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Tea Stories

Discover the fascinating world of tea!

by ZYANNA Admin 13 Jan 2024 0 Comments

Tea has been around for almost 5,000 years. It was first discovered in China and has since become a staple of the human diet across the globe. The hot and iced beverage rose from humble beginnings into one of the most consumed beverages on the planet. Since tea leaves were first infused in China thousands of years ago, it has delighted us with its range of flavors and potent health benefits. The flavors and aromas offer something for everyone, whether you prefer spicy or sweet, mild or bold. Discover the world of tea and find out everything there is to know about this dazzling drink.

What Is Tea?

To truly understand tea, you need to know what actually constitutes tea. There are three main categories of tea: true tea, herbal tea, and flavored tea. These teas are differentiated by the plants that are used to make the tea. There are also subcategories within each of these categories to further make the distinction between different types of tea.

Types of Tea:

True Teas:

There are three main types of teas. True teas are infusions made from the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant. These teas are the traditional teas that were discovered thousands of years ago. There are four true teas: white tea, green tea, oolong tea, and black tea. These are the teas most scientists refer to when doing research on the health benefits of tea.

Even though these teas come from the leaves of the same tea plant, they differ wildly in flavor, aroma, and appearance. White tea is delicate and airy, while black tea is intensely pungent and bold. How can these teas vary so much when they come from the same leaves? The answer lies in the production process.

Some true teas, like oolong and black tea, are oxidized. This process exposes enzymes in the tea leaves to oxygen, which results in a darkening of the leaves. Other true teas, such as white tea and green tea, are prevented from oxidizing. This results in a milder, more natural, and earthy flavor. Here, we'll break down the difference between the true teas.

White Tea:

White tea is the least processed true tea. It undergoes the simplest production process, which is designed to maintain its natural look and flavor. Tea leaves are plucked by hand and then immediately dried outdoors in natural sunlight. Only the youngest leaves of the tea plant are used to make white tea. Typically, producers harvest just the first two leaves of each tea shoot.

The two highest-quality white tea varieties are Silver Needle and White Peony. Silver Needle is made using only the buds of the tea leaf plant. It boasts a sweet flavor that is reminiscent of honeysuckle. White Peony is made using both buds and leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant. This white tea has a robust flavor that is sweet and mildly sharp.

Flavor and Aroma:

White tea overall has a subtle flavor profile that is delicate and naturally sweet. This tea is mild enough to suit the taste buds of new tea drinkers and nuanced enough to be beloved by tea connoisseurs.

White tea is light yellow in appearance, although some varieties made with stems and larger leaves may have a slightly green hue. In addition to the sweet flavor profile, white tea contains undertones that are floral and fruity. This tea is often consumed with a slice of lemon or a small amount of honey to accentuate the sweet flavor profile.

Green Tea:

Like white tea, green tea is made from leaves that are only minimally processed. Green tea leaves are not oxidized, but they do undergo a slightly longer production process than white teas.

Green tea leaves are hand-harvested and immediately transported to an onsite production facility. Here, the tea leaves are spread out on large bamboo or cloth mats where they are withered. This step of the production process helps to reduce the moisture content of the tea leaves.

Once the leaves are limp, they are blasted with heat to prevent oxidation. In general, green tea leaves are either pan-fired or steamed during the drying process. As the tea leaves are being dried, tea masters begin to shape the tea leaves. Popular green tea leaf shapes include pearls, spindles, balls, and cakes, depending on the varietal.

 

Flavors and Aroma:

Chinese green teas have roasted, nutty flavors, while Japanese green teas are vegetal and herbaceous. Green tea is typically light green or pale yellow in color. Depending on the variety, green tea may have fruity undertones or grassy notes. Green teas may have astringent flavors, but this can be avoided if you brew green tea the right way.

Oolong Tea:

Oolong tea, known in China as “wulong tea,” is a semi-oxidized tea. The tea leaves are allowed to oxidize, but only for a short period of time. The flavor and color of oolong tea are stronger than green tea but more mellow than black tea.

Oolong tea leaves undergo a moderate production process consisting of hand harvesting, withering, rolling, short-term oxidation, and drying.

The plucked tea leaves are withered and bruised in bamboo baskets or on bamboo mats. The bruising exposes enzymes in the tea leaves to oxygen. These enzymes begin a controlled fermentation process that alters the flavor and color of the leaves.

Oolong teas are cultivated exclusively in China and Taiwan. Most oolong teas are classified by the region in which they are grown.

This helps to reflect the different flavor profiles caused by terroir—the idea that soil composition, climate, and other regional factors impact the way foods taste. The flavor of oolong teas can vary dramatically depending on where they were grown.

The flavor of oolong teas also differs depending on how long the leaves are oxidized. Oolong teas can undergo anywhere from 8 to 80 percent oxidation.

The least oxidized oolong teas are called pouchongs. Pouchong tea is floral and tastes similar to green tea. The most heavily oxidized oolong tea is a Chinese creation known as Da Hong Pao. It offers a malty flavor that is strong yet smooth.

Flavors and Aroma:

In general, oolong teas feature a floral flavor with a smooth finish. These teas typically have a medium body. Oolong tea can appear pale green or amber in color.

Black Tea:

Black tea is the most processed of the true tea varieties. It undergoes a process of withering, rolling, oxidation, and drying. The lengthy production process produces a tea that is bold and reminiscent of the flavor of coffee.

The largest black tea growing regions are the Assam and Darjeeling areas of India. 

Black teas, like oolong teas, are typically named after the regions in which they are produced. Black teas cultivated in Assam are made using the tea variety called Camellia sinensis var. assamica. These teas are fully oxidized and appear deep black in color.

Tea plants in Darjeeling are of the Camellia sinensis var. sinensis variety. Darjeeling teas are one of the best quality black teas in the world that need only semi-oxidized processing due to the climate of the region.

Chinese black teas are typically stronger and more with malty than Indian varieties.

Flavor and Aroma:

Black teas are dark brown or reddish amber when brewed. Darjeeling black teas are more delicate with their unique aromas along with floral and fruity flavors. Assam black tea features a malty flavor with earthy aromas. Ceylon black tea features hints of chocolate and has a bold, full-bodied flavor.

Flavored Teas

Flavored teas are made by combining true teas with herbal tisanes. Truly, tea leaves of green teas or black teas are used as a base, while herbs, spices, and flowers are added to create stunning flavor profiles.

Some of the most popular flavored teas include Earl Grey and masala chai. Earl Grey is a popular British tea that infuses black tea with bergamot orange. It is a citrusy delight that blends fruity and malty flavors.

Masala chai is a popular Indian beverage that combines fragmented spices in a black tea base. Typically, masala chai is made with an Assam or Darjeeling black tea and five spices: black peppercorn, cardamom, clove, cinnamon, and ginger. It boasts a spicy flavor that is evened out by the addition of creamy nut or dairy milk.

History of Tea:

Ancient Beginnings:

The story of tea begins like most things do: as part of a mystical legend. In 2737 B.C., the Chinese emperor Shen Nong discovered tea by accident. According to ancient tales, stray tea leaves drifted into the emperor's boiling pot of water. And so began a centuries-long love affair with tea.

 

Tea finally gained widespread popularity under the Tang Dynasty, which ruled from 600 to 900 A.D. It was during this time that the tea ceremony was developed. The Tang rulers felt tea was such an important part of the culture that they declared it the national drink of China.

Japanese Influence:

After its popularity soared in China, it was only natural that tea would make its mark outside the country's borders as well. Visiting monks from Japan, including the famous Saichō, brought tea seeds back from China to Japan during the early 9th century. However, it would take more than 300 years before tea plantations became large enough to attract a true following in Japan.

In China, the tea leaves were typically brewed in hot water. The Japanese chose to instead grind the leaves into a powder for infusion. Known today as matcha green tea, it was prepared with a bamboo whisk known as a chasen and a large wide-brimmed bowl called a chawan. 

Move Westward:

Tea didn't become popular in the West until the 17th century when global trade was established. The wide reaches of trade brought tea along the Silk Road to Russia and the Middle East. A Portuguese missionary brought tea back to Europe after completing work in China. The Dutch East India Company began delivering the first major shipments of tea from Asia in 1610.

While tea started to make a splash in the West, it was still largely a luxury item. It was mainly restricted to aristocracy in large European cities such as Paris and London. The exotic origins of tea made it a sign that the drinker was of elite status.

It wasn't for another 50 years that tea began to appear in local coffee houses across London. Thomas Garraway was the founder of the first successful British tea shop. He sold tea leaves imported by the Dutch East India Company.

As the demand for tea grew, the British East India Company established itself as a direct competitor to the Dutch East India Company. The company created tea plantations in Macau and India in order to counter the Chinese monopoly of tea.

Tea naturally made its way from Britain to the United States when it was a colony. 

Science of Tea:

Tea is revered in Asia and other parts of the globe thanks to its health benefits. Research on its health benefits has ranged from the possibility of weight loss to Cancer prevention. Tea contains a variety of chemicals and compounds that contribute to its flavor profile and health benefits.

Polyphenols, Antioxidants, and Catechins

The main compounds in tea are polyphenols, antioxidants, and catechins. Polyphenols make up about 30 percent of the weight of dry tea leaves. Most of these polyphenols are flavonoids and tannins, which the plant produces to fend off disease.

Tannins are also responsible for the flavor profiles of teas. Flavonoids contain antioxidants such as EGCG, which have been credited with multiple health benefits. These antioxidants work to eliminate free radicals that can cause oxidative stress—the body's version of rust. This helps to prevent premature aging as well as serious neurological diseases.

The chemical composition of tea differs depending on the type of tea and how it is produced. Teas that are minimally processed—white tea and green tea—tend to have similar amounts of polyphenols as fresh leaves.

Teas that undergo oxidation—oolong tea, black tea—have lower levels of polyphenols. That's because oxidation converts polyphenols into theaflavins and thearubigins. These compounds develop rich, robust flavors.

Vitamins and Minerals

Some teas, especially herbal teas, contain high concentrations of vitamins and minerals. These may help support immune health and fend off disease. Herbal teas contain compounds that may help to lower blood pressure and trigger neurotransmitters in the brain to induce calm. Some citrus and floral teas have high concentrations of vitamin C that may improve the appearance of the skin and fight off the common cold and flu. 

How Tea Is Cultivated?

Growing Regions:

Tea is cultivated in dozens of countries across the globe. The main producers of tea include China, India, Sri Lanka, and Kenya. In fact, in 2016, China and India were responsible for more than 60 percent of the world's tea production. India is the largest producer of black tea, while China and Japan are the largest producers of green tea.

The main tea-growing region in Japan is Shizuoka prefecture. In China, the main tea-producing regions are the Fujian, Hainan, and Anhui provinces. In India, the majority of tea plantations are in the Assam and Darjeeling regions.

Requirements for Tea to Thrive:

Tea plants do best in cooler climates with high amounts of rainfall—at least 40 inches per year. Tea plants prefer acidic soils and develop different flavors depending on the altitude at which they are grown.

Tea is grown at elevations from sea level and up to altitudes of more than 7,000 feet. Plants cultivated at higher elevations grow more slowly and have complex flavor profiles. These tend to be considered higher quality for most tea types.

How Is Tea Harvested?

Tea leaves are not harvested from plants until the plants reach at least three years of age in tea gardens. Tea was initially harvested by hand, then by machine, and now mainly by hand again. While machines sped up the production process, they also damaged the tea leaves and produced lower-quality teas. Today, most tea leaves are harvested by hand to protect the integrity of the health benefits and flavor.

Harvests can occur anywhere from once to several times per year, depending on the tea type. Harvests are called flushes, which refer to the growth of new tea leaves. The first flush occurs each spring, with the final flush usually taking place in late autumn.

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