FAQs tea
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FAQs tea


True "teas" are made from the dried leaves of the Camellia, the tea plant, which was first cultivated in China and found growing wild in India. Chinese monks and European traders introduced it to Japan, Sri Lanka and other countries.

FAQs Tea

1. What is tea?

True "teas" are made from the dried leaves of the Camellia, the tea plant, which was first cultivated in China and found growing wild in India. Chinese monks and European traders introduced it to Japan, Sri Lanka and other countries. Today there are more than 3000 varieties of tea, each having its own distinct character and named for the district in which it is grown.

2. What are "herbal teas" and "herbal infusions"?

Herbal "teas" contain no true tea leaves, but are created from an international collection of herbs and . These all-natural botanical ingredients are combined to create exciting flavors and aromas in a rainbow of colors from pale yellow to deep red.

Tea professionals and connoisseurs usually prefer to restrict the name 'tea' to real tea, so you may see the following names used as well:

  • “Herbal infusion”, which simply means a drink made by steeping an herb in hot water. (Tea itself is an infusion of tea leaves.)

  • “Tisane”, which in French means any herbal drink.

Some common herbs that are used as tisanes are peppermint, chamomile, rose hips, lemon verbena, and fennel. A number of companies specialize in producing herbal blends. Many tea companies also sell tisanes.

Some exaggerated claims have been made for the medicinal properties of herbal infusions. Even so, some herbs do have generally recognized benefits. For instance, rose hips contain vitamin C; chamomile helps many people relax; and peppermint has a noticeable soothing effect on the stomach. Herbs can also cause problems. Chamomile, for example, can cause allergic reactions in people who are allergic to ragweed.

3. What are the different kinds of tea?

The three main categories are green, black, and oolong. All three kinds are made from the same plant species. The major differences between them are a result of the different processing methods they undergo. Black teas undergo several hours of oxidation in their preparation for market; oolongs receive less oxidation, and green teas are not oxidized at all.

There are, of course, many different varieties within these three main categories.

4. How is tea produced?

The first step in tea production is the harvest. Most harvesting is still done by hand, which (as you can imagine) is very labor-intensive. Some growers have had success using a machine that acts much like a vacuum cleaner, sucking the leaves off the branch. The latter method is used for the cheaper varieties of tea, as it is not capable of discriminating between the high-quality tip leaves and the coarser leaves toward the bottom of the branch.

The harvested leaves can be processed in two ways: CTC or orthodox.

CTC, which stands for "crush, tear, curl," is used primarily for lower-quality leaves. CTC processing is done by machine; its name is actually fairly descriptive. The machines rapidly compress withered tea leaves, forcing out most of their sap; they then tear the leaves and curl them tightly into balls that look something like instant coffee crystals. The leaves are then "fired," or dehydrated.

Most tea connoisseurs are not very interested in CTC tea, since this process does not allow for the careful treatment that high-quality leaves merit. But CTC has an important and legitimate role in the tea industry: since it is a mechanized process, it allows for the rapid processing of a high volume of leaves which otherwise would go to waste. It is also good for producing a strong, robust flavor from leaves of middling quality; in fact, for many varieties of leaf CTC is the preferred processing method.

The orthodox method is a bit more complex, and is usually done mostly by hand. The process differs for black, green, and oolong teas. The basic steps in the production of black tea are withering, rolling, oxidation, and firing.

First, the leaves are spread out in the open (preferably in the shade) until they wither and become limp. This is so that they can be rolled without breaking.

Rolling is the next step. This is rarely done by hand any more; it is more often done by machine. Rolling helps mix together a variety of chemicals found naturally within the leaves, enhancing oxidation. After rolling, the clumped leaves are broken up and set to oxidize.

Oxidation, which starts during rolling, is allowed to proceed for an amount of time that depends on the variety of leaf. Longer oxidation usually produces a less flavorful but more pungent tea. Many texts refer to the oxidation process by the misleading term "fermentation." However traditional and evocative the term may be, I think it is best avoided. Oxidation of tea leaves is a purely chemical process and has nothing to do with the yeast-based fermentation that produces bread or beer.

Finally, the leaves are heated, or "fired," to end the oxidation process and dehydrate them so that they can be stored.

Oolong is produced just like black tea, except that the leaves are oxidized for less time.

Green tea is not oxidized at all. Some varieties are not even withered, but are simply harvested, fired, and shipped out.

5. How is tea graded?

The first thing to keep in mind is that these are descriptions of the dry, cured leaf only. They have no necessary relation to the aroma, color, or flavor of the end product. It is possible to get a delicious cup from ugly, broken leaves; it is possible to get an awful cup from well-handled, beautiful whole leaves. But since you may have little information to work with other than the grade, let's look at the various grades.

Here are our basic grades:

  • Orange Pekoe

  • Broken Orange Pekoe

  • Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe

  • Pekoe

  • Pekoe Souchong

  • Broken Pekoe Souchong

  • Fannings

  • Dust


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