What is tea?

What is tea?

Tea is one of the oldest beverages in the world, reputedly dating back to 2737 BCE. It all began with Shen Nung, a mythical hero and avid herbalist known as a divine healer. The legend goes that a few leaves from a wild tea bush fell into his pot of boiling water. Shen Nung's serendipitous discovery led him to experiment with the small evergreen shrub called Camellia sinensis.

Did you know that the same plant can produce four different types of tea? It's true! Camellia sinensis, or the tea bush, is responsible for green tea, black tea, white tea, and oolong.

The Camellia sinensis plant is found worldwide. The largest growers are China, India, Japan, and Sri Lanka.

How does one plant produce so many varieties? It comes down to oxidation.

Different varieties of tea come from varying levels of oxidation. White tea is the least oxidized, while black tea is the most. Oolong lies somewhere in the middle.

So how does oxidation affect the taste of tea? The simple answer is that it makes it more flavourful. Oxidation brings out the natural sweetness of the leaves and prevents them from becoming bitter.

Tea cultivators carefully control the oxidation level to produce the desired flavour profile. Black and oolong teas are oxidized, while green and white teas are not. For example, white teas are minimally processed to preserve their delicate flavour. Green teas are withered in sunlight and then dried using pan roasting, steaming, or firing to prevent oxidation.

Camellia sinensis

The first step in processing tea is to wither the leaves by blowing air on them to remove moisture. Depending on the weather it can be processed indoors or out. Once the leaves have withered enough, they are rolled to break down the cell walls and release the enzymes inside. The rolling process also shapes the leaves into their desired form.

After rolling, the leaves are allowed to oxidize or ferment. This is what gives black and oolong teas their characteristic dark colour. After oxidation or fermentation, the leaves are dried to remove any remaining water content.

Once the leaves have been correctly processed, they can be brewed to make a delicious cup of tea! Depending on your preference, you can steep black tea for 3-5 minutes at 212°F (100°C), oolong tea for 3-5 minutes at 190-209°F (88-98°C), green tea for 2-3 minutes at 176-185°F (80-85°C), and white tea for 1-2 minutes at 158-176°F (70-80°C).

Tea is a beloved beverage worldwide not only because it is delicious, but also for its rich history. The next time you sit down to enjoy a cup of your favourite brew, take a moment to appreciate how much work went into preparing this divine cup of tea for you.


Stuff Every Tea Lover Should Know - Candace Rose Rardon

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