The term “tea” is used to describe just about any drink made by
combining hot water with leaves, flowers or roots, i.e. herbal
“tea”, but true tea is made only from the leaves and buds of the
Camellia sinensis bush, an evergreen shrub.
All tea originates from the same plant species, the Camellia
sinensis. Although the Camellia assamica plant, native to India, was
originally thought to be a distinct tea variety, botanists have
concluded that these two plants actually both belong to the Camellia
sinensis species. From the plant reproduction process of
cross-pollinating, multitudes of varieties of tea plants have
originated, each with unique growing characteristics and flavors.
Teas are typically named by the region they come from, a legendary
story about the tea itself, a literal Chinese translation, or a
combination of these.
How Tea is Harvested
Today, the majority of tea harvesting (plucking) is still done by
hand. The uppermost section of the shoots of the tea plant, where
the young, tender new leaves and buds are found, are plucked for
making tea. The development of the new buds and leaves is called the
flush. Thus the term first flush refers to the first development of
buds and leaves, generally occurring in the Spring.
The grade of tea depends on the time of harvest (Springtime first
flush generally being the best), what part of the tea plant is
plucked, and the quality of the plucked leaves. For superior teas,
the bud or the bud plus youngest leaf is plucked. For most good to
average teas, the bud and top two leaves are gathered. And for
average to below average grade teas, plucking may consist of the
bud, top two leaves, and the older leaf below them, plus some of the
Among the many famous varieties of loose leaf tea are the basic
types, black, green, oolong, and white tea. The difference in the
basic types is determined by the manufacturing process that each
Green tea leaves are dried immediately after the leaves are picked
to prevent the oxidation process and seal in much of the flavorful
essential oils. The leaves are either pan-fried, roasted or steamed,
which also makes the leaves soft and pliable. They are then rolled
by hand on heated trays to reduce their moisture content. For the
final stage of green tea manufacturing, the freshly rolled leaves
are dried in large mechanical dryers until only about 3% of their
original moisture remains.
The resulting tea flavor depends greatly on where the leaves come
from, and on how they are initially dried after being picked. In
China, the leaves are rapidly pan-fired or roasted over wood or
charcoal. In Japan, they are steamed for 20-50 seconds in large
rotating cylinders. In India, they are rotated in heated cylinders
for 7-10 minutes.
The beverage made from green tea leaves is clear light green to
light golden brown in color, with a refreshing, slightly bitter, but
Oolong tea leaves are gently rolled after picking, preparing them
for the oxidation process. In traditional oolong manufacturing, the
leaves are spread three to four inches deep in large bamboo baskets
and placed in direct sunlight for four to five hours. The baskets
are shaken frequently to “bruise” the leaf edges, causing them to
oxidize faster than the leaf centers. When the oxidation of the
leaves is approximately half complete, they begin to give off their
characteristic fragrance, often compared to apples, peaches, or
orchids. The leaves are fired to prevent further oxidation, and then
hand rolled into their final shape. Depending on the processing
method used, the resulting tea leaves can range anywhere from green
to black in color.
The beverage made from oolong tea leaves is bright and golden to
reddish brown in color, with a smooth finish and lingering
Black (Red) Tea
Black tea (or red tea, as it is known in China because of the golden
red liquor it produces when steeped) follows all four of the steps
of tea manufacturing. The leaves are first withered to remove
moisture and to make them soft and pliable. The second step, rolling
the leaf, readies it for its transformation in the oxidation stage.
The rolled leaves are spread on cement or tile floors and tables in
a cool, humid room. When they have reached the desired color and
pungency, they are fired. Firing takes place in hot pans (similar to
woks) or in large modern dryers where a constant temperature of
120°F can be maintained. The leaves turn black and lose all but
three percent of their original moisture.
The beverage made from black tea leaves is a brilliant reddish
color, with a distinctive mellow scent and smooth finish.
Although white tea is similar in appearance to green tea,
there are definite differences. White tea leaves are typically
picked while the buds are tightly enclosed in new leaves. They are
immediately fired after picking, and they are not rolled, a process
which allows the release of essential oils from the leaf and
promotes oxidation. Because they undergo little processing, the
leaves often retain the silky white hairs that signified their new
growth while on the plant. Because white tea is the least processed
of all the teas, it comes the closest to tasting like the fresh pure
tea leaves, with a much lighter flavor than that of green tea.
Another effect of less processing is that white tea generally
contains the least amount of caffeine of all the teas, ranging from
5-15mg per cup, as compared to an average 50mg per cup for other
teas. White tea is a great alternative for those people who want the
health benefits of green tea without the stronger green tea taste.
The beverage made from white tea leaves is a light green color, with
a mild and delicate flavor.
Though sometimes referred to as (scented) green tea, flower teas are
technically scented oolongs because of the way the leaves are
semi-oxidized with the flower blossoms to infuse the flower scent
into the tea. Flower teas often contain the dried flowers used for
scent infusion. Jasmine tea is one of the most famous of these teas.
To create fine jasmine tea, the leaves are plucked in April and May
and stored until August when the finest night blooming white jasmine
flowers are in bloom. The jasmine blossoms are picked in the morning
when the tiny petals are tightly closed and kept cool until evening
when they are mixed with the tea leaves. In the early evening, the
blossoms open with a popping sound and as the tea leaves dry, they
are infused with the sweet jasmine aroma. In the morning, the spent
flowers are removed and fresh blossoms readied for the evening. This
process is repeated a number of times, depending on the grade of tea
desired. For top jasmine grades, the nightly infusion continues for
twelve consecutive nights. Low grade jasmine tea is scented only
once with jasmine petals and is typically packed with the flowers
included. For the most standard grade of jasmine tea, the leaves are
scented seven times.
Pu’er is a type of black tea that can be kept for a long
time, and does not lose its flavor with age. The glossy black or
brownish red tea leaves are processed by fermenting them in piles.
These piles are then compressed into a circular “cake” shape or
brick shape. Pu’er is reputed to have many health properties such as
aiding fat reduction and food digestion, preventing bacterial
growth, dispelling the effects of alcohol, and relieving fever. It
is recorded in the most famous Chinese medical book ‘Ben Cao Gang Mu’
that Pu’er tea “acts as a detoxifier, cleans the stomach and
intestine, removes fat, and cures many kinds of diseases”. Because
of this, Pu’er has been called many good things such as “Cosmetology
Tea”, “Fat Reducing Tea”, “Longevity Tea”, etc.
The beverage has a sweet and mellow taste, and the fragrance wafts
up from the cup to greet you.
Tea Processing Definitions
This step is performed in order to remove moisture from the freshly
plucked tea leaves. The leaves are spread uniformly on trays or
racks in a cool room for 18-24 hours. Through evaporation, they lose
from 1/3 to 1/2 of their weight and become soft and pliable. Green
tea does not go through this process.
The purpose of this step is to break apart the cells in the tea leaf
to release the enzymes that will interact with air and promote
oxidation of the leaf.
In this step, the chemical structure of the leaf is changed (by
oxidation), allowing the key flavor characteristics to emerge. The
rolled leaves are spread out and carefully monitored for one to five
hours until they achieve the desired color and pungency. Green tea
does not go through this process.
Drying or Firing
This is the step that prevents oxidation (green tea leaves) or stops
further oxidation (oolong and black teas). The tea leaves are
exposed to heat (by various methods) to destroy the enzymes that
promote oxidation. It is also during this part of the process that
leaves are rolled, shaped and styled.
It is always good to keep in mind the following “equation” for
Tea Result = (Tea Quantity) x (Water Quantity) x (Water Temp) x
By varying any of the factors within the equation, a different
resulting tea can be achieved. Remember, however, that steeping a
good cup of tea is an art rather than a science, and that a “good
cup” is as individual as the individual who is drinking it. Here are
some other tips to keep in mind.
Start with fresh, cold water, bottled or filtered being the best.
Previously boiled water or hot tap water has less oxygen and can
result in a “flatter” flavor.
Water / Tea Quantity.
general, good results are achieved by using around 3g (1-2tsp) of
loose tea per each 8oz (1c) of water.
Pre-heating the Steeping Vessel.
the steeping vessel (glass, pot, etc.), is not necessary, but will
keep the tea from cooling too quickly.
Tips for Making Green Tea
•A clear glass is fun to use to appreciate the unfurling of the
beautiful green leaves (“agony of the leaves”).
•Water is best just before the boiling point, when tiny bubbles
begin to form on the bottom of the kettle - 160-185ºF (70-85°C). Or
use water that is freshly boiled and allowed to cool.
•It is recommended to pour the hot water into the glass first, then
add the leaves. If adding water to leaves in the glass, pour the
water to the side of the glass, and not directly onto the tea
•Steep for 2-3 minutes.
•Most green teas can be re-steeped 3 to 4 times. For subsequent
infusions, pour the water carefully to the side of the glass, and
not directly onto the tea leaves.
White Tea is made the same as Green Tea, except:
•Increase the steeping time to 4-5 minutes. This allows the leaves
that enclose the bud to open up and release their flavor.
Tips for Making Oolong Tea
•It is fun to use a *Yixing clay teapot or a gaiwan (traditional
•Water is best at the start of the boiling point, when the tiny
bubbles begin to rise to the top and gather around the outside of
the kettle - 175-195°F (80-90°C ).
•Pour the water directly over the tea leaves in the pot and cover.
•Steep for 3-5 minutes.
•Oolong teas can be re-steeped 3 to 7 times. Increase the water
temperature or steeping time slightly for each subsequent steeping.
*A Yixing clay pot, over time, will retain the scent (and flavor) of
the tea which is steeped in it. For this reason, it is not
recommended to brew different types teas in the same Yixing pot.
Flower Tea is made the same as Oolong Tea, except:
•Add the tea leaves to the water.
•Steep for only 1-2 minutes. Flower teas can become bitter if
infused too long.
Tips for Making Black Tea
•A white porcelain or ceramic pot will show off the beautiful color
of this tea.
•Water is best when it has reached a “full rolling boil”.
•Add the leaves to the pot.
•Pour the water directly over the tea leaves in the pot and cover.
•Steep for at least 3 minutes.
•Black teas can be re-steeped 2 to 4 times. Increase the water
temperature or steeping time slightly for each subsequent steeping.
Loose leaf black tea makes wonderful ice tea. Here’s how:
•Double either the quantity of leaves or the steeping time.
•Measure the same amount of ice cubes as tea into a pitcher, i.e.
for 4 cups of tea, use 4 cups of ice cubes.
•Pour the hot tea directly over the ice cubes (this prevents the
cooling tea from becoming “cloudy”).
•Chill in the refrigerator.
Tips for Making Pu'er Tea
•Boil the tea together with the water in a tea kettle.
•Simply boil, filter and drink. There is no steeping time to
•Tea left in the kettle can be boiled again to drink again
How to decaffeinate your tea
Regular tea containing natural caffeine can be easily
decaffeinated before drinking. Simply “rinse” the tea by steeping it
briefly (20-30 seconds) in a small amount of boiling water. Throw
this away then re-steep the filtered leaves. This process
significantly reduces the amount of caffeine in tea.
Tea and Health
This section is meant to shed some light on why tea is gaining in
popularity as people are becoming more health conscious. We do not
attempt to cover all aspects of this subject on this site, it is
simply too wide reaching. If you do your own internet search for
“tea and health”, you will be amazed at the number of news stories
and scientific studies that exist.
When we fell in love with tea, we knew none of this. What we did
know is that we loved the relaxing yet stimulating effects it
provided us and the wide variety of flavors to enjoy. (A striking
contrast for former coffee lovers!) What we learned about tea as we
got more involved with it, gave us even more reason to keep
TEA IS ALL NATURAL
Tea is all natural. It contains:
•No additives or preservatives
Tea also contains:
•Vitamins A, C and E (typical of leafy plants)
Tea is also environmentally friendly, since it is grown from a
TEA CONTAINS ANTI-OXIDANT FLAVANOIDS THAT PROMOTE GOOD HEALTH
Tea is one of the best sources of flavonoids in the American diet.
Flavonoids act as anti-oxidants within the body, working to
neutralize free radicals by combining with them chemically before
they can cause damage. Scientists believe that free radicals, over
time, cause damage to elements in the body and contribute to chronic
diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
The primary flavonoids present in tea are called catechins in green
tea, and thearubigens and theaflavins in black tea. The difference
is a result of the processing of the tea leaves – almost no
oxidation of green tea leaves versus full oxidation of black tea
leaves. Although the flavonoids in both types of tea contain
healthful properties, those found in green tea have been to found to
contain more powerful anti-oxidant properties than those found in
black tea – between two to eight times as much.
Bottled (Ready-To-Drink) teas contain fewer anti-oxidant properties
for the simple reason that they contain very little tea, and mostly
water and sugar.
How Tea Stacks Up Against Other Anti-Oxidants
There are many other beverages and foods that are also known to
exhibit anti-oxidant properties, and currently much controversy as
to which of these exhibits the most health
properties. Among these are citrus fruits, berries, onions, parsley,
red wine, dark chocolate. Each food or beverage industry’s ad
campaigns attempt to represent its product in the best light. It is
best to let actual research data speak for itself. For example,
studies of various “healthful” beverages show that the following
quantities (number of 8oz glasses) of those beverages contain
similar amounts of anti-oxidants. Green and black tea are at the top
of the list, requiring much less intake, and having no negative
after-effects upon consumption.
Chart source: “The Polyphenolic Content of Fruits
and Vegetables and Their Antioxidant Activities: What Does a Serving
Constitute?” Paganga et al., Free Radical Research, Volume 30, Feb
Some Potential Benefits
Because of its anti-oxidant properties, tea is a healthy addition to
any diet. Ongoing scientific studies continue to investigate the
benefits of tea in a wide range of health areas. These include the
claims that drinking tea may:
Promote cardiovascular health
Inhibit cancer by Neutralizing free radicals
Lower LDL levels
Strengthen the immune system
Contribute to oral health (fluoride)
Aid in fighting obesity
Help build bones
Inhibit progression of Alzheimer’s Disease
Improve sex life
TEA IS LOWER IN CAFFEINE
A moderate intake of caffeine is considered to be between 300-400mg
per day. This equates to drinking around six to eight cups of
(freshly steeped) tea. On average, one serving of tea contains less
than half the level of caffeine of a typical coffee – between
40-50mg for tea, and 90-120mg for coffee. Most sodas contain around
40-50mg of tea as well, but are loaded with unhealthy additives such
as flavorings, sugar or sugar substitutes.
It is important to note that many loose leaf teas may be re-steeped
up to three times, and some even more, depending on the type and
quality of the tea. The caffeine in the loose tea leaves is expelled
into the cup during the first steeping. Each subsequent steeping
does not provide any additional caffeine, thus three or more cups of
tea can be consumed having the caffeine content equivalent of just
one cup. This also means that regular tea containing natural
caffeine, can be easily de-caffeinated before drinking. Simply
“rinse” the tea briefly (20 seconds) in the hot water, filter, and
Because of its relatively low caffeine content, tea could rarely act
as a diuretic. Around 250-300mg of tea would have to be consumed in
one sitting – between five to six cups of freshly steeped tea.
Pregnant women, limited to less than 200mg of caffeine per day, can
continue to enjoy their favorite teas throughout pregnancy. This is
especially useful in the first trimester, as tea can often help calm
an upset stomach or relieve nausea.
TEA MAKES YOU FEEL GOOD
Steeped tea has the ability to stimulate the body and mind, while at
the same time, helping to prevent anxiety. This is because tea
contains both energizing properties (caffeine) and relaxing
properties (theanine). Tea can be drunk to energize in the A.M. and
to de-stress in the P.M. It acts as a “ying-yang” balancer to the
system, which makes it a good beverage to drink at any time of the
TEA IS HYDRATING
For some time, doctors and nutritionists have been recommending “8
cups of fluids per day” for maintaining proper hydration levels in
the body. Tea is hydrating, not dehydrating. It does not have a
diuretic effect unless the amount consumed at one sitting contains
more than 250-300mg of caffeine – the equivalent of five to six cups
of freshly steeped (not re-steeped) tea.
Thus, drinking tea each day actually contributes to daily fluid
requirements, and is a tasty substitute for all that water.
History of Tea
•From China to the Rest of the World
•The History of Tea in the United States
•India Enters the Export Business
Chinese Emperor Shen-Nung is credited with the discovery of tea
around 2737 B.C. It is said that as he was boiling a pot of water
one day, some tea leaves blew into it. He tasted this creation and
found it to be a delicious new beverage. He later produced the first
written record of tea in his medical book, Pen Ts’ao, in which he
noted that tea “quenches the thirst. It lessens the desire for
sleep. It gladdens and cheers the heart.”
Tea was initially highly regarded as a medicine, and not an everyday
beverage. Early written records around the 4th century A.D. noted
that tea was used to cure a wide range of digestive disorders and
nervous conditions. By the 5th century A.D., drinking tea for
pleasure was becoming more common in many areas of China
In 780 A.D., the Chinese poet and scholar, Lu Yu, created his famous
three volume book detailing everything that was then known about
tea: the origins of the tea plant, the varieties of tea, the methods
of tea cultivation and production, the benefits of tea drinking, and
precise instructions for brewing and serving tea. This book, “Ch’a
Ching”, became the tea bible, and Lu Yu the ultimate authority on
the subject of tea, and the “patron saint of tea”.
From China to the Rest of the World
Tea was introduced to Japan around 729 A.D. by Buddhist monks who
had been studying in China. A new version of Lu Yu’s tea ceremony
was practiced based on Buddhist principles. At first tea was mainly
promoted for its spiritual and health-promoting properties, but by
the 14th century, it had become a popular pleasure drink, especially
with the Japanese nobility. Thanks to its simplicity, the Japanese
tea ceremony became accessible to the middle class, and the use of
tea became almost universal throughout Japan.
Spain and Portugal were the first Western countries to begin trading
for tea and other exotic goods in the mid 16th century. In the late
16th century, a Dutch navigator, van Lin-Schooten, published an
account of his travels to Japan, in which he described the Japanese
tea ceremony and the beautiful tea artifacts that were used. This
sparked the interest of Dutch traders, and a trading station for
Oriental goods was set up on the island of Java. So it was that
Dutch sailing ships carried the first shipments of tea to Europe in
Until 1689, all of England’s tea was supplied by the Dutch. As the
demand for tea became more widespread, England’s East India Company
began to import tea directly from China via sailing ships – a
difficult one year round trip voyage in which many ships were lost
at sea. The East India Company monopolized England’s tea trade with
China for almost 150 years.
Russia opened up tea trade with China at the end of the 17th
century, using camel caravans that made round trips across the Gobi
desert – about a three year journey.
During the 17th century, tea was introduced to nearly every Western
country. Only Russia and Great Britain, however, maintained their
love of the beverage that continues to this day.
The History of Tea in the United States
The popularity of tea was carried over from Great Britain to the
American colonies into the 17th and 18th centuries. The turning
point came when Britain levied a stringent tea tax, and the outraged
Colonists responded by tossing chests of tea over the sides of
English ships into the Boston Harbor – the now famous “Boston Tea
Party”. Thus began both the move toward American independence, as
well as the move toward adopting coffee as the national drink.
Because many people still had an affinity for tea, the United States
began importing its own tea. In 1841, the U.S. invented the clipper
ship, which reduced the import voyage to China and back to nearly
half the time. In 1869, the opening of the Suez canal made the
journey even quicker.
India Enters the Export Business
In the early 1800’s, an English Major stationed in the Indian
province of Assam, discovered that the natives there enjoyed a
brewed drink that greatly resembled tea. Upon investigating where
the brewed leaves came from, he found tea trees growing wild.
Samples of the leaves were sent to the Botanical Gardens in Calcutta
where they were classified as plants from the same family as Chinese
teas (Camellia), but a different species (assamica, rather than
The Major’s discovery was ignored for nearly a decade, when an
infantry Lieutenant made a similar discovery and also sent samples
to the Botanical Gardens for analysis. This time, the East India
Company got wind of the discovery and took advantage of this
opportunity to become their own tea supplier. They sent their
secretary to China to steal the seeds of sinensis tea plants.
Several took root, along with the indigenous Indian assamica tea
plants, and the first British tea plantations were formed in India.
This plantation style cultivation of tea resulted in cheaper and
larger quantities of tea production. The English also brought tea
processing machines which saved money, labor and time. By 1900,
China’s tea exportation had dropped dramatically, never to be
regained. Today, India is the largest tea producing country in the
world, with China close behind. China, however, is still the leader
in green tea production, producing more than four times the amount
of green tea than Japan.