The leaves of the Camellia sinensis are rich with history. According to legend, tea was “discovered” in 2737 B.C. when the Chinese emperor Shen Nung, a skilled ruler, creative scientist and patron of the arts, was boiling water under a tree. Some leaves from the Camellia sinensis tree fell into his heating water and he found the brew quite refreshing. He found that drinking tea “gave vigor to the body, contentment to the mind and determination to the purpose.”
Types of Tea
Black Tea: “Fully fermented.” Black teas are basically withered, rolled, fermented and dried (fired). The plucked leaves are spread out to wither, rolled when they are limp enough, releasing the chemicals within the leaf, then spread out for 3 ½ to 4 ½ hours to oxidize, causing a chemical change in the leaf. This turns them from green to coppery red. Ultimately, they are fired to stop the decomposition, turning the leaves black.
Oolong Tea: “Semi-fermented.” Oolong teas are mainly manufactured in China and Taiwan. In China, the tea leaves are first wilted in direct sunlight, then shaken in bamboo baskets to slightly bruise the edges of the leaves. The leaf surface will turn slightly yellow as they are alternately shaken and spread out to dry. With the bruising, the edges turn a reddish color, reacting with the oxygen. Oolong teas are oxidized for approximately 1 ½ to 2 hours and then fired.
Green Teas: “Unfermented.” Allowed to dry, then heat-treated to stop oxidation. In China, the leaves are spread out on bamboo trays and exposed to sunlight (or warm air) for one to two hours. They are then roasted in pans, becoming soft as the natural moisture begins to evaporate. The leaves are then rolled into balls, placed again into the roasting pan and then either rolled again or left to dry. Japanese green teas are steamed, cooled, repeatedly rolled, twisted and dried until the moisture has completely evaporated.
White Teas: Teas produced primarily in China and Sri Lanka on a very limited scale. The distinction of white tea is that the new buds are plucked before they open and processed very little–the leaves are only withered and dried. The leaves often have white hairs, similar to peach. White teas give a pale, straw-colored liquor.
Rooibos (not technically a “tea”): This is a needle-like leaf from a plant grown outside of Capetown, South Africa. It is a relatively new tea on the market since the nineties and is also called “red tea”. The health benefits are just as wonderful as with tea from the Camellia sinensis plant, but rooibos is caffeine-free.
Grades of Tea
There are technically three closely related varieties of the evergreen plant Thes Sinensis: Camellia sinensis, grown in China, Camellia assamica, usually found in tropical climates, and Camellia assamica subspecies lasiocalyx, mostly used in production of hybrids. The plant has dark green, shiny, leathery leaves and delicate, small, white blossoms about 1 inch in diameter, similar to a jasmine flower. The flower produces a nutmeg-like fruit that contains one to three seeds. The plants thrive in hot and humid conditions and produce leaves for many decades. A combination of altitude and humidity creates the slow growth desired – some of the world’s most famous teas come from plants cultivated above 4,000 feet. Tea leaves contain 75-80 percent water which, during the first withering stages of the manufacturing process, is reduced to 60-70 percent. During the oxidation stage of oolong and black tea processing, the polyphenolic flavanols (or catechins) oxidize with oxygen in the air to create the unique flavor and color of the infused liquor. The firing or drying process deactivates the enzyme that causes the oxidation and also further reduces the water content to approximately 3 percent.
As a part of their processing, tea leaves go through sieves with graduated mesh, much like the processing of gravel and sand. The sieves divide tea into three grades: full, broken and fine. Classification is done by appearance and type of the leaf pieces. This is highly important due to strength, flavor and color infusing from the leaf into the boiling water at different rates, depending on the leaf size. The larger the leaf, the slower the rate of infusion. Smaller leaf particles brew more quickly. When serving tea, the best pot will be comprised of the same sized tea leaves. Some examples of primary grades of tea are: Flowery Orange Pekoe (FOP-tea made from the end bud and first leaf of the shoot), Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (GFOP-FOP with “golden tips”, which are the very ends of the golden yellow buds), Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (TGFOP-FOP with a large amount of golden tips), Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (FTGFOP-extremely high quality FOP) and Orange Pekoe (OP-contains long, pointed leaves that have been harvested when the end buds open into leaf).
Tea Producing Countries/Regions:
On a much smaller scale, the following regions are also tea producers; Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Azores, Bangladesh, Iran, Malaysia, Nepal, Turkey, Vietnam, Australia, Papua New Guinea, and several African countries other than those listed above. The foremost tea regions are in China, Japan, Taiwan, India and Sri Lanka. China and Japan produce some of the finest green tea in the world, while Taiwan produces some of the best oolongs. India and Sri Lanka are the home of some of the best black teas.
Serving and Steeping Tea
From the type of water used to the equipment tea is served with, steeping tea can be a detailed art form. Distilled, soft water or permanently hard water (both containing calcium sulfate) creates a bright, clear infusion. Using temporary hard water, which contains calcium carbonate, brews a dull, flat tea. Ideally, black and oolong teas should be infused in water that has just come to a rolling boil (203 degrees). White and green teas generally should be steeped with water that has come down from a rolling boil (158-203 degrees). Do not ever use water that has been previously boiled – the oxygen has been boiled out of it already. The oxygen draws out the full flavor from the tea. There are different steeping times for different teas. It is difficult to generalize, as teas from different regions and with different characteristics should be steeped for different times.
Japanese Green: 1-2 minutes
Chinese Green: 2-3 minutes
White: 2-15 minutes
Oolong: 3-5 minutes
Black: 3-5 minutes
Herbal: 5-10 minutes
It is not recommended to use a dishwasher or soapy water to clean a teapot or tea kettle. Simply rinse and allow to drain and air dry. In order to remove the tannins that build up, fill the pot with a mixture of 2 tablespoons baking soda and boiling water. Let it soak overnight. Rinse it thoroughly and leave to dry. If using a Yixing teapot, remember it is made of clay, an earthen substance that will absorb the distinct flavor of the brewed tea. It is recommended to consistently use the same type of tea in these teapots.
To make a stronger tea, use more tea leaves instead of steeping longer. Over-infusing will result in bitter tea. Iced tea is typically made by brewing double strength tea and then pouring over ice. Typically the ratio is 1 teaspoon of tea per cup of water. Remember that tea can often be used for multiple infusions.
Green, black, oolong and white teas all contain caffeine. The differences come from how it is brewed. Green and white teas should be steeped with water that has cooled from its boiling point, which will extract less caffeine. Green tea should not be steeped as long as black teas, further lessening the caffeine content and preventing bitterness. If you desire a caffeine-free tea, simply steep the tea for 90 seconds, pour off the tea and steep a second time. This second cup will be 90% decaffeinated. Caffeine is also absorbed differently from tea than it is from coffee. Caffeine in coffee is absorbed quickly into the body, immediately increasing blood circulation and cardio-vascular activity. The polyphenols found in tea are thought to slow down the rate of caffeine absorption, causing the effects to be felt more slowly and remain in the body longer.
-Contains anti-oxidants which scavenge free radicals (free radicals cause cancer, organ damage, aging)-Contains Vitamins C & E
-A completely natural product without artificial coloring, preservatives or flavorings
-Calorie-free (without milk and sugar)
-Contains fluoride; helps strengthen tooth enamel and reduces formation of plaque
-Is considered a mild stimulant, aiding the circulatory system and heart
-Reduces the chances of hardening of the arteries
-Polyphenols found in tea inhibit the absorption of cholesterol into the blood stream
-Polyphenols also help in preventing the formation of blood clots
-Stimulates digestive juices and metabolism, eliminating toxins
-Prevents and cures infection – enhances natural immunity by priming Gamma Delta T cells