An ever-changing life inspired by the pneuma


What IS Tea?

Filed under: General — feyMorgaina @ 23:50


Awhile back, some people asked me what oolong tea is? Not quite sure myself, I jokingly said, “It’s from Oolong.” Afterwards though, I decided to look up oolong tea. This was not the first time I researched the subject of tea though. Awhile back, I was looking up what is packaged as “Chai Tea“. (By the way, since the word “chai” means “tea” in Indian, it is redundant to call it “chai tea” – you are then calling it “tea tea”. What is packaged and sold as “chai tea” is properly called masala chai or masala tea.) This time, I did a bit more research on the subject of tea.

Tea is, in fact, a plant (not really a surprise there). It comes from Camellia sinensis, a bush found primarily in countries such as China and India. The leaves or buds of this plant is harvested to produce the hot drink known as tea. There are generally four major kinds of tea – white, green, oolong, and black – with some variations based on these. Each of these teas is processed differently. The major difference in the process for the teas is whether or not the leaves are oxidised and how long the leaves are oxidised before they are dried. (Please note the term fermentation is often used for this process, but that is an incorrect use of that term, which comes from the process for making wine.)

The not-well-known white tea is made from young leaves that have undergone no oxidation. Live buds receive no sunlight so they never produce the green colour that comes from chlorophyll. This is why white tea is more expensive than the other three kinds of tea.

The quite popular green tea is made by stopping the oxidation process very early on. Because the oxidation needs to be stopped so soon, this tea is made within one to two days after harvesting. This explains why green tea tends to have a lighter flavour than black tea. The nice and subtle jasmine tea is made with green tea and jasmine flowers.

The common black tea is made by allowing the leaves to fully oxidise before drying. The full oxidation of the leaves produces a strong flavour. Black tea is properly known as red tea in Chinese. However, red tea is also used to describe the hot drink made from rooibos, a South African plant not related to Camellia sinensis. True black tea in China is post-fermented tea.

The relatively unfamiliar oolong tea is made by stopping the oxidation process sometime after the deadline for making green tea and before the leaves are fully oxidised (as for black tea). Because of the variation in when the oxidation is stopped, there can be a variety of oolong tea flavours.

There is a yellow tea that is a variation of green tea. The difference between the two is that yellow tea has a slower drying process.

Teas and their processes are described in the Wikipedia article on tea.

Orange pekoe describes the grading of black tea. Despite its name, it does not have any orange flavour in it. This grading system is not used in China and is a term used in the Western tea trade. Orange pekoe generally describes a basic, medium-grade black tea.

Below are some popular black teas:
Darjeeling tea is a black tea that comes from the plant grown in the Darjeeling region of India.
Ceylon tea is a black tea that comes from the plant grown in Sri Lanka.
Assam tea is a black tea that come from the plant grown in Assam, India.
Irish Breakfast tea is a blend of black tea with predominantly Assam teas.
English Breakfast tea is a blend of black tea with predominantly Assam, Ceylon and Kenyan teas.
Earl Grey tea is a black tea blended with bergamot oil to give it a distinctive flavour and aroma.

Masala chai should be specially noted here. It is usually made with black tea or Darjeeling tea, but can be made with green tea or jasmine tea. Masala tea is noted for the blend of spices that produce a nice aromatic tea and is served with sugar and a little milk or cream. Five spices that make a nice masala chai are cinnamon, ginger, star anise, cloves, and cardamom. There are, however, variations on the spices used.

Since the discovery of tea, the word has been used to describe nearly every hot drink made with a herb, from “chamomile tea” to “summerberry tea” to “rooibos tea”, even if no actual tea is in the drink. These are labelled “herbal teas” by manufacturers to distinguish it from true teas (those made from the tea plant) and is likely the source of the confusion regarding what is tea. Properly, these drinks should be called a tisane or an infusion. Therefore, a cup of hot tea is really an infusion of tea. However, I suppose infusion isn’t a catchy enough word to use on marketing packaging! At least the word tisane has been used by one brand to describe these hot herbal drinks.

Okay, I’m going to go have some hot tea now – and I do mean the real stuff, Camellia sinensis.

Your local webmistress and tea fancier
Brigid’s Flame

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