WHAT IS TEA?
Tea is a common beverage made from steeping processed Camellia sinensis leaves with hot water. There are two main varieties of Camellia sinensis:
The first variety is Camellia sinensis var. sinensis, which produces teas that are bright and fresh to rich and malty in taste. This small-leaved plant is usually grown in mountainous regions with cool and misty climates, such as in China, Taiwan, and Japan.
The second variety is the Camellia sinensis var. assamica, which produces teas that are mellow and grassy to brisk and malty in taste. This plant is large-leaved and usually grown in tropical areas such as India, Sri Lanka, and Kenya.
Meanwhile, there are six main types of teas: white, yellow, green, oolong, black, and puerh. Each tea type has its own unique processing methods and brewing times.4
THE HISTORY OF TEA
(Shennong as depicted in a 1503 painting by Guo Xu)
According to Chinese legend, Shennong (神农) – or "Divine Farmer," the Father of Agriculture – is the one who first discovered tea. As the story goes, Shennong decided to rest one day under a Camellia tree with a pot of boiled water. Dried leaves floated down into the water and infused, creating the very first pot of tea. Shennong then named this tea 'cha' in Mandarin Chinese. Since Shennong's "discovery," tea is now cultivated and enjoyed around the world.
Although China, India, Burma, and Thailand are all native regions for camellia sinensis, China was the first to utilize tea as a beverage. Initially, teas were used in either religious offerings or herbal medicines. In fact, only in the Tang Dynasty (618-907) did tea drinking finally evolve into a beverage and an art form enjoyed by all social classes.
In particular, tea became especially popular in monasteries due to its caffeine, which kept Buddhist monks awake during long meditations. For this reason, many monasteries cultivated their own tea fields. In later years, Chinese monks then introduced compressed tea “cakes” into Japan, marking the beginnings of Japanese tea culture. The subsequent spread of Buddhism also helped develop other various tea cultures across the Asian continenent.
Lu Yu (陆羽), the author of the Tang Dynasty The Book of Tea, was brought up and educated in a monastery; it is likely that this environment helped to inspire his writing. In The Book of Tea, Lu Yu recorded a detailed account of cultivation methods, drink preparations, customs, brewing, and tea classifications.14
Whipped, powdered teas became especially fashionable during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), but disappeared from records following the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), where many aspects of Song culture were erased under foreign rule. During the later Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 CE), infused leaf tea preparations became more common, and although most teas consumed in Asia at this time were green teas, black tea began to grow in popularity during the late 1500's.8 – (Keating & Long, 10) How to Make Tea: The Science Behind the Leaf
WHERE IS TEA GROWN?
The Camillia sinensis plant is now grown throughout the world, although it got its roots first in China, but now have expanded to many other areas in the world. The countries and regions are:
CHINA: Sichuan Province, Yunnan Province, Zhejiang Province, Fujian Province, Hunan Province
INDIA: Kangra (Himachal Pradesh), Nilgiri, Munnar (Kerala), Sikkim, Assam, Darjeeling
SRI LANKA: Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Dimbula, Uva
JAPAN: Kyoto Prefecture, Kagoshima Prefecture, Shizuoka Prefecture
TAIWAN: Taibei District, Xinzhu District, Nantou District, Jiayi District
SOUTH KOREA: South Jeolla Province, Jeju, South Gyeongsang Province
TURKEY: Rize Province
VIETNAM: North Vietnam
NEPAL: Dhankuta, Ilam Valley
KENYA: Nandi Hills, Kericho, Nyeri County
INDONESIA: North Sumatra, Java
THAILAND: Doi Mae Salong, Chiang Rai
UNITED STATES: Washington, Oregon, California, Hawaii, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas4 – (Gayland, 75-129) The Tea Book
TYPES OF TEA
Green tea is comprised of unoxidized camellia sinensis leaves and usually has a short shelf life of 6-8 months. Green tea also comes in a variety of shapes including flat, needlelike, curled, rolled, or twisted. In China, the most prized green teas are referred to as pre-Qing Ming, or "before the spring festival," which falls in early April.
White tea is produced primarily in China's Fujian province. Although it is generally the least-processed of all teas, it also takes 2-3 days to produce, and has slight oxidation from its long 2-day withering process – after which it is then baked, sorted, and baked again.
There are several types of white teas available. Some are processed from leaves so tender that they still have natural white fuzz (pekoe) on them, and some are processed from larger leaves which end up being a little more oxidized.
Considered one of the healthiest tea types, white tea contains numerous antioxidants such as catechins and polyphenols, which help strengthen the immune system.
Oolong teas are also produced heavily in Fujian province, with cultivation concentrated in the Wuyi Mountains. This tea type is semi-oxidized and uses mature leaves, which undergo a specific production process.
First, the tea leaves are withered for a few hours, then “rattled” to bruise the leaves and destroy the cell walls – a step intended to help release more flavor during oxidation, which can last for another few hours. Once complete, the leaves are then fired, rolled, then either roasted or fired again.
Lightly oxidized oolongs are shaped into "small, shiny, dark-green pellets," while more heavily oxidized oolongs are shaped into "long, dark, twisted leaves.”
Black teas are fully-oxidized teas cultivated in Kenya, Sri Lanka, China, India, and other Asian countries. Most black teas are grown for the tea bag industry, and are often mixed with other tea types and herbs to create "breakfast" or "afternoon"blends found in supermarkets across the world.
In China, black teas are often referred to as "red teas" because of the color of the water after steeping. The flavor of black teas are brisk, malty, and full-bodied due to the richness which develops during its oxidation process.
Pu'er tea is named after the Chinese town it originated in. Often referred to as a post-fermented tea, pu'er tea contains microorganisms with probiotic properties, which are known to help facilitate digestion, weight loss, and a healthy immune system. Many types of pu'er are highly sought after by connoisseurs, who often store their pu'er blocks for decades as its flavors – ranging from earthy to chocolately to woody – become more complex with time
After processing, pu'er tea leavesare steamed, pressed into "cakes," then aged for several years before being sold on the market – although loose-leaf versions are also available. Pu'er is divided into two types: Sheng ("raw") pu'er, which develops and ages naturally, and Shou ("ripe") pu'er, which undergoes an accelerated fermentation process.
Similar teas produced in China are referred to as "dark teas" or "hei cha."
Yellow tea is produced only in a few Chinese regions, which include the Hunan and Sichuan provinces. As a result, yellow teas are significantly less exported than other varieties, making it rarer to find on the market.
Like green teas, the highest grades of yellow teas are produced from early spring harvests. This variety is known for its fresh, delicate flavor as well as its leaf's yellow tinge caused by processing.4
There are six different types of tea, each with its own processing and brewing methods. Starting from the least processed to most processed teas, they are white tea, yellow tea, green tea, oolong tea, black tea, and puerh tea.
First, white tea. It is mainly produced in the Fujian province of China. It is the least processed tea but has a slight natural oxidation. The processing is quite time consuming because of the low heat in baking. There are different varieties of white tea. Some are made from small leaves and buds with white fuzz called “pekoe”, whereas others are with larger, more oxidized leaves.
Second, yellow tea. It is produced in a few areas in China, therefore, only a small quantity is produced and exported. This kind of tea is known for the slightly yellow cast on the leaves, which is the result of the processing it undergoes. This tea is characterized by its fresh and delicate flavor.
Third, green tea. It is unoxidized and most closely resembles the original plucked leaf. It is known for its freshness in both taste and storage. Most prized green teas in China are called pre-Qing Ming, also known as “before the spring festival”. Green tea can come in different shapes, such as flat, needlelike, curled, rolled balls or in fine twists.
Fourth, oolong tea. It is produced in the Fujian province of China and on the mountains of Taiwan. It is semi-oxidized, with mature leaves that go through rigorous processing. They are withered, rattled until bruised, and oxidized for hours until the tea master decides that the leaves have reached the correct level of oxidation. Then the leaves are fired for more oxidation, rolled, and then fired again or roasted. More lightly oxidized oolongs are shaped into small, shiny, dark-green pellets whereas the more heavily oxidized oolongs are long, dark, twisted leaves.
Fifth, black tea. It is produced in Kenya, China, and India. Much of this tea is grown specifically for the tea bag industry, and is used for other tea blends, such as breakfast and afternoon. The Chinese refer to them as “red teas” due to the color of the tea. Black teas are brisk, malty, full-bodied, and bracing in rich flavors because of the full oxidation process they go through.
And last but not least, puerh tea. It is primarily known as the post-fermented tea. There are two kinds of puerh tea: Sheng (raw) and Shou (ripe). Sheng puerh tea is made through natural aging, whereas Shou puerh tea is made through accelerated fermentation. The flavors can vary from earthy, musty, leathery to chocolatey or woody. They become more complex over time (and higher in price when sold) as they continue to ferment through storage. Puerh contains probiotic properties, and is therefore, consumed to aid weight loss.4
There are six different types of teas, each with its own brewing temperature and times. First, white tea is best steeped at 175F for about 4-5 minutes. Second, yellow tea is best steeped at 175F for about 3-5 minutes.11 Third, green tea is best steeped at 175F for 3-4 minutes. Fourth, oolong tea is best steeped at 195F for about 3-5 minutes. Fifth, black tea is best steeped at 195F for 3-4 minutes. Lastly, Puerh tea is best stepped around 190-212F for 3-5 minutes. Though these are the suggested temperatures and times, adjustments can be made in accordance to personal tastes and preferences.6
TEA CULTURES (Traditions/Tea Ceremonies)
Every tea culture is unique in its own way. For China, Gongfu is the traditional tea ceremony. For the United Kingdom, the dominant culture is afternoon tea. In India, Chai is the most popular, and in Pakistan, it is Noon Chai. For Thailand, the prominent tea is Cha Yen, and in Morocco, it is Touareg tea. In the USA, Sweet tea is the mainly consumed, whereas in Taiwan, Bubble tea (or boba) is the popular mode of tea consumption. Kenya is known for its black tea, whereas Japan is known for its matcha tea.
AN ANCESTRAL TRADITION
Chinese texts dating back several centuries before the Common Era mention a drink made from bitter plants, presumably tea, which was reserved exclusively for the Imperial Court. By the second century of the Common Era, Buddhist monks had discovered tea’s stimulating properties and contributed to its cultivation and development. A few centuries later, tea had become a popular drink and was widely available. The art of preparing and drinking tea evolved to become a real ritual and teahouses began to appear. They would go on to play a key social role.
The reputation of this prestigious beverage gradually seeped beyond China’s borders. Tea was already being exported to Tibet in the 7th century and then to Korea. Around this time, Japan also discovered it, but it was only in the 12th century that the custom of drinking tea spread and gained wider acceptance. The tea ritual would go on to reach its peak in Japan.
Europeans had already heard about tea from missionaries returning from the Far East. However, it was the Dutch who were the first to bring some back at the beginning of the 17th century. A few decades later, it had seeped throughout the rest of Europe.
THE PERCEPTION OF TEA IN EUROPE
Tea had exotic charm and was credited with medicinal properties. However, its reception varied from country to country. It proved to be less popular in Latin countries. Coming from the Far East, it complemented the ornamental objects of Chinese origin or inspiration that were very much in fashion in the 18thcentury. It appealed particularly to the aristocracy and the privileged classes and soon became an integral part of society life. Later, it would become an elegant, refined beverage for upper middle class ladies. The rest of the population considered tea as ‘posh’ or as a medicinal drink, so it was rarely consumed.
By contrast, the Dutch and Germans adopted it immediately. The British developed a passion for tea and quickly became a tea-drinking nation. It was then Russia’s turn to succumb to its charms, with the samovar becoming the centerpiece in Russian homes.
The art of serving and drinking tea gradually developed all over Europe. Initially, it was seen as particularly exotic to drink it in Chinese porcelain cups that were brought back in the same ships as the tea. Then tea services started to be made in Europe and increasingly luxurious accessories were created. It is said that Louis XIV had his tea prepared in a teapot made of gold.
Furthermore, a new custom emerged in the second half of the 19thcentury. The tradition of afternoon tea, which originated in Great Britain, spread throughout Europe and tearooms opened in all major towns. These were places that women could frequent quite freely, unlike cafés, which were considered unbefitting.
For a very long time, Europeans only drank black tea, initially imported from China, then from India and Ceylon. Several perfumed teas were also enjoyed, with Earl Grey flavored with bergamot and jasmine the most popular. Contrary to oriental tradition and at the risk of altering the subtle flavors, sugar and a dash of milk were added.1
Afternoon tea, that most quintessential of English customs is, perhaps surprisingly, a relatively new tradition. Whilst the custom of drinking tea dates back to the third millennium BC in China and was popularized in England during the 1660s by King Charles II and his wife the Portuguese Infanta Catherine de Braganza, it was not until the mid-19th century that the concept of ‘afternoon tea’ first appeared.
Afternoon tea was introduced in England by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, in the year 1840. The Duchess would become hungry around four o’clock in the afternoon. The evening meal in her household was served fashionably late at eight o’clock, thus leaving a long period of time between lunch and dinner. The Duchess asked that a tray of tea, bread and butter (some time earlier, the Earl of Sandwich had had the idea of putting a filling between two slices of bread) and cake be brought to her room during the late afternoon. This became a habit of hers and she began inviting friends to join her.
This pause for tea became a fashionable social event. During the 1880’s upper-class and society women would change into long gowns, gloves and hats for their afternoon tea which was usually served in the drawing room between four and five o’clock.
Traditional afternoon tea consists of a selection of dainty sandwiches (including of course thinly sliced cucumber sandwiches), scones served with clotted cream and preserves. Cakes and pastries are also served. Tea grown in India or Ceylon is poured from silver tea pots into delicate bone china cups.
Nowadays however, in the average suburban home, afternoon tea is likely to be just a biscuit or small cake and a mug of tea, usually produced using a teabag. Sacrilege!
To experience the best of the afternoon tea tradition, indulge yourself with a trip to one of London’s finest hotels or visit a quaint tearoom in the west country. The Devonshire Cream Tea is famous worldwide and consists of scones, strawberry jam and the vital ingredient, Devon clotted cream, as well as cups of hot sweet tea served in china teacups. Many of the other counties in England’s west country also claim the best cream teas: Dorset, Cornwall and Somerset.
There are a wide selection of hotels in London offering the quintessential afternoon tea experience. Hotels offering traditional afternoon tea include Claridges, the Dorchester, the Ritz and the Savoy, as well as Harrods and Fortnum and Mason.13
Tea is packed with antioxidants and chemicals, such as polyphenols, L-theanine, and catechins that help to fortify the immune system. Of all teas, green and white are the most beneficial because they are made from young leaves full of these chemicals, and are the least processed.
Tea was first used as a medicinal beverage in China to regulate internal body temperature and stimulate the mind. When it reached Europe in the 17th century, it was sold in apothecary shops as a tonic and digestive. It was only in the first part of the 18th century that it was embraced as a social beverage. Tea has since developed into an everyday drink valued for its health-improving properties.
Many scientists have studied that health-giving qualities of tea, but there is still a great deal to discover. While all teas produced from the Camelia sinensis plant are good for health, many studies have looked at the effects of green tea extracts in particular, and most recommend drinking at least three cups of tea per day to gain the health benefits.
TEA AND YOUR BODY
While drinking tea will contribute to overall health and well-being, it is becoming evident that the many unique compounds in tea target specific areas of the body, providing protection from stress and disease, and strengthening the bones and the immune system. From oral health to digestive health, tea is now valued as much for its beneficial attributes as for its delicious flavors.
The antimicrobial qualities of tea help to prevent dental cavities and bad breath caused by bacteria, while the fluoride in tea strengthens the teeth. More mature leaves, such as those harvested for oolongs, contain higher levels of fluoride.
The detoxifying effects of the antioxidants found in tea can help to regenerate and repair cells and protect the skin from harmful free radicals (damaged molecules). Despite the caffeine, tea is hydrating since it is mostly water.
Tea contains caffeine, a bitter compound that stimulates the nervous system. It is one of the various compounds sent from the roots of the plant to protect and nourish the buds as they grow, and is known to repel insect attack.
There are similar amounts of caffeine in tea per dry leaf weight to coffee. However, the polyphenols (tannins) in tea regulate and slow the release of caffeine, so that the feeling of alertness it gives lasts much longer. Caffeine levels in tea depend on the type of tea used, the water temperature, the steeping time, and the time of year the tea leaves are picked. Green and white teas contain higher levels of antioxidants than black and oolong.
IT'S ALL IN YOUR HEAD
Polyphenols, found in all types of tea, are believed to reduce the risk of degenerative diseases, because they protect the sections of the brain responsible for learning and memory.
Tea is a powerful stress buster. Green tea, in particular, contains a unique amino acid, L-theanine, which increases Alpha waves in the brain, relaxes the mind, and, combined with caffeine, promotes alertness.
HEART TO HEART
The polyphenols in tea are a rich source of flavonoid antioxidants and neutralize the toxic and mutating effects of free radicals, helping to prevent cancer. Flavonoids, found in tea, help protect the heart from cardiovascular disease. Drinking green tea may also significantly reduce the risk of high blood pressure.
EASY TO STOMACH
Tea, oolong in particular, has long been used as a post-meal digestive drink. Pu’er is particularly good for digestion because of its probiotic properties, and has been touted as a fat-burning tool. Green tea can help to stimulate metabolism and burn calories.”4
Tea is known to have many health benefits. It has antioxidants and good chemicals like polyphenols, L-theanine, and catechins that help the immune system. Out of all the teas, green and white teas are most beneficial since they are the least processed, and therefore, have the most chemicals, such as antioxidants, remaining. Since tea was discovered and used as medicine in China, it continues to be embraced for its health-enhancing properties.
There are antimicrobial properties that prevent dental cavities and bad breath and fluoride in the tea that strengthen teeth. The more mature leaves, the higher quantities of fluoride. The antioxidants in tea help in cell regeneration and repair, and skin protection from harmful free radicals. Polyphenols are also found in tea. They are known to protect parts of the brain that are responsible for learning and memory. In addition, they also regulate the slow release of caffeine. Flavonoids in tea help in the health of the heart, particularly preventing cardiovascular disease through blood pressure reduction. There is also a unique amino acid call L-theanine, which initiates mind relaxation through the increase of Alpha waves. Last but not least, there are probiotic properties that aid in fat-burning and metabolism stimulation, especially in green, oolong, and puerh teas.
Rooibos (pronounced ROY-boss) is a red herbal tea that comes from Aspalathus linearis, a native South African plant. This kind of tea is known to for several benefits. It is caffeine-free, low in tannins, and rich in antioxidants. Moreover, it may promote cardiovascular health and diabetes and weight management.2
Yerba Mate is a super-beverage from a South American plant Ilex paraguariensis. This tea dates back to the pre-Columbian area when local Guaraní people in Paraguay discovered it. It was not until the Spanish colonization that this beverage became the country’s main export commodity. The tradition is actually embedded in its name Yerba Mate, for it directly translates to “gourd herb”. The ritual requires a mate (or dried gourd), in which the herb steeps in with hot water. The gourd is passed around and is consumed by the individuals in the circle through abombilla (a special straw that filters out the leaves).9
Herbals teas are not true teas, for they are not from the Camellia sinensis plant. They are made from dried fruits, flowers, spices or herbs. The most popular herbal teas include:
Chamomile tea: This tea is known and primarily consumed for its calming properties, allowing individuals to sleep better. It may also provide relief to premenstrual symptoms, high blood lipid, high blood sugar, and high insulin levels.
Peppermint tea: This tea was traditionally used to relieve discomfort that occurs in the digestive system. In addition, it may aid in providing relief to nausea, cramping, spasms, and stomach pains.
Ginger tea: This tea is known for providing relief for nausea, in which studies have proven. In addition, there have been other studies that have found that it could also provide relief towards period pain, and offer aide for diabetic individuals.
Hibiscus tea: This tea is made from the hibiscus plant, resulting in an intense pink-red color. It may help in lowering high blood pressure and fighting oxidative stress. It has a refreshing, yet tart flavor.
Echinacea tea: This tea is known to prevent and aid in the cure of the common cold.
Sage tea: This tea have proven to improve both cognitive function and memory, and may benefit in colon and heart health.
Lemon balm tea: This tea may increase antioxidant levels, improve heart and skin health, and aid in anxiety relief.
Rose hip tea: This tea is high in both Vitamin C and antioxidants. It also has anti-inflammatory properties, which can reduce inflammation and arthritis pain. Research has shown that this tea can fight skin aging and reduce stomach fat.
Passion flower tea: This tea is made through using the leaves, stems and flowers of the passion flower plant. Research has found that it may aid in improving sleep and reducing anxiety.7
Chai is not the tea flavor, for it literally translates to “tea” in Hindi. The chai culture in India developed from the British colonization when the British East India Company was growing tea in Assam. Eventually, the Indians put their own spin on the tea by adding spices. Some of the most common ingredients include: cardamom cinnamon, ginger, cloves, star anise, pepper, nutmeg, and fennel. However, the base of the tea is always black tea. Chai also usually includes milk, for it brings out the richness of the spices.10
Blooming tea, also known as flowering tea, is mixture of teas and tisanes. The main part of this tea is the tight bundle of tea leaves or buds that are skillfully hand-woven around dried flowers. This tight bundle “blooms” like a flower when it is steeped in hot water. Some of the flower that are commonly used are globe amaranth, jasmine, marigold, lily, and osmanthus. However, this tea is not a simple craft to make, for authentic blooming teas are hand-sewn by Chinese artisans. This tea does not only provide health benefits but also an artistic and aesthetic view.12
It is also known as “bubble tea” but more commonly referred to as "boba”. It originates from Taichung, Taiwan, when Liu Han-Chieh founded it in the early 1980s. The first boba store is Chun Shui Tang, in which has now expanded to over 30 stores nationally in Taiwan. Now the phenomenon has expanded internationally and the popularity is still growing.5
- 4. a. b. c. d. e. Gaylard, L. (2015). The Tea Book. London: DK.
- 14. The History of Tea. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.china.org.cn/learning_chinese/Chinese_tea/2011-07/15/content_22999489.htm
- 8. Keating, B. R., & Long, K. (2015). How to Make Tea: The Science Behind the Leaf. Lewes, East Sussex: Ivy Press
- 11. Martin, N. (2016, May 21). A Beginner's Guide to Yellow Tea. Retrieved from https://thedailytea.com/taste/guide-to-yellow-tea/
- 6. J. (n.d.). Pu'erh for Beginners. Retrieved from https://teadb.org/puerh-for-beginners/
- 1. Alimentarium, R. (2017, March 09). The History of Tea. Retrieved from https://www.alimentarium.org/en/knowledge/history-tea
- 13. The History of Afternoon Tea - A Great British Tradition. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/Afternoon-Tea/
- 2. Brown, M. (2018, November 13). 5 Health Benefits of Rooibos Tea (Plus Side Effects). Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/rooibos-tea-benefits
- 9. Krishna, P. (2017, May 24). Everything You Need to Know About Yerba Mate Tea, the South American Super-Beverage. Retrieved from https://www.foodandwine.com/tea/loose-leaf-tea/why-you-should-be-drinking-yerba-mate-tea
- 7. Jones. T. (2017, October 20). 10 Healthy Herbal Teas You Should Try. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-herbal-teas
- 10. Krishna, P. (2019, February 8). What Is Chai and How to Make It. Retrieved from https://www.foodandwine.com/tea/what-is-chai-how-to-make-chai
- 12. Staughton, J. (2019, March 13). 10 Surprising Benefits of Blooming Tea or Flowering Tea. Retrieved from https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/herbs-and-spices/blooming-or-flowering-tea.html
- 5. Is This the Inventor of Bubble Tea? (2017, July 12). Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/bubble-tea-inventor/index.html