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‘TEA’ Defined
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 twig.

Tea Types
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 type undergoes.

Green Tea
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 smooth taste.

Oolong Tea
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 aftertaste.

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.

White Tea
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.

Flower Tea
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 Tea
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
Withering
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.

Rolling
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.

Oxidizing
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.

Steeping Tips
It is always good to keep in mind the following “equation” for steeping tea:

Tea Result = (Tea Quantity) x (Water Quantity) x (Water Temp) x (Steeping Time)

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.

Water Quality
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.
In 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.
 Preheating 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 leaves.

•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 Chinese teacup).

•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 consider.

•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 drinking…

TEA IS ALL NATURAL
Tea is all natural. It contains:

•No calories

•No fat

•No sugar

•No sodium

•No additives or preservatives

Tea also contains:

•Vitamins A, C and E (typical of leafy plants)

•Fluoride

•Anti-oxidant flavanoids

Tea is also environmentally friendly, since it is grown from a renewable source.

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 1999

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 steep.

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 day.

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
•Chinese Origins

•From China to the Rest of the World

•The History of Tea in the United States

•India Enters the Export Business

Chinese Origins
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 1610.

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 sinensis).

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.
 

Information source: Goldfish Tea.com  
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