What is Tea
All tea comes from one flowering evergreen shrub, Camellia sinensis regardless of where it is grown. The variation in teas is caused by differing conditions in the tea-growing countries - geographic characteristics, when and how it is plucked and what is done to the leaf after it is plucked.
Types Of Tea
There are 3 major classification of tea - Black (fermented), Green (unfermented) and Oolong (semi-fermented). These are achieved by different manufacturing processes, i.e., varying degrees of withering (evaporation of moisture), rolling, oxidation (fermentation) and heat. The tea most commonly known around the world is black tea, although, of late, green tea has also gained wide acclaim.
Where Is It Produced
Tea is produced commercially in tropical and subtropical regions of the world. India, Sri Lanka, China, Japan, Taiwan and Indonesia are some large tea-producing countries. Other countries also produce tea, e.g., Argentina, Kenya, Malawi and Turkey. Typically, hot temperature and heavy rainfall are key to growing tea.
Grades Of Tea
Grades of tea can often be confusing. Black tea from India and Sri Lanka is usually divided into leaf and broken leaf grades. Leaf grades generate flavor and color more slowly than broken grades. Leaf grades are usually variations of OP (Orange Pekoe), e.g., FOP (Flowery Orange Pekoe). Broken grades are usually BOP (Broken Orange Pekoe), Fannings or Dust and are essential to the production of tea bags. Black tea, when steeped, can range in color from a very pale amber to dark brown or red.
Green tea comes mainly from China, Japan, Taiwan and, to a lesser degree, from India. Green tea does not necessarily steep green in the cup. Its color can be green or brown or yellow. The critical difference between green and black tea is that the leaves are not allowed to ferment. The tea is, instead, steamed or pan-fired, rolled and fired. Green tea is not graded similar to black tea but classified according to age, style of the leaf and manufacture, e.g., Gunpowder, Pan-fired, Young Hysson etc.
Loose Leaf Tea vs. Tea Bags
Although commercially packed teabags may be more convenient than loose leaf tea, the finest teas are best enjoyed in their loose leaf form. Common mistakes in brewing tea are not using fresh water, using tepid water, using the wrong amount of tea and steeping too long or too little.
Herbal Teas/Flavored Teas
Herbal teas are not teas at all but a mixture of herbs. Because they are used like teas, i.e., in tea bags or steeped in water, they are called “teas.” Flavored teas can be black, green or herbal.
Caffeine content in tea is widely debated. The broad agreement seems to be that tea has about half the caffeine content as that of a cup of coffee. Black tea is reported to have more caffeine than green while herbals have none. Indisputable evidence on this is difficult to obtain with varying numbers provided by several sources.
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The health benefits of tea are everywhere in the media today. There is evidence that it prevents cancer and strokes, strengthens the cardio-vascular systems, aids digestion, reduces tooth decay, enhances the immune system, purifies blood, assists the liver and may reduce bacterial infections and food poisoning.