Tea has a prominent place in many cultures, including Chinese, Japanese, British, and Indian. Whether it's Indian chai or Chinese pekoe, tea has a rich history of cultivation, trade, and ceremony.

Tony Gebely co-owns Chicago Tea Garden, where he works towards creating an accessible tea culture in the United States by selling teas that are free of flavors and additives and honoring the cultures that produced them. Tony also blogs at World of Tea.

Photo by Tony Gebely

What is tea?

All true teas come from the Camellia sinensis plant. White tea, green tea, yellow tea, oolong tea, black tea, and pu-erh tea all come from this plant. This means that beverages made out of things like chamomile, mint, and lemongrass are not really teas, they are called tisanes — which is another word for an herbal or plant infusion. (more…)

Posted by on February 23rd, 2012

Photo by $holydevil

My earliest memories of chai take me back to childhood—specifically, those lazy Sunday afternoons when a cricket match was on and all the uncles from the neighborhood would meet at our house and crowd around the television while the aunties were busy in the kitchen sending out pots and pots of hot chai with glucose biscuits. Chai isn’t just a beverage; it’s also a way of cherishing the simple things in life, and a way to bring families together and celebrate the present.

Tea is one of the oldest and most common beverages consumed worldwide, and it’s popular in many countries and cultures. The term “chai” is derived from the Chinese word for tea, “cha.” There are dozens of similar articulations for tea used in many languages around the globe. Indian chai is sweetened black tea mixed with milk and various spices, which is known as masala chai. (more…)

Posted by on August 29th, 2011

Green, black, white, red – the vast array of tea varieties can be dizzying. With the sudden upsurge of interest in high-quality loose-leaf teas, where does a newcomer begin? How about starting with the one plant that produces every tea in the world?

The Camellia sinensis is an evergreen native of China. It takes a variety of forms, growing 15 to 20 meters tall, with leaves ranging from smooth and shiny to fuzzy and white-haired. The plant gives rise to more than 3,000 varieties of tea worldwide, which can be roughly classified into six basic categories: white, green, oolong, black (the Chinese call these red teas), pu-erh, and flavored. Some specialists would add another category, blends. And then there are countless herbal infusions, informally referred to as “tea” but entirely unrelated to “real” tea made from Camellia sinensis leaves

White Tea

White tea is the rarest of all tea types. A specialty of Fujian province on China’s east coast, it was relatively hard to come by outside of China until recently. The name comes from the almost colorless liquor, and from the silvery hairs found on the buds of the plant. Delicate in flavor as well as color, the tea has a subtle, slightly sweet flavor and a mellow creamy or nutty quality. White tea consists of the whitish buds of the tea plant; lower quality varieties contain some leaves as well. The buds (and leaves) are naturally dried using either sun drying or steaming methods. This is the final step in the production process, as white tea is unfermented.

Green Tea

Green tea makes up approximately ten percent of the world’s tea. The production process, like that of white tea, starts with withering, followed by pan-frying or steaming to prevent fermentation. (The two types differ in that white tea has a higher proportion of buds to leaves.) After steaming and before drying, green tea leaves are rolled to give them the desired shape. In China, this consists of eyebrow-shaped or twisted pieces, tight balls, flat needles, or curled whole leaves. Japanese green tea leaves are shiny green blades with reddish stalks and stems. Green tea is greenish-yellow in color, with a grassy, astringent quality reminiscent of the fresh leaves. Scientific studies have shown that both green and black teas prevent cavities and gum disease, and increase the body’s antioxidant activity.

Oolong Tea

Often referred to as “the champagne of teas,” oolongs are considered to be among the finest – and therefore most expensive – teas in the world. Most oolongs hail from Taiwan; in China they are also referred to as pouchongs. Oolong tea is “semi-fermented,” meaning that it goes through a short period of oxidation (fermentation) that turns the leaves from green to red-brown. The liquor is pale yellow, with a floral, fruity quality – reminiscent of peaches – and a hint of smoke. Due to the delicacy of the flavor, connoisseurs generally prefer drinking it without milk, sugar or lemon.

Black Tea

Though known to most of the world as “black tea,” the Chinese call it “red tea” due to its characteristic reddish-brown color. Black tea is the most common type of tea worldwide. It has a broad range of flavors, but is typically heartier and more assertive than green or oolong teas. It is made by fully fermenting the harvested leaves (for several hours) before the heating or drying processes occur. This oxidation imparts a dark coloring and triples the caffeine.

Pu-erh Tea

Pu-erh (or Puer) tea is in a category all its own. Though it could simply be classified as a type of Chinese black tea, it is differentiated from other black teas by the fact that it is fermented not once, but twice. The double oxidation process is followed by a period of maturation, which is often used to develop a thin layer of mold on the leaves. The mold imparts a distinctive soil-like flavor that many people find off-putting. For this reason, pu-erh tea is often consumed for medicinal purposes rather than for pleasure – aside from being known for its strong earthy quality, it is recognized as a powerful digestive aid.

Flavored Tea

Tea easily absorbs other aromas and tastes. Thus tea drinkers the world over have long enhanced their tea with additional flavors, from flowers and oils to herbs and spices. Flavoring tea is a well-established tradition in China, where, for centuries, people have brewed tea with onions, orange peel, peach leaves, and berries. The Chinese are also known for their flower teas – popular varieties include jasmine, orchid, rose, and magnolia.

In many Arabic nations, mint (plus a generous amount of sugar) is the flavoring of choice. In India, the spicy “masala tea” is a popular beverage. It is made by boiling black tea with spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and black or white pepper; milk and sugar are usually added as well. Beyond herbs and spices, the flavor craze has more recently spurred manufacturers to produce tea with just about every flavor imaginable, from banana to toffee pudding.

Blends

Blends are the mutts of the tea world, possessing mixed heritages, so to speak, rather than a single lineage. Tea producers make blends by combining different types of teas, often in order to achieve flavor consistency from one season to the next. Common blends include English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Irish Breakfast, and Caravan.

Herbal Infusions and Tisanes

The word “tea” is often loosely used to describe any beverage made with the leaves of a plant. But technically speaking, true “tea” is made from the Camellia sinensis – and everything else isn’t “tea” at all. Connoisseurs and tea professionals will tell you that all leaf-derived drinks other than true “tea” should be referred to as tisanes or herbal infusions.

Tisane (tee-ZAHN) is what many people think of as “herbal tea,” that is, a drink made by steeping various herbs, spices, flowers, etc. in boiling water. The term “herbal infusion” is pretty much the same thing: a drink made by steeping an herb in hot water. These herbal drinks are commonly associated with physical and mental health, and are consumed for their soothing or rejuvenating qualities. They also suit the needs of those who wish to avoid caffeine. Common herbal beverages are chamomile, peppermint, fennel, rose hip, and lemon verbena.

Reprinted from Star Chefs.com

Now that you’ve learned a little more about tea, why not go for tea at one of the tea houses below?

Queen Mary Tea Room
2912 N.E. 55th Street
Seattle, WA 98105
(206) 527-2770

Lovejoy’s Tea Room
1351 Church St
San Francisco, CA 94114
(415) 648-5895

Tea & Sympathy
108 Greenwich Ave
New York, NY 10011
(212) 807-8329

Tea Infusion
2000 E Rio Salado Pkwy
Ste 1064
Tempe, AZ 85281
(480) 967-1141

Vintage Tea Leaf
969 E Broadway
Long Beach, CA 90802
(562) 435-5589

Posted by on January 19th, 2010

fpx11791For many, tea has become the drink of choice, whether it’s having a cup at home, as a part of anafternoon or high tea experience at a tea room or as a replacement for coffee at the end of your meal when dining out.    With thousands of varieties, there’s something for everyone and apparently, tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world, right after water.  Take that coffee!  So I present to you 10 Things You Might Like to Know About Tea.

Chinese Legend Says…: The story of tea began in ancient China over 5,000 years ago, but there’s actually a legend  behind it.  Apparently, an emperor by the name of Shen Nung was also a creative scientist and patron of the arts. Ahead of his time, he required that all drinking water be boiled as a hygienic precaution. While visiting a distant region of his realm, he and the court stopped to rest. As a protocol, the servants began to boil water for the court to drink. Dried leaves from the near by bush fell into the boiling water and infused it.  As a scientist, the Emperor decided to take a sip,  found it very refreshing and according to legend, tea was created.

A Tea By Any Other Name: Black, oolong (sometimes called wu long), green and white tea are all the same plant, Camellia sinensis. The differences in these various teas are due to the amount of oxidation and processing that the teas have been allowed to undergo.  The word “tea” can also be used to describe a liquid infusion of any herb. Hence the term “herbal tea”. But “herbal teas” are not true teas, and in the tea industry they are known as tisanes.

A Cup of Tea (or two)  a Day Keeps the Doctor Away: A growing body of research indicates that the tannins in tea are naturally-occurring flavonoids which have strong antioxidant properties and which may play a role in reducing the risk of certain cancers, heart disease and stroke.  While black and green tea have similar health benefits, about three times as many antioxidant polyphenois is found in white tea then green tea due to white tea being dried in sun, which helps preserves more of its antioxidant properties.

Sometimes It Pays To Keep It Cool(er): Not all teas have to be prepared with boiling water. In fact, green and white teas require special instruction.  After the water is boiled, it should be cooled down 150-180 degrees Fahrenheit before infusing with the tea. Water that is hotter than this can cause the green tea and white tea to be bitter and unpalatable.

Need a Break from Water?: To keep hydrated, we are told to drink at least 6 to 8 glasses of water a day. For a change of pace, squeeze in 2 to 3 cups of tea daily and that along with water, is good enough to satisfy your body’s water requirement.

Don’t Call Me Puffy: Late Nights?  Allergies?  Had a crying jag?  If so, you may wake up to puffy eyes.  What’s the solution?  Tea Bags.  Steep 2 bags of teas in hot water for 4-5 minutes. Caffeine is a natural diuretic, meaning that it pulls fluid out of your system. Caffeinated tea bags can be used to help alleviate the puffy eye syndrome because it helps by constricting blood vessels to reduce swelling. It’s great if your use herbal teas such as chamomile, hibiscus as well. Herbal teas contain important anti-irritants that soothe and reduce eye puffiness.  Be sure to cool the tea bags before using  them.  Now lie down, close your eyes, and place a tea bag over each eye; then cover with a soft cloth. Relax for about five to ten minutes. Remove the tea bags and examine your eyes. The puffiness should diminish. If the result is not to your liking, re-cool the tea bags and apply to your eyes again.

“Orange Pekoe” Tea is not Orange Flavored: Orange Pekoe is a grade of black tea that describes the size of the tea leaf pieces. It has nothing to do with the color of the tea or any added flavorings.

Mosquito Bites Begone: Use a tea bag as emergency itch relief for mosquito bites. Place a warm tea bag over a bite until the bag cools, reheating it if necessary to fully relieve the itch. In one sitting, the tea bag will help to draw out the poison, reduce the swelling and prevent painful itch.

Tea-Strengthener: Tea contributes to a healthy bone because flavanoids in tea help increase mineral densities and strong bones.  Strong teeth can also come as a result of drinking tea because of the fluoride that tea contains.  Fluoride slows down the tooth decay process and helps to prevent cavities. Tannins in tea also inhibit the growth of certain plaque-forming bacteria and even helps lessen bad breath.

No Jitters Here: When it comes to tea vs. coffee in regards to caffeine, it can be said that in it’s dry form, tea has actually more caffeine by weight than coffee. However, when you compare a cup of tea and a cup of coffee, there is only 40 mg of caffeine in a cup of black tea (less in green, white and oolong tea) compared to at least 80 mg in a similar size of coffee.  The added bonus of drinking tea is that caffeine in tea dissolves more readily and dissipates than caffeine in coffee, which means less jitters for tea drinkers versus coffee drinkers.

So now that you know a lot more about tea, be sure to enjoy a cup or two at your next meal and you may even want to bring home the tea bags for possible home remedy use when needed.

Posted by on March 7th, 2009

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