HISTORY OF TEA
The story of tea begins in China. According to legend, in 2737 BC, the Chinese emperor Shen Nung was sitting beneath a tree while his servant boiled drinking water, when some leaves from the tree blew into the water. Shen Nung, a renowned herbalist, decided to try the infusion that his servant had accidentally created. The tree was a Camellia Sinensis, and the resulting drink was what we now call tea.
Now, strictly speaking, “tea” is a reserved for beverages steeped with the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant, and not just anything infused in hot water. This includes black, green, white, pu’er, and oolong. Hard to believe, but it’s true. These teas differ in how they’re processed, along with weather conditions and soil, to give their final taste. Other teas not made from the Cemellia Sinensis plant, such as those infused with fruit, herbs, rosehip, chamomile, rooibos, and flowers are referred to as herbal teas. We offer a great selection of herbal teas too, and they shouldn’t be overlooked.
HOW TEA IS MADE
Growing & Harvesting/Plucking
Camellia sinensis leaves are harvested usually twice a year, during early spring and early summer. Premium tea leaves and flushes, which include a terminal bud and two young leaves, are plucked by hand to preserve natural sweetness for a higher quality tea. Mass producers harvest by machine when emphasizing volume, speed, and price. Machine-harvested leaves are sheared from the top and chopped in the process, which exposes more surface area of the leaf. These leaves are less delicate and release a bolder, darker flavour when steeped.
Oxidation / Fermentation
Fixation / Kill-green
Rolling / Shaping
Following drying, the tea can be packaged and shipped around the world.
Aging / Curing
TYPES OF TEA
White teas are the least processed of all teas, and often release the least amount of caffeine of all teas.
White teas are picked when young tea buds are tightly enclosed in new leaves. This retains a silky, downy quality in the leaves. When you first drink white tea, it seems quite tasteless – as if you were drinking hot water. However, after a while, you’ll become aware of a subtle change in your breath and at the back of your mouth. You will taste a soft, nourishing sweetness and eventually experience a similar sensation down your throat.
Preparation: Traditionally, white teas requires pure water at 80°C (boil, then cool 3 mins).
Process: White tea is the most delicate tea in flavor and aroma, as the leaves are not rolled or crushed in the processing. Camellia sinensis bushes that have large, fleshy leaf buds are used for most white teas today. Those leaf buds become Silver Needles white tea. If the next two leaves are picked and processed the same way, they yield White Peony white tea.
Health benefits: As an uncured and unfermented tea, white tea may have the most potent anticancer properties compared to more processed teas. It has a higher amount of polyphenols, which are known to have antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties. Drinking white tea may also help with weight loss thanks to caffeine and antioxidants called catechins.
Green tea leaves plucked in the morning are ready to be brewed in a pot the same night. Bypassing oxidation allows green tea to retain most of its natural dark green color, tannins, vitamin C, chlorophyll and minerals. The taste of green tea is therefore more astringent and subtler than oolong or black tea.
The lack of oxidation is also responsible for the very low caffeine content of green tea (only 1%). Its caffeine effect produces a nearly steady, mild high with no big peaks or plunges. Green tea is therefore the perfect meditative aid: it acts as a mild stimulant, without causing insomnia or nervousness. It refreshes and quiets.
Preparation: Traditionally, green teas requires pure water at 80°C (boil, then cool 3 mins).
Process: The leaves are heated immediately after plucking. The heat prevents the leaves from withering or oxidizing. The dry leaf retains its green color.
Health benefits: Made with steamed tea leaves, it has a high concentration of Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) and has been widely studied. Green tea is packed with good-for-you antioxidants that may interfere with the growth of bladder, breast, lung, stomach, pancreatic, and colorectal cancers. The polyphenols found in green tea reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering your total and LDL cholesterol, preventing clogging of the arteries. Green tea may also help burn fat, counteract oxidative stress on the brain, and reduce risk of neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
Oolong teas are semi–oxidized, which places them mid–way between green and black teas. This gives them the body and complexity of a black tea with the brightness and freshness of a green tea.
The caffeine content and antioxidant level is also mid-way between that of green and black teas, making them most healthy and palatable. A very favorite and desired tea amongst connoisseurs, all oolongs hail from either China or Taiwan.
Preparation: Traditionally, oolong teas requires pure water at 90°C (boil, then cool 2 mins).
They may be infused multiple (3–7) times, each steep lasting 1–3 minutes. The caffeine content of oolong teas decreases dramatically from the first to the third brew.
Process: The leaves are withered and then rolled, often by hand. The leaves are allowed to partially oxidize and then are fired in pan or basket to arrest the oxidation process. Sometimes charcoal smoke is used to impart a flavor to the tea.
Health benefit: Oolong tea has similar health benefits to green and black. These include benefits for heart, brain, bone and dental health. In addition, it may boost your metabolism, decrease your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and protect against certain types of cancer. In a study where oolong tea antioxidants were given to animals, bad cholesterol levels were found to be lowered.
Black teas are fully oxidized teas that brew a liquor from reddish brown to dark brown. They are the most popular type of tea in the Western world.
Preparation: Black teas requires pure water at boiling point (100°C).
Process: After the leaves are plucked they are allowed to wither. They are then rolled and crushed by hand or by machine to activate the oxidation processes and the leaves are allowed to turn black. Finally, they are fired in ovens to stop the oxidation process.
Health benefits: Made with fermented tea leaves, black tea has the highest caffeine content and forms the basis for flavored teas like chai, along with some instant teas. Studies have shown that black tea may protect lungs from damage caused by exposure to cigarette smoke. Black tea may be a heart helper. While not as high in flavonoid antioxidants as green teas, black teas are good for your heart and may help reduce cholesterol levels, reducing risk of stroke. And it can also help boost your energy levels. Feel free to tackle your afternoon slump with black tea, which tends to have a higher caffeine content than green tea.
Pu’er teas are aged and fermented. These aged teas are revered throughout Asia for their medicinal benefits, which range from curing hangovers to reducing cholesterol.
Pu’er tea is very smooth in taste and is often darker than black tea. This is a naturally fermented tea, and if stored properly develops better flavor as it ages. Grown exclusively in and around the county of Pu’er in Yunnan Province, China, the leaves are mildly sweet with an aroma reminiscent of autumn leaves.
Preparation: Requires pure water at boiling point (100°C).
Process: Pu’er tea is processed through special fermentation by using the semi-fermented green tea of Yunnan large leaf tea. It is black or brown in color. This tea undergoes a secondary fermentation process that takes 6 months to a year, during which the tea is contained in a warm, humid environment, allowing beneficial bacteria and fungal microflora to flourish. The more aged Pu’er tea is mellow and gives a sweet taste in mouth after drinking.
Health Benefits: This is an ideal health drink. It can cut through grease and cholesterol, help digestion, warm you, help produce saliva and shake thirst, dispel the effects of alcohol, and refresh one’s mind. Pu’er tea has also been shown to lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels in the body.
Chinese black tea leaves have been flavored since around the time the Ming Dynasty was founded in 1368, and have become wildly popular in America and Europe in recent decades. The addition of natural essences and flavors create an exciting sensual and gastronomic experience, as both the tea and the scent are often enhanced in the marriage of the two. Tea can be flavored by adding fruits, floral essences, and/or flavorings to the finished black tea leaves. All tea leaves are very absorbent of fragrances (and all odors, which is another reason why air-tight containers are important for storage.) Popular scented black teas include Earl Grey, scented with bergamot; Lapsang Souchong, which is scented with pine wood smoke; Rose tea, Caramel tea and various fruit-flavored black teas.
Rooibos is a naturally caffeine-free herbal tea indigenous to the Cedarberg mountain area in South Africa, also known as red bush tea. Its naturally sweet flavor, lack of bitter tannins, and naturally decaf nature makes it a great tea for the whole family.
Its needle-like leaves are well-suited to its arid home. It is harvested manually during the summer, at which point it is still green. Oxidation is essential in order to enhance the flavor of the tea and this turns the tea leaves from green to bright red. This faintly sweet red herbal infusion is unique because it contains health benefits while being naturally caffeine free and low in tannin, thus allowing iron absorption. Rooibos contains almost no tannins, but has many replenishing minerals including iron, potassium, copper, alpha-hydroxy and zinc. It is rich in antioxidants, the substances that combat free radicals in the body.
Rooibos is a great thirst quencher and is an excellent beverage for active people, including children. Most kids will drink Rooibos without added sugar or sweeteners. This tea contains almost no oxalic acid, making it a good beverage for people prone to kidney stones. Rooibos contains the following minerals: copper, iron and potassium, calcium, fluoride, zinc, manganese, alpha-hydroxy (for healthy skin) and magnesium (for the nervous system) are also components of this tea. In South Africa, pregnant women and lactating mothers drink Rooibos because it contains loads of antioxidants without any caffeine. With its many positive attributes, Rooibos tea is an excellent choice of drink for health conscious people.
The history of herbs and spices is far more ancient than that of tea. Herbal Infusions are not tea, per se, as they do not come from the Camellia sinensis plant. They are popular after-dinner beverages and naturally 100% caffeine–free.
Fruit and herb teas pieces of fruit and many well-known herbs such as mint, flowers such as hibiscus and chamomile, roots like licorice and ginger, and other botanicals. Some blends combine many herbs and even add seeds, berries, nuts and even cocoa.
Herbal infusions have a wide variety of purported health benefits and cures, from indigestion to allergies to insomnia. There are infinite combinations and possibilities for creating herbal infusions, and all of them are free of caffeine.
Preparation: Most herbal infusions should be steeped for 5–10 minutes using freshly boiled water.
UNDERSTANDING TEA FLAVOURINGS
The first thing to note is that flavouring tea, sometimes also called scenting, is a practice used across the tea industry and in fact in many of your favourite teas – Earl Grey or jasmine teas for example. Scenting teas with oils and extracts has been used in the tea industry for hundreds of years.
Tea leaves absorb aroma really well, so it is easy to add other scents and flavours to our favourite teas. The first scented teas were perhaps jasmine green teas, created in China where jasmine blossoms were placed onto the tea leaves whilst drying and some of the natural oils would seep into the leaves below. In more modern times, we can get the same effect more conveniently and on a larger scale if we spray the jasmine oil onto the leaves.
This is also the same method used to scent one of the nation’s most favourite tea blends – Earl Grey. All of the Earl Grey you have ever tasted will have been a black tea leaf scented, or flavoured, with bergamot – a citrus fruit plant. Again, the flavouring is applied by spraying the leaves with the oil or scent.