What is tea?

Posted: Thursday, March 25, 2004

• True teas come from the Camellia sinensis plant, a warm-weather plant native to Southeast Asia. Camellia sinensis also has been planted in many tropical and subtropical areas. Black, green, oolong and white teas all come from this plant, and result from varying levels of oxidation.

• Black tea results from leaves that are fully oxidized, while white and green tea leaves are just steamed, rolled and dried without any oxidation. White tea, with a more delicate flavor, comes from the tips of the tea plant, using only the youngest leaves. Oolong tea comes from leaves that are partially oxidized.

• Tea is grown in thousands of tea gardens or estates around the world. Different regions are known for producing teas with different characteristics.

• Herbal teas such as chamomile and blueberry are not true teas, but infusions of leaves, roots, bark, seeds and flowers of other plants. Rooibos, an herbal tea derived from an African bush, and yerba mate, a small tree native to South American highlands, are gaining popularity in the United States.

Tea Around the world

• Tea lovers have been enjoying the beverage for nearly 5,000 years, according to stashtea.com.

• Legend has it a Chinese emperor discovered the drink in 2737 BC when some tea leaves accidentally fell into a pot of boiling water. Whether or not that is the case, people all around the world now enjoy the beverage plain or with a number of accouterments, such as sugar, honey, milk, lemon or jam.

• In Russia, tea is traditionally drunk strong, black and very sweet. Russians may sweeten their drink with sugar or honey, or eat spoonfuls of fruit jam between sips.

• In China and Japan, green tea with no additions is popular. Participants in Japan's green tea ceremony drink matcha, a powdered tea dissolved in hot water.

• Street vendors in India sell chai, a strong spiced tea with lots of sugar and milk.

• In England tea is traditional drunk with milk but without a sweetener.

• Carpet salesmen in Turkey like to start negotiations with a small glass of hot apple tea, and men in the Middle East will while away afternoon hours alternately puffing on a hookah and drinking sweet, minted tea from delicate and ornately decorated glasses.

How to brew a cup

• A good cup of tea starts with good, cold water. Tap water is usually fine, but let it run for a few seconds to ensure the water is fully aerated. Do not bring already hot water to boil.

• Then, many tea connoisseurs recommend filling the teapot or cup with hot water and letting it stand for a moment before pouring out to preheat the vessel. The idea is to keep the hot water for the tea from decreasing in temperature as the tea brews.

• If brewing black tea, bring the water to a rolling boil, and allow the tea to steep for three to five minutes. For green and white teas, heat the water to just before boiling, and steep for one to three minutes. Herbal teas also require a lower water temperature. When using loose tea, don't fill the tea ball more than half-full, or the leaves won't have enough room to expand properly.

Source: Stash Tea Company and the Tea Council of the U.S.A.

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