What is Tea?
Tea is one of the world’s most widely drunk beverages, second only to water. More people around the globe drink tea over beer, wine, or soda.
Tea shops and tea houses can be found in almost every town, village, and city in many nations. It’s no surprise then, that there are hundreds of different flavors and tea options available, but really, what is tea?
All tea is derived from the same plant. Oolong, White, Green, and Black teas are all the product of an evergreen plant native to Asia; Camellia sinensis. Camellia sinensis is now grown worldwide, although it grows best at high altitudes.
The many flavors and types of tea now available are created by adding herb or flower notes, and are better called herbal teas or tisanes.
History of Tea
The true story of how tea was discovered may never be known, but the popular legend of how tea got its start takes play over 4,000 years ago in China.
Shen Nung, a Chinese emperor is credited with drinking the first cup of tea. While a servant boiled water for the emperor to safely drink, leaves from a Camellia sinensis plant blew into the water. Shen Nung was an herbalist, decided to try the accidental drink, and discovered tea.
Hard evidence of China’s tea drinking has been found in tombs dating back to 206 BCE.
Tea spread in popularity, becoming the national drink of China by 700 CE, and spreading to Japan in the same century. Tea took root in this nation as well and tea drinking has remained an important part of Japanese culture to this day.
Because of the Silk Road, trade between Asia, the Middle East, and Europe grew and tea became one of many desired products. As the popularity of tea spread, many cultures adopted it as their drink of choice.
By the 16th century, tea is mentioned in historical documents and had become a staple that continues to be enjoyed by millions of people.
The ancient silk road
Types of Tea
Chinese Green Tea: Chinese green tea is traditionally harvested by hand and many of these teas are withered naturally by the sun through a glass ceiling.
This withering process stops oxidation and begins to dry out the leaves. Leaves are further dried on trays until they are ready to be made into tea.
Chinese green tea leaves are rolled before shipping and can be identified by this shape. The taste is smooth and the tea steeps to a light golden, almost greenish hue.
Oolong teas come solely from the east, grown and harvested in either China or Taiwan.
The leaves are processed differently, resulting in partial oxidation and landing oolong tea between green and black teas in terms of antioxidants and caffeine levels and flavor.
Oolong teas are fresh and bright like green teas and carry the complexity and body of black teas. Charcoal smoke is often used to increase and add depth to the flavor of oolong teas.
There is a difference between Chinese green tea and other green tea, also known as Japanese green teas.
Four varieties of green tea prior to brewing
The green teas of Japanese variety brew to a greener color, in part because of the growing process.
The tea plants used are grown in the shade in order to keep a much of the chlorophyll, or green coloring we see on plants, as possible. Instead of drying using the sun, Japanese green tea leaves are steamed.
Of all the types of tea, white tea is the least processed. The leaves are picked when young buds are wrapped tightly in new growth leaves.
White tea is deceptively mild in flavor and will take a practiced palate to pick up at first.
Long appreciated in China, white teas are just now gaining in popularity throughout the rest of the world. They are also rumored to release less caffeine than the other tea types.
Black teas have the highest amount of caffeine per 8 oz. serving and are rich in flavor. Their colors range from a red-brown to a dark, almost black, brown, with many types such as Chai tea, or Breakfast tea.
Black teas are the most popular type of tea outside the Eastern world and are fully oxidized.
After picking, the leaves are allowed to wither before being rolled or crushed. Manipulating the leaves starts oxidation which causes them to turn black. Leaves are then fired in an oven before being packaged for sale.
Chamomile tea is made using chamomile flowers and is an herbal tea. It is naturally free of caffeine, with the flowers producing a refreshing, clean, and bright flavor.
Camomile tea is often recommended for its calming effects and is usually enjoyed at the end of a long day. It tastes just as good iced, losing none of the delicate aroma or lightly sweet flavor.
Health Benefits of Tea
The health benefits of green tea have been known for centuries. Both types of green teas, Chinese and Japanese, share similar health benefits and properties.
Green teas are rich in antioxidants are effective in lowering bad cholesterol levels.
They also prevent blood clots, which can lead to heart attack or stroke. Green teas are also reported to stimulate the body’s metabolism, aiding in healthy weight loss and management, and fight inflammation.
Green tea fights bacteria that leads to tooth decay and skin imperfections and blemishes.
Overall, the benefits of green tea are numerous and many believe it to be the secret to the long lifespan of many Asians.
Like other tea types, the health benefits of oolong tea are numerous. Drinking oolong tea can reduce cholesterol levels and decrease the risk of heart disease.
Studies have shown that those who drink oolong tea have a healthier weight, even if they eat a diet high in sugars and fats.
Oolong tea can aid in weight loss and help a person manage their weight. Other studies have shown that consumption of this tea type reduces the risk of certain cancers, namely ovarian, head, or throat cancers.
Oolong tea naturally contains fluoride, an element that promotes healthy teeth. There are even claims that oolong teas can reduce the risk of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and contributes to stronger bones.
Because of the minimal processing of white teas, they retain a higher amount of healthy antioxidants than other types of tea.
The concentration of antioxidants in white teas combats free radicals in the body that contribute to aging, weakened immune systems, chronic inflammation, and a score of other harmful diseases and conditions.
White teas can also reduce the risk of heart disease, and can help you lose and manage weight.
They also contain fluoride, strengthening teeth and fighting bacteria that cause plaque buildup. White teas can also help fight cancer and may even lower the risk of developing resistance to insulin, the cause of diabetes.
White teas may help combat physical signs of aging, and strengthen bones, preventing osteoporosis.
Black teas share many health benefits with other types of teas such as delivering antioxidants to the body, boosting heart health by decreasing the risk of heart disease and occurrence of heart attacks, and lowering levels of bad cholesterol. Black tea may improve gut health by promoting healthy bacteria.
A healthy gut can prevent developing conditions such as diabetes, IBS, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and obesity.
Lower blood pressures have also been noted in those who drink black teas, as well as reduced risk of stroke.
Reducing blood sugar levels and the risk of developing cancer are also health benefits that have been linked to black tea. The caffeine levels in black tea, while less than found in coffee, help improve focus and energy.
The health benefits of chamomile tea increase as the potency of the tea does. Studies into how effective chamomile tea is as a medicinal beverage are being conducted as researchers work to understand the benefits this tea has on the body.
Evidence already collected links chamomile tea to reduced menstrual pain in women, as well as distress and anxiety that is associated with this pain.
Chamomile tea can lower blood sugar, helping to prevent and manage diabetes. Chamomile tea is also credited with reducing inflammation, helping to prevent and slow osteoporosis, and treat and prevent cancer.
More immediate benefits of drinking chamomile tea are also reported. Many drinkers of this tea claim it aids in relaxation, lessen anxiety, and aids easier sleep.
How to Prepare Tea
When brewing tea, it’s important to do so based on the type of tea you’re using. Green teas are infused for a shorter length of time than other types of tea and require a different temperature for best results.
The type of vessel used to serve teas is also decided on the type of tea itself. Some teas do better in glassware, while others prefer ceramic or porcelain cups and kettles.
To get the perfect cup of tea every time you brew, you’ll want to know the exact requirements and conditions for the type of tea you’re using. However, there are a few common steps that all teas benefit from.
When you go to boil water, use fresh, cold water. Heat to a gentle boil in a tea kettle.
Pour the boiling water into the teapot as well as teacups. By heating the cups this way, the water temperature will remain more consistent.
Add leaves to the pot and steep for the length of time recommended for the type of tea you’re using. Strain tea completely and pour directly into the warmed cups.
Tea ceremonies are about more than enjoying a perfectly brewed cup of tea. The ceremony serves as a way to embrace mindfulness, enjoying the choreography of the ceremony, and centering yourself in the present moment.
It focuses the attention on the now and shows respect to the tradition of the tea ceremony.
Traditional Chinese or Japanese tea ceremonies can take hours to prepare for, and years to master.
They can be held anywhere and classes are offered to learn how to properly host a tea ceremony.
Guests begin the ceremony by cleansing their hands and mouths, a symbolized purification before beginning.
The utensils and equipment used are meticulously cleaned and prepared, as are the serving pieces. Guests are served the tea and delicate sweets or sides to round out the service.
Tea ceremonies have been held for centuries and continue to be a tradition that symbolizes harmony, peace, and happiness.
It is not just about the tea, but rather is a spiritual experience, bonding its participants to each other and the rich tradition and history of tea ceremonies.
(mainly infusers and Chinese tea sets)
Because of the cultural impact of tea throughout the world, there is a large variety of tea accessories available on the market today.
One of the most popular items any tea lover has in their collection is an infuser. Have you ever wondered how to use a tea infuser, or what they’re for?
A tea infuser is a necessary item to brew loose leaf teas. Infusers work to hold the loose tea leaves or herbs, allowing them to steep in boiling water without leaving pieces behind.
Fill the infuser with the leaves, place the infuser in the water, and remove when you’re ready to drink.
You get a fresh cup of full-bodied, flavorful tea, without having to strain or scoop out leaves and particles. Infusers come in all shapes and sizes, from the traditional to the novelty.
Chinese tea sets are also a popular accessory and one that many tea enthusiasts choose to own.
A traditional Chinese tea set includes a porcelain teapot and shallow, traditional teacups. These cups are small and are often handleless. They are meant to be held in the hands and hold only a few ounces of tea.
Designs and glazes range from the traditional to the modern, giving everyone the chance to find the set they love.
Bamboo Matcha whisks, steep sacks, tea bag dishes, and everything else you can imagine or wish for is available for those who love tea.
Tea is the world’s drink and as its popularity continues to grow, so will the interest in its rich history. Try new flavors and types of tea, visit your local tea shop or tea house, and enjoy the many health, mind, and spiritual benefits this beverage brings.
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