What is tea?
Though the subtle pleasures of tea are in the moment, its history dates back across the centuries. According to legend, Emperor Shen Nung, the father of agriculture and traditional medicine in China, made the fortuitous discovery in 2737 B.C. He was sleeping under a tea plant when leaves from the plant drifted into the water he was boiling. Infused in hot water, the tea leaves released their intriguing colors and flavors. As the ever-curious Emperor sipped the fortifying beverage, it cleared his mind and focused his thoughts. Tea Mind was discovered.
A plant called Camellia sinensis produces the leaves and buds that are commonly known as tea – the most common beverage consumed in the world, second only to water.
Camellia sinensis, which grows in tropical and subtropical climates, is a flowering evergreen shrub that produces small white flowers; the leaves and buds are ready to be harvested three years after the shrub is planted. Although Camellia sinensis bushes can live for more than a hundred years, harvesting leaves and buds from smaller, younger bushes is easier. Once harvested, the leaves are dried and rolled in preparation for distribution.
The traditional tea-growing countries are China, Japan, India and Sri Lanka. However, in recent years, new tea-producing countries have emerged, most notably Bangladesh, Vietnam and Kenya. Origin impacts the flavor characteristics while altitude, soil type, plant type and age of the tea plant are other influencing factors.
Each origin can produce any of the five types of tea, although certain regions are known for one type or another. For example, Japan is known for green tea. China is known for white tea and pu-erh. Sri Lanka for its black tea.
Whether you choose organic green tea, white tea or black tea, it’s important to learn where your tea is grown, as well as how it’s harvested and distributed, to ensure the highest standards in ethics, quality and taste.
What are the different types of tea?
Black tea is a popular choice, with a higher caffeine amount of about 40-50 milligrams of caffeine per cup. Made with the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant (the tea plant), the leaves are rolled and oxidized until black. This produces a robust tea, and is traditionally used in spiced chai as well.
Green tea is made from the Camellia sinensis tea plant, the leaves are not allowed to oxidize at all, but are heated soon after harvest, allowing them to retain their natural green color. Green tea can be quite grassy, or “green” in flavor, and is often mixed with other flavors, such as flower petals, peppermint or dried fruits. This is the most popular tea in many Asian countries. It is lower yet in caffeine with about 25 milligrams of caffeine per cup.
On the other side of the spectrum is white tea. Light in color when brewed, and light in caffeine (about 15 milligrams per cup), it is made with the youngest tea buds and leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, and is not oxidized at all, but steamed and dried after harvest. Instead of a robust cup of tea, expect a delicate, subtle tea with a natural sweetness.
Made from leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, the oolong tea process starts with them withering under the sun. The oxidizing period is for a shorter time frame compared to the black tea, as it is stopped once the leaves give off a fruity fragrance (though note that the rate of oxidation in oolong teas varies greatly on the variety). The leaves are then rolled and fired. Generally, there is a lower amount of caffeine per cup – about 30 milligrams. One way to think of oolong tea is halfway between green tea and black.
A distinct green tea, this non-oxidized tea is unique because it is made with the whole tea leaf ground into a powder. This powder is then used to make a delicate and antioxidant-rich tea.
Herbal Infusion Tea
Infusion teas are made with a variety of herbs, fruits, flower petals, and spices and are not considered traditional tea to some. Whether you want a familiar peppermintea, or an exotically fruity tart blend, there is a lovely array of herbal teas to explore – many of which were traditionally thought to have holistic medicinal value, and certainly culinary value.
Red & Green Roobios
Roobios tea is made from a plant belonging to the legume family. The oxidized version of rooibos has a hearty red color and sweet flavor. The green version has not been oxidized and has a grassier flavor, much like green tea. It is caffeine-free.
How to brew tea?
How a tea is brewed can make all the difference between an amazing tea experience and an underwhelming one. So here’s our advice on all the things to consider when you sit down to brew your next cup of tea.
Know your H20
Brewed tea is 99 percent water, so the water you steep with has a lot to do with the final taste of the brewed tea. If your water tastes “off” or has impurities, then your tea will taste the same, no matter how strong you make your brew. Just remember that it’s always best to start your tea experience with fresh, clean water. Filtered or bottled spring water is best; avoid using tap, distilled or mineral water.
Measuring Tea to Water Ratio
A standard single serving of tea is typically measured out as 2 grams of loose tea or bagged (the size of about a teaspoon) per 8 ounces of hot water (the size of about a typical tea mug). To brew several cups of tea in a large teapot, simply increase the amount of loose leaf tea grams to match the total ounces of water you’re using. For example 3 8oz cups of water would need approximately 6 grams of loose leaf tea or 3 tea bags to .
Steeping Time & Temperature
Before you simply pour hot water over your tea, consider the type of tea you’re brewing. Different types of tea have different ideal brewing temperatures and steeping times that will yield the best flavor out of that specific tea. So take a minute to think about the three Ts before you brew:
Type of Tea:
What type of tea are you planning to brew? Green tea leaves, for example, are more delicate and fresh than black tea leaves, so they can be steeped at a lower temperature and don’t need to be steeped as long. Herbal teas, on the other hand, do not contain the Camellia sinensis tea plant, so they can steep much longer than a true tea without becoming astringent or bitter.
The Right Temperature:
Tea generally requires a brewing temperature of anywhere from 160 to 212 degrees, depending on the type of tea. If you don’t have an electric kettle with a temperature control, just remember that at sea level water simmers at 190 degrees and boils at 212 degrees. So you can visually guesstimate the water temperature by paying attention to the bubbles. But remember that the boiling temperature drops about a degree for every 100 feet in altitude increase, so you may need to adjust the further away from sea level you are.
If you steep tea for too little time, your tea can be weak and watery. If you over steep your tea, you could risk a mouthful of bitterness and astringency. Taste your tea after the minimum recommended steeping time and then decide if you’d like it to steep a little longer.