What is Tea?

While drinking tea may have originally been for medical purposes, today, tea is consumed daily as an enjoyable beverage. Consumers of tea not only get to enjoy a variety of health benefits through their tea of choice, but they can also choose from a range of caffeine levels, as well as preparation styles (hot, cold, with milk, with sugar, with lemon, etc.). No matter your choice, all tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant, an evergreen plant that mainly grows in tropical and subtropical climates. The way the leaves are processed determines what type of tea is produced. Herbal teas, or teas not containing leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant, are actually not teas at all but are instead considered infusions, sometimes called tisanes.

Types of Tea

White Tea:

White tea is one of the most delicate tea varieties because it is minimally processed. The tea is harvested before the leaves fully open, when the buds are still covered by white hairs. The leaves are hand-picked and then quickly dried to prevent oxidization. Since it is the least processed tea, it retains a high amount of antioxidants. 

Green Tea:

After being harvested, the tea leaves are quickly heated by pan frying or steaming and then dried to stop oxidization. Green tea can get bitter if steeped too long or in water that is too hot. It is best brewed in water between 175-185 degrees Fahrenheit. High quality green teas can be steeped multiple times, increasing the temperature of the water at each re-steep.

Oolong Tea:

Oolong is produced through a process of wilting and withering the plant under strong sunlight, which allows for partial oxidation before curling and twisting. This tea is best brewed in water 185-205 degrees Fahrenheit. Just like green tea, Oolong can be re-steeped multiple times, with the flavor often improving with each reuse.

Black Tea:

This tea has been wilted, sometimes crushed, and fully oxidized, turning the leaves black. It is best steeped in water that is near boiling, at 210 degrees Fahrenheit. If you enjoy milk in your tea, you would want to add the milk to a hearty variety of black tea so you can taste the tea through the milk.

What about the Tea bag?

The tea bag was an accidental invention, in 1907 when American tea merchant Thomas Sullivan distributed samples of tea in small bags of Chinese silk with a drawstring. Consumers noticed that they could simply leave the tea in the bag. At first, tea bags may seem more convenient, but they are not the best choice for tea for many reasons.

First of all, the tea that goes into the bags is often dust and crushed bits of the loose leaf tea (the leftovers), called fannings, since the tea needs to be small enough to move through the machines that quickly stuff the tea bags. Additionally, tea bags constrict and prohibit the expansion of the tea leaves, reducing the quality of the brew. Some tea bags are treated with chemicals that can be dangerous to consume or are produced with plastics that begin to break down in hot water which is hazardous to your health.

There are many great infusers available on the market that make drinking loose-leaf tea just as convenient as pre-bagged tea. For example, for on the go travel, add loose-leaf tea to your infuser, put the infuser into your travel mug, and fill with hot water when you are ready for tea. Additionally, since loose-leaf tea can often be re-steeped, it can also be an economical option as you get more tea for your dollar.

Fun Facts About Tea

  • A tea plant will grow into a tree of up to 52 feet if left undisturbed.
  • Only the top 1-2 inches of the mature plant are picked (called flushes), and a plant will grow a new flush every 7-15 days during the growing season.
  • Caffeine constitutes about 3% of tea’s dry weight, translating to between 30mg and 90mg per 8oz cup depending on type and brewing method.