1. Where did tea originate?
2. What are the different types of tea?
3. How is tea processed for consumption?
4. How is tea graded?
5. Does water temperature affect flavor?
6. What is the best method for preparing tea?
7. How should tea be stored?
8. What is the caffeine content in tea?
9. What are the health benefits of drinking tea?
10. What else can tea be used for?
11. What is tea?
12. How is tea made?
13. What do tea names mean?
14. How is tea flavored?
15. Why is some tea blended?
16. How much caffeine is in tea?
17. What is Puerh tea?
18. What are the health benefits of tea?
19. What was the 'Boston Tea Party'?
20. Why do some teas have different names?
21. What is 'dim sum'?"
22. "What is a 'tea clipper'?"
Where did tea originate?
The origins of tea have been debated for centuries; however, the most commonly accepted belief is that
tea bushes (Camellia Sinensis), were discovered in China nearly 5,000 years ago. According to
Chinese legend, in the year 2737 b.c., emperor Shen Nung was travelling with his court to view his
distant lands. As the caravan stopped for rest, the servants boiled water for the court to consume.
Dried tea leaves from a nearby bush had fallen into the boiling water. As a renowned scholar, the
emperor was curious in this new infusion. To his delight, he discovered a pleasant tasting beverage in
what is now known as tea.
What are the different types of tea?
All tea comes from the evergreen tea bush (Camellia Sinensis). The following terms only describe tea
leaves after they are harvested from the tea bush and processed for consumption.
Oxidization is a chemical reaction that takes place when tea leaves are picked and begin to wither and
die. Green tea is not allowed to oxidize and is quickly dried, pan-fried or oven fired to dehydrate the tea
leaves for storage. This process retains many of the polyphenols, catechins, and flavonoids that are
associated with the health benefits of drinking green tea.
Black tea is allowed to oxidize which “ripens” the tea and creates a deep, rich, robust flavor with
uniqueness based on the tea grower’s knowledge and skill. The oxidation process is commonly
referred to as fermentation. This is technically incorrect because "fermentation" is a process in which
yeast is converted into alcohol and sugar is converted to and released as carbon dioxide gas.
Oolong tea falls somewhere between green tea and black tea in the amount of time the tea leaves are
allowed to oxidize. Two terms often used to describe oolong tea are “green” and “amber” style. The
“amber” styles are allowed to oxidize slightly more than the “green style” oolong tea. This results in a
variety of smooth teas available that bear the makers style and tradition.
White tea is picked before the leaf buds fully open and are still covered with fine silky hairs. The
delicate buds are quickly air dried to produce some of the rarest and most expensive tea available.
White tea is said to have three time more antioxidants than green or black tea. Researchers for some
of the large cosmetic companies have become very interested in white tea in recent years. The
polyphenols in white tea have been shown to be very effective in mopping up free radicals that can lead
to aging, and wrinkles, and sagging skin.
Pu-erh tea comes from the Yunnan province in China. Pu-erh tea has a distinct earthy aroma. This type
of tea differs from other formed black tea because it is allowed to grow a thin layer of mold on the
leaves. Of course these are harmless cultures and are reputably known in China for their medicinal
effects. This makes sense because the antibiotic penicillin was first discovered through mold cultures.
Formed or Compressed Tea
This could either refer to green tea or black tea that is pressed into tea bricks, medallions, balls or other
impressions. In ancient times, this was necessary to keep compact for storage on long voyages by ship
or camel. It also preserved the tea during these long journeys because the tea was so tightly packed
that it sealed out air that would otherwise degrade the tea.
Flavored tea is black tea that's soaked in natural or artificial flavors. Today there are too many flavors to
list. The most notable is Earl Grey, which is flavored with the oil of bergamot.
Herbal tea or herb tea is not really tea at all, since they do not contain leaves from the tea bush
(Camellia Sinensis). Herbal teas are made from seeds, roots, flowers, or other parts of plants and
herbs. They are often blended to make unique tasting infusions. Medicinal teas are herbal teas that are
used for the treatment of ailments. These teas are gaining acceptance in western culture.
How is tea processed for consumption?
How is tea graded?
Does water temperature affect flavor?
What is the best method for preparing tea?
Methods of preparing tea are a matter of choice and personal preference. There is no "right" way,
however, there are many customs and rituals that are associated with drinking tea that have stemmed
from every culture. Those who wish to learn and follow these rituals, can often discover new
experiences associated with the long history of tea.
Loose leaf in a teapot – This method of brewing tea allows for maximum freedom for the leaves to
unfurl. This makes for a stronger, more flavorful cup. The disadvantages are removing the leaves, and
cleaning the teapot after brewing. If the tea is not served and allowed to infuse longer than necessary,
the tea can become bitter.
The tea ball – Most tea balls are made from aluminum or stainless steel mesh to hold the tea in place.
This allows for easier cleanup of the leaves. However, there is usually insufficient space for the tea
leaves to expand and prevents water from circulating freely around the tea leaves. Tea balls vary in
sizes from one to three inches.
Stainless-steel mesh infuser – This method is similar to the tea ball, however, handles were added
for easier handling and cleaning. The same disadvantages hold true for the mesh infuser as do for tea
Basket filters – Basket filters that fit most teacups and mugs can be used to make individual cups of
tea. They are made from plastic, stainless steel, or decorative ceramics. Basket filters are also
available to fit inside teapots. This method of brewing tea allows the leaves to circulate freely. It also
makes cleanup and disposal easy. The downfall is that not all baskets fit all teapots.
Tea socks – Tea socks are a fabric enclosure and perform similar to the basket filters. The
disadvantages are that they stain and can retain the flavor and odor of previous batches. If you switch
between green tea and black tea this would not be favorable.
Tea press – The tea press is a glass enclosure with a mesh plunger that allows the leaves to circulate
freely while brewing and allows for compacting them to the bottom before pouring. Tea presses are
available in 2, 4, and 6-cup sizes. Be sure to size correctly for your needs.
Brewing machines – Most coffee-brewing machine’s heat the water temperature near boiling.
Although this works well for coffee beans it’s not suited for brewing fine tasting green tea or oolong tea.
Specifically designed tea brewing machines are now coming onto the market but at a premium cost.
How should tea be stored?
The biggest enemies of tea are air, moisture, light and heat. These elements cause degradation, which
adversely affects tea flavor. Tea can be stored for up to six years when stored in vacuum-packed bags,
however, this is not practical for tea consumers. Therefore, tea should be stored in an airtight container
that does not allow light to penetrate through. Stored this way at room temperature, tea can be kept for
up to a year without any ill affects on flavor.
What is the caffeine content in tea?
Tea can have a wide range of caffeine. Black tea, typically has the most caffeine and usually falls in the
range of 45-60 milligrams of caffeine per 8 ounce cup. The average cup of oolong tea contains about
35-45 milligrams, 10 to 15 milligrams less caffeine than black tea. Green tea and white generally
contain less than 20 milligrams of caffeine. Comparatively, a cup of coffee has 100 to 200 milligrams
and soda can have between 40 and 80 milligrams of caffeine.
Steeping tea for 30 seconds and pouring off the water can eliminate 80% of the caffeine.
Decaffeinated teas are available however, this process can adversely affect their true flavor.
What are the health benefits of drinking tea?
Tea contains many health-related compounds. Green tea and white tea are not oxidized and contain
the highest ratio of antioxidants and therefore, are considered to be the “healthiest”. There are many
studies that have conducted over the last few decades, but researchers are only now beginning to state
claims of the health benefits of drinking tea. What the Chinese and Japanese have known for centuries,
western medical practitioners are now validating. Some of the health benefits that are now being
examined from consuming tea:
Reduced cholesterol levels
Lowering blood sugar
Lowering blood pressure
Increased immunity by raising white blood cell counts
Prevention of heart disease
Prevention of Osteoporosis
Prevention of cavities and reduced plaque
Suppressing the effects of Aging
Providing essential vitamins and minerals
Aiding in proper digestion
Increased hydration through the consumption of more water
What else can tea be used for?
Tea can be added to herbal bath mixes for skin care.
Tea can relieve sunburn by applying a tea soaked compress.
Tea can be used to relieve the itch from mosquito bites.
Tea can be use for cooking.
Tea can be used as a fabric dye.
1. Q: "What is tea?"
A: Tea is the common name of Camellia sinensis -the "Chinese Camellia"- a flowering evergreen shrub native to southern China. "Tea" is also the name of the processed dry leaves of this shrub and the infused beverage produced by soaking these leaves in hot water. This means that different tea varieties, i.e. green tea, oolong, etc., are all derived from the same plant (see question 2) and, further, that "herbal tea" is a misnomer since tea itself is an herb and any other herbs, therefore, are not tea.
2. Q: "How is tea made?"
A: As noted in question 1 above, all tea comes from the tea plant, Camellia sinensis, so the major differences we see between the various tea families and styles cannot be attributed to botanical distinctions (although some do exist, i.e. Assam and Cambodian varieties). Instead, it is mainly the way tea is processed that results in its wide variety. Unlike most other herbs, which are simply picked and dried, tea goes through many distinct stages of processing between harvest and infusion. GREEN tea is (generally speaking) processed least, usually undergoing only 2 or 3 processes, as follows. After plucking, the leaves are allowed to "wither", during which time they loose some of their moisture content, becoming soft and fragrant. Next, they are heated (e.g. by steaming or pan-firing) in order to prevent oxidation and preserve their green color and fresh flavor. This heating may dry the tea completely, or the leaves may be shaped (e.g. by rolling) before final drying. OOLONG and BLACK tea undergo additional processing (such as shaking, tumbling or crushing) which bruises or breaks open the surface of the leaf in order to encourage oxidation. During oxidation (also erroneously known as "fermentation"), enzymes exposed to the air cause the leaf to darken, thus developing the tea's color, aroma, and flavor. Upon achieving the desired level of oxidation, the process is halted by heating and drying.
3. Q: "What do tea names mean?"
A: Tea names can tell us a lot about a tea. "West Lake Dragon Well", "Formosa Oolong", and "Anxi Tieguanyin", for example, identify the teas' places of origin, i.e. the West Lake of China's ancient capital Hangzhou, Formosa (the Portuguese name for Taiwan), and mountainous Anxi county in Fujian province. In addition, "Dragon Well" and "Tieguanyin" allude to legends associated with particular teas, such as a dragon spring near Hangzhou or a goddess named Guanyin. Tea names can also contain clues about shape, color, and texture, such as ""Pearl", "Silver Needle", "Jade", "White Hair", and so on.
4. Q: "How is tea flavored?"
A: Throughout its history, the flavor of tea has been enhanced by a variety of aromatic substances. In modern tea processing, this tradition continues under two major headings: "scenting" and "flavoring". (A third category, really a form of blending, involves mixing aromatic material into the tea leaves, as in the case of chai, which is made by adding spice to the tea.) Two of the world's most popular teas are jasmine and Earl Grey - perfect examples of scenting and flavoring. Jasmine is (or, at least, should be) a scented tea, meaning that all that is added to the tea is literally the scent. This is how it works: tea leaves are picked, processed, and dried. Then they are "layered" with jasmine flowers, i.e. stacked in thin layers of tea leaves and jasmine flowers separated by screens. For high quality teas, such as Jasmine Pearls, the flowers are changed several times and the scenting process can last up to a week. (Jasmine flowers are mixed in with lower quality products for show, but they only contribute negatively to the flavor since jasmine flowers themselves do not have a pleasant taste.) Flavored teas are a much simpler affair. They are teas to which flavor has been added - in the case of Earl Grey, oil of bergamot, a Mediterranean citrus fruit.
5. Q: "Why is some tea blended?"
A: Blending is a process with a long history in the tea business. Since quality can vary greatly from season to season and place to place, blending was developed to improve product consistency. Big commercial tea companies can use 30 different teas or more to insure customers get the same flavor, aroma, and color cup after cup, year after year. Blending also serves to "round out" teas not considered "self drinkers" (i.e. teas not good enough to drink on their own).
6. Q: "How much caffeine is in tea?"
A: Caffeine is a natural component of the tea leaf, and, unless artificially removed, it is present to some extent in all tea. By comparison, it should be noted that tea in general contains significantly less caffeine than coffee (as little as Â½). Most research suggests that the more oxidized (i.e. darker) a tea is, the more caffeine it contains, but many other factors, such as leaf size, water temperature and steeping time, are just as important (making useful generalizations about the content and effect of caffeine in tea nearly impossible). It can be said, however, that unlike coffee, tea is known not only for its stimulating effect, but also for its calming and soothing properties... making the only real test of any particular tea's caffeine potency to brew it using your preferred method and try it yourself.
7. Q: "What is Puerh tea?"
A: In terms of processing (and just about every other way, too), Puerh is a special case, not conforming to the methods outlined in the answer to question 2 above. Puerh, named for a trade city in China's southwestern Yunnan province, is unique in undergoing a stage of genuine fermentation during manufacture. To achieve this, the tea leaves are heaped into dense piles. In a process similar to the microbiology of wine and beer making -which employ bacteria and yeast- Puerh tea is fermented with mold. When the desired color, aroma, and flavor have developed, the mold is carefully removed to prevent spoiling. "Green" (or "raw") Puerh tea is not fermented. It is sun-dried and allowed to oxidize naturally over a long period (many years if possible). Puerh tea is known not only for its uniquely rich, earthy flavor, but also for its potent medicinal properties (generally related to the reduction of cholesterol and blood fats) and the fact that rather than becoming stale and tasteless as it ages, its flavor actually develops and improves- meaning that, like a fine wine it can be aged 10, 20, 50 years or more. Traditionally a popular tea in China, Puerh has recently begun to find favor abroad- which is why Tribute Tea has taken care to assemble a comprehensive collection of Puerh including superior examples of many of its numerous loose, compressed, and aged varieties.
8. Q: "What are the health benefits of tea?"
A: Scientific research suggests that tea is beneficial to health in many significant ways:
Cardiovascular - Epidemiological studies have shown a correlation between drinking black tea and lower incidence of heart disease, probably because the polyphenols in tea prevent the peroxidation of low-density lipoproteins (LDL or "bad cholesterol"), which is the precipitating factor in the development of arterial plaque.
Anticancer - Although epidemiological studies remain inconclusive, laboratory studies strongly suggest that tea inhibits tumor growth. It has definite antioxidant properties, although there may be other reasons for its effect. Most research has focused on the prevention of lung, throat, and gastrointestinal cancers, but evidence also suggests a positive effect on skin and liver cancer.
Nutritional - Puerh and oolong teas have been shown to lower cholesterol levels, although green tea has not been shown to have the same effect. Tea may also protect teeth, as it can contain fluoride, as well as inhibit glucosyltransferase, the enzyme that helps bacteria adhere to teeth, thus leading to tooth decay.
9. Q: "What was the 'Boston Tea Party'?"
A: The first tea exported from Asia to Europe was brought to Holland by the Dutch East India Company in about 1610. By 1650, tea had reached the new world, again with the help of the Dutch, who introduced the exotic medicinal beverage (and their customs of imbibing it) to the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam (later renamed New York after taken by the British). In 1767, Britain passed the Townshend Act, which set the tax on tea at 3 pence per pound. In 1773, the Tea Act appeared, which did not repeal the 3 pence tax, but allowed surplus tea to be imported directly to the colonies at a lower price. To the colonists, however, it was still "taxation without representation". In Boston, three British ships in the harbor were prevented from unloading their cargo of tea. On the night of December 16, 1773, colonists dressed as Mohawk Indians boarded the ships, broke open over 300 chests of tea and proceded to dump the contents overboard. Similar "tea parties" ensued in other parts of the colonies. Following the Boston Tea Party, Britain issued the so-called "Intolerable" or "Coercive" Acts, which, among other things, closed Boston Harbor, forced the colonists to quarter British troops, and outlawed unsanctioned public meetings. The Intolerable Acts united the colonies against Britain, precipitated the convening of the the First Continental Congress, and led ultimately to the American War of Independence.
(Read an eyewitness account of the Boston Tea Party.)
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10. Q: "Why do some teas have different names?"
A: ANSWER COMING SOON.
11. Q: "What is 'dim sum'?"
A: Many people may know dim sum as the steamed dumplings and other miniature fare wheeled out on carts at fancy Chinese restaurants; but that isn't the end of the story. The words dim sum actually mean "touches the heart". This is roughly equivalent to what we mean when we say "hits the spot" and therefore applies to any little bite we eat as a snack. When food is accompanying tea (rather than the other way around), something light and a little bit sweet or savory is best.
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12. Q: "What is a 'tea clipper'?"
What is the difference between green tea, white tea, black tea, oolong and puer?
All these types of tea, as well as white tea and puer (pu-er, pu-erh) tea, all come from the same plant, Camellia Sinensis. The difference lies in when they are picked and how they are prepared. Very basically, green tea is generally picked in spring, and uses the best new tips and buds of the plant. White tea is similar, but black tea uses more mature leaves from further down the plant. Unlike green tea, black tea (as well as puer) is fermented (which means oxidised - exposed to the air at a critical time in production), which produces a dark, robust tea. Puer is then aged, usually after being pressed into a cake or brick. Oolong is made with larger leaves, partially fermented to produce a distinctive aroma and taste.