The tea plant is an evergreen of the Camellia family that is native to China, Tibet and northern India. There are two main varieties of the tea plant. The small leaf variety, known as Camellia sinensis, thrives in the cool, high mountain regions of central China and Japan. When and how the leaves are harvested, how the leaves are processed make for the well known types of tea: white, green, oolong and black.
White - Tea leaves that are plucked and dried become white teas. Minimal processing, producing a tea that is pale in appearance, characterized by a delicate, light floral taste. White teas are not meant to be steeped for long times, and result in a cup of tea with less caffeine than a black tea.
Black - Tea leaves turn darker as they oxidize, much like the way an apple turns brown in the air. Black teas usually undergo full oxidation, and the results are the characteristic dark brown and black leaf, the typically more robust and pronounced flavors. Black teas, when brewed appropriately, have a higher caffeine content compared to other teas (50-65% of coffee, depending on the type and brewing technique).
Oolong and green teas fit inbetween white and black teas, in terms of processing, and as a result color and taste.
Oolong - Oolong tea has tea leaves that undergo a partial oxidation. The flavor of oolong tea is typically not as robust as blacks or as subtle as the greens, but has its own extremely fragrant and intriguing tones. Oolongs are often compared to the taste and aroma of fresh flowers or fresh fruit. The color of the tea is a lighter brown. It comes in a wide variety of flavors and aromas. Leaves are either rolled into long curly leaves or into small beads.
Green - The tea leaves that give you green tea have even less time to oxidize, retaining a pure, clean taste with subtle flavors that tea lovers prize. The tea leaves retain a green color. Matcha is made by powdering green tea leaves, resulting in its bright green color.
Pu-erh - One of the five main types of tea (white, green, oolong and black being the others), pu'erh tea stands apart with its uncommonly soft earthy flavor and woodsy tones due to fermenting the leaves as part of the processing.
The variations in where tea is grown, how it is harvested and processed provide us a with a fascinating variety of teas for your drinking pleasure.
The leaves of the rooibus plant are also used to make "tea", but it's not from the same Camellia species and since its leaves do not have caffeine, provides a caffeine free drink. The same is true of "teas" made with herbs.
Rooibos - Also known as "redbush tea." Grown only in South Africa. Often combined with nuts, herbs and fruit. Naturally caffeine free.
Herbal - Also called tisanes. Made from an infusion of herbs, spices or fruits. Usually caffeine free.
Loose leaf vs. Bags
Tea bags make up 95% of all tea sales in the U.S. These bags usually contain the cheapest tea materials available, namely the "dust and fannings" from broken tea leaves. These lettover bits and pieces lack the essential oils and aromas of whole leaf tea, resulting in little more than a bitter, murky liquid when steeped.
Mot supermarkets still only sell teabag products, leaving many consumers to believe that there is nothing better available. But loose leaf tea is readily accessible and easy to prepare, and there is nothing quite like the abundance of flavor and the intoxicating aromas found in a cup of full leaf premium tea.
How much tea do I use?
Generally, 2 oz of tea will make 25-30 6 oz cups of tea. How strong or how light you like your tea, or how many times you re-steep your tea will affect these numbers. Darker teas, like black teas and oolong teas reveal subtle differences in flavors as you re-steep the leaves.
A 16 oz. cup of tea may require one and a half to two tablespoons of tea for desired strength.
If you are making iced tea, use less water to offset the dilution effect of ice cubes. Iced tea made from your home brewed loose leaf tea has so much more flavor.
Does green tea have caffeine?
Green tea contains a small amount of caffeine - around 25mg per 8oz cup. For comparison, 8oz of coffee contains around 180mg of caffeine.
The actual amount of caffeine in your cup of tea will vary depending on a number of factors: how the tea was processed - becoming a white, green, oolong or black. Other factors include how much tea you use, how much water you use, how hot the water is, as well as how long or often you steep your tea.
Did you know?
Tea has been known in antiquity for its health benefits against diseases, infection, and other maladies of the user. Most teas contain antioxidants, sunstances that help prevent or delay some types of cell damage when absorbed into our blood circulation. Drinking tea daily can help reduce the risks of strokes and heart disease and increase the longevity of life.