Tea Varieties and their Properties

Tantalizing Tea: A Refreshing Drink For All Occasions

Tea is a drink brewed from the leaf of camellia sinensis. Some people drink their tea with lemon, milk, cream, or sugar; others prefer it straight up. Do you like black tea, Assam or Darjeeling? Perhaps you prefer green tea?

The health benefits of tea are becoming widely known. Green tea contains vitamin C but it also inhibits the formation of cancer-causing nitrosamines in the body. Tea of all kinds helps to reduce cholesterol. It is a natural source of the amino acid theanine and polyphenolic antioxidant catechins. Tea also contains fluoride. Regular drinking of tea can prevent dental cavities to some extent.

Some people prefer herbal teas, which are infusions of different plants. Valerian root tea can combat insomnia; peppermint tea has a soothing effect on the stomach; chamomile tea offers both of these benefits.

Loose tea is still sold but the advent of the teabag in 1908 changed the way tea was marketed. Thomas Sullivan, an importer, sent out tea samples in small silk bags. As the story goes, a customer decided to dunk a bag, discovered how convenient it was, and the rest is history.

In 1904, at the St. Louis World’s Fair, hot tea was passed over because of the extreme outside temperatures. All was not lost though. A savvy British tea merchant thought to pour tea over ice and invented iced tea.

How Was Tea First Discovered?

* As legend has it, a revered Chinese emperor taught that boiling water made it safe for drinking. He accidentally discovered tea when a few tea leaves fell into some water he was preparing. He tasted the resulting infusion and touted it as medicine.

* Tea spread to Japan when a Japanese monk returned to his native land, bringing seeds from a tea plant.

* Much later, tea arrived in Europe. Dutch traders introduced tea, importing it from Japan.

“I say, a right cup-a-the-rosy!”

It could be said that tea found its home in England. The English fell in love with the stuff and by the late 1700s were enthusiastically sipping their way through approximately 5 million tons of it! The love affair was so entrenched that the British supplied opium to China to support the British tea habit, resulting in the ill-famed Opium Wars.

Tea in the New World

The tea habit was brought to the New World by American settlers; however, interest cooled after the Boston Tea Party of 1773, when colonists tossed crates of tea into Boston Harbor to protest British taxes on tea.

One Species of Tea Plant, Many Varieties of Tea

Soil and climate affect the tea leaf and how tea is processed also makes a difference. As well, there are subspecies of tea. The best tea is made from what is called the flush: tender spring leaves. The leaf bud at the tip of the shoot, with its covering of fine hair or down is called the pekoe (from the Chinese bai hao).

Black Tea
Leaves are spread on trays to wither and dry and are allowed to completely oxidize. They are then rolled and crushed, allowed to ferment, and fired until they dry.

White Tea
White tea contains young leaves (new growth buds) that have undergone no oxidation; and indeed, the buds may be shielded from sunlight to prevent formation of chlorophyll. White tea is produced in lesser quantities and can be more expensive than tea from the same plant processed by other methods.

Green Tea
Freshly picked leaves are steamed or subjected to dry heat to destroy enzymes that cause fermentation, then they are rolled and fired.

Leaves are plucked at their peak of growth, wilted in sunlight, then lightly bruised. Partially fermented leaves are then fired.

Earl Grey
Ah . . . wonderful Earl Grey! This tea gets its enchanting flavor from the addition of bergamot, an oil from the rind of a citrus fruit from the Mediterranean.

English Breakfast
Previously this was made from Keemun, a strong China black tea; however, nowadays a blend is often used.

Lapsang Souchong
If you are looking for something aggressive and pungent, this tea may be just the ticket. The leaves are smoked over a pine fire to give a distinctive flavor.

Formosa Oolong
Often described as the champagne of teas, this treasure in taste has a fruity flavor.

Similar to Formosa Oolong.

Picture wonderful green tea, perfumed with blossoms of the jasmine plant. If you are looking for a touch of the exotic, this tea fits the bill.

Also called winter tea, it is made from twigs and old leaves pruned from the tea plant in its dormant season, then dry-roasted over a fire. This tea is popular as a health drink in Japan and is used in macrobiotic diets.

The ceremonial green tea of Japan. It has a unique sweet flavor and is smooth to the palate.

Brewing tea

* First of all, you’ll want to warm the pot.

* The best temperature for brewing tea depends on the type. Teas that have little or no oxidation period, such as green or white tea, should be brewed at lower temperatures (around 80 C), while teas with longer oxidation periods should be brewed at higher temperatures (around 100 C).

* If you are preparing black tea, the water should be added at the boiling point. (100 C or 212 F). The most common fault when making black tea is to use water at too low a temperature, which compromises flavor. It should not be allowed to steep for less than 30 seconds or for more than five minutes because after that tannin is released and makes the tea bitter.

There’s nothing like stopping for a cup of tea, and indeed, teatime is often a favorite part of the day. Now that you’ve learned a little about refreshing and tantalizing tea, why not purchase some different varieties and give your taste buds a treat by sipping a cup . . . or two.