an outsized (oversized) teacup.
….The Duke of Wellington, facing Napoleon in the crucial Battle of Waterloo, revived his flagging spirits and restored his alertness with a hearty drink of piping tea.
….George Washington was another great tea drinker. It is said that when he lived on Manhattan’s Cherry Street before the White House was built, he kept a cow for the express purpose of supplying milk for his tea.
– From the Archives of the Tea Council of the U.S.A.
The finest quality leaves should “crease like the leather boots of Tatar horsemen, curl like the dewlap of a mighty bullock, unfold like a mist rising out of a ravine, gleam like a lake touched by a zephyr, and be wet and soft like fine earth newly swept by rain.”
– Lu Yu (733-804)
Cha King, (Holy Scripture of Tea)
The first book devoted to tea
Body (tea) – Body refers to the weight of prepared tea on the tongue. A tea can have a heavy, medium, full or light body.
Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (TGFOP) – Tea leaves are graded by size. Tippy golden flowery orange pekoe is a full leaf tea with many golden buds.
Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP) – Tea is graded by leaf size. Broken orange pekoe consists of broken and smaller sized leaves.
Orange Pekoe (OP) – Tea is graded by leaf size. Orange Pekoe is a full leaf tea with no buds (tip).
Flowery: A term used in grading the size of tea, it refers to a leaf style with more of the lighter-colored tips.
Flowery Orange Pekoe: The highest grade of black tea, often abbreviated FOP. The term flowery refers to the leaf bud. Actual tea flowers are not used in the preparation of tea.
Fannings – Tea is graded by leaf size. Fannings are the very small broken leaves, and are often used for tea bags.
Dust: The smallest grade of tea, commonly used in teabags and typically associated with lower quality.
Flush – A flush is the sprouting of new leaves and buds on a tea bush. The number of times a tea plant may flush depends on where it is grown
Lung Ching – Another name for Dragonwell tea.
Pu-erh Tea – a “composted” tea produced in the Yunnan province of China. The freshly picked tea is fired then placed in piles and monitored to maintain proper temperature and moisure during the aging process. Pu-erh is a speciality tea with a strong, earthy flavor.
Souchong – Tea is graded by leaf size. Souchong is made from large tea leaves that are rolled lengthwise, which gives them a coarse appearance. Souchong teas are generally smoked teas from China.
Tisane – Tisane is another name for herbal tea (as opposed to black or green tea). The term originated in France and is derived from the Latin term, “ptisana”.
Tippy: Teas with white or golden tips, indicating high quality.
Two Leaves and a Bud: The ideal plucked tea for top quality production, consisting of the new tea shoot and the first two leaves.