What is Tea:
Tea is the world’s second most popular beverage, after water. More and more people are drinking tea in the United States, joining a booming worldwide trend. Increased understanding of the role antioxidants play in the prevention of cancer and cardiovascular disease has positioned tea as the ideal health beverage. It is a 100% natural, fat-free, calorie-free drink, untainted by additives, and low in caffeine content – tea is the healthy alternative to coffee and alcohol.
We tend to call many things that we infuse in hot water a tea. But technically speaking, it’s only tea if it’s made from the leaves of Camellia sinensis, an evergreen plant that is indigenous to China and India. The plant was later introduced to Japan and many parts of Southeast Asia. Today tea is grown in over one hundred countries to meet the worldwide demand.
Many people are surprised to learn that all teas, white, green, oolong and black, are made from the leaves of the same species. While the variety of the particular Camellia sinensis plant as well as the weather conditions and soil contribute to the final taste of the tea, the significant differences of tea type develop in the processing of the leaves.
The distinguishing factor that determines whether a tea plant will become white, green, oolong, or black tea is oxidation. Oxidation begins after the leaf has been plucked from the plant, and begins a process of being dried, withered, rolled, and heat treated. A black tea is fully oxidized, causing it to turn black, while a white tea is barely oxidized at all, thus retaining its soft, silvery down.
Click on a category below to read more about each type of tea:
Pu’erh teas are aged and fermented. These aged teas are revered throughout Asia for their medicinal benefits, which range from curing hangovers to reducing cholesterol. This is a naturally fermented tea; the older the tea, the better the flavor. Pu’erh tea is very smooth in taste, and can be even darker than black tea. Pu’erh tea can be kept for a very long time if stored properly, the longer you keep it the better it tastes and the higher its quality becomes. Very Black teas contain about 60–70 milligrams of caffeine per 8 oz cup. Preparation of Pu’erh requires pure water at boiling point.
Process: Pu’erh 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’erh 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’erh tea has also been shown to lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels in the body.
Origins: Grown exclusively in and around the county of Pu’erh in Yunnan Province, China, the leaves are mildly sweet, with an aroma reminiscent of autumn leaves. View our selection of Puerh Teas.
Black teas are fully oxidized teas. Black teas brew a liquor from dark brown to reddish brown. They are the most popular type of tea in the Western world. Black teas range from 40 – 60 milligrams of caffeine per 8 oz cup. Preparation of black teas requires pure water at boiling point (212°F).
Process: After the leaves are plucked they are allowed to wither. They are then rolled and crushed by hand or by machine. This activates the oxidation processes and the leaves are allowed to turn black. Finally they are fired in ovens to stop the oxidation process.
Origins: Traditionally from China, India, and Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
Black Teas from China are divided into two main categories: Northern Chinese (Keemun teas from Anhui province and similar teas such as Golden Monkey) and Southern Chinese which are the black teas from the Yunnan province. Many teas from China often have poetic names that don’t give any information about the type of tea or the region that it came from, such as Cloud Mist and Fairy Branch.
There are three major tea producing areas in India: Darjeeling, Assam, and Nilgiri. Black teas are also available from Sikkim, an area bordering Darjeeling.
Ceylon teas come from the island nation now called Sri Lanka. Other loose-leaf black tea producing countries include: Nepal, Turkey, Indonesia, Kenya and Australia. View our selection of Black Teas.
- By estate
- The grade of the tea
- The year of the plucking
- The plucking (or flush)
Tea gradings refer primarily to the way the leaf looks.
- S, or "super" means that the particular estate considers this tea one of its "best of best".
- F, or "fine" usually means that the tea is a very high quality, clean, dust free and relatively uniform leaf.
- T, or "tippy" means that the tea has many leaves from the very end bud - the terminal bud.
- G, or "golden" refers the those terminal buds that had tiny hair-like fuzz on them that, after oxidation, has turned golden in color (desirable)
- F, or "flowery" generally refers to the nose, it’s floral in character.
- O, or "orange" is a reference to the Earl of Orange who once was so involved in tea trade that he required the estates to note whether or not they thought the teas measured up to his expectations. Using the letter "O" means that the tea does indeed do this.
- P, or "pekoe" simply means a hand picked and processed tea that is dust and mold free.
Flavored Black Teas
Chinese 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. View our selection of Flavored Teas.
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 of oolong teas requires pure water at 190–205° F. 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, about 30–50 mg/cup in first cup, 15–25 in second, and 5–10 in third.
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. Oxidation may range from 12–85%. Sometimes charcoal smoke is used to impart a flavor to the tea.
Origins: From lightly oxidized to dark roasted, oolongs can be fragrantly floral to lusciously rich. A special category of minimally oxidized oolong leaves ranges from 6–12% and are known as pouchongs. Taiwan is famous for its many wonderful oolong teas, and deservedly so. Their teas are often named after the particular mountain on which they're grown. In China, Ti Quan Yin ("Iron Goddess of Mercy") is one of the most famous oolong teas whose characteristic flavor is produced in the charcoal firing of the leaves. Ti Quan Yin is a variety of tea plant that produces Ti Quan Yin oolong, and was discovered in the Anxi province of China. Other well–known Chinese oolongs include Huang Jin Gui and Bai Hao. View our selection of Oolong Teas.
Green tea leaves plucked in the morning are ready to be brewed in a pot the same night. The bypass of 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.
The names of Chinese green teas denote leaf styles and often make reference to the region where the tea is from. The names of Japanese green teas generally end in "cha" (meaning tea). Preparation of green teas requires pure water at 160–190° F. Chinese green teas contain about 30–35 milligrams of caffeine per 8 oz cup, and Japanese green teas contain 25 – 30 milligrams of caffeine per 8 oz cup.
Process: The leaves are heated immediately after plucking. The heat prevents the leaves from withering or oxidizing. The dry leaf retains its green color.
Origins: Traditionally from China and Japan. Chinese green teas include such classics as Lung Ching and Gunpowder, as well as Pi Lo Chun (Green Spring Spiral) and Yunwu (Cloud-and-Mist). Japan produces only green teas, including Gyokuro, Sencha, Bancha, Hojicha (roasted), Genmaicha (tea with roasted corn and rice), Kukicha (roasted twigs) and Matcha (powdered tea that must be whisked.) Green teas can also be flavored and scented. Jasmine is the most popular scented green tea. Other green tea producing countries now exporting include Thailand, Korea and Vietnam. View our selection of Green Teas.
White teas are the least processed of all teas. They release the least amount of caffeine of all teas, generally ranging from 10-15 milligrams per 8 oz cup. White teas are mostly grown in Fujian Province, China.
White teas are often picked when the 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 of white teas requires pure water at 150 – 170°F.
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.
Origins: With flavors that are close to the heart of the tea plant, they were the favorite of the famous ’Tea Emperor’ in the 1100’s who was so preoccupied with his love of tea and his pursuit of the perfect cup, that he lost his empire to invading Mongols. White teas have since traditionally been used as a Tribute Tea to the Chinese Emperor. Long popular in China, they are just becoming well-known in America. Recent claims that white tea has less caffeine than green tea are often debatable. Caffeine content is sometimes more dependent on the part of the plant used, rather than on process. View our selection of White Teas.
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. Many host a variety of health benefits, and all the ones we offer deliver a sensational experience in aromatherapy and taste. Herbal Infusions include many well-known herbs such as mint, flowers such as hibiscus and chamomile, roots like licorice and ginger, and other botanicals including Rooibos, lemongrass and lavender. 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.
Herbal infusions should be steeped for 6–7 minutes using freshly boiled water, or decocted for 10–20 minutes on the stovetop for maximum effectiveness. View our selection of Herbal Teas.
Yerba Maté (pronounced "yerba mahtay") is a medicinal and cultural drink of ancient origins. Introduced to the world by the Guarani Indians of South America, Maté is a species of holly plant, and contains ingredients that help keep its drinkers healthy and energetic. More than a drink, Yerba Maté has become a cultural phenomenon throughout South America. Its benefits are obvious. In Buenos Aires, where people carry their Mate with them throughout the day, the site of an obese person is rare. Yerba Maté is also high in Vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, and manganese.
Mate is a healthy and stimulating drink, with 35 milligrams of caffeine per 8 oz. serving. Mate contains xanthines, which are in the same family as caffeine. Mate also contains other chemicals that seem to mellow out the experience of consuming this particular type of caffeine, and many mate drinkers report that they feel alert and focused without any negative effects, such as caffeine crash or jitters. Preliminary scientific studies of mate have shown that the compounds in the plant have a relaxing effect on smooth muscle tissue, rather than a stimulating effect on the central nervous system.
Yerba Maté should be steeped for 6–7 minutes using hot, but not boiled water. Boiling water can make mate bitter, just like tea. Some people even like to pour cool water over the mate leaves before filling the rest of the cup with hot water to avoid extracting tannins, which create the bitter flavor. View our selection of Yerba Mate.