What is Tea?

Tea is simply a beverage made by combining water with the leafy evergreen plant Camellia sinensis. It is the second most consumed drink in the world, after water. Tea originated in China and remained a product unique to China until the age of the British Empire. In the last few hundred years it has been spread across the world and is now grown in more than 30 countries.

►China’s National Tea Museum

Thousands of years ago tea was consumed as just another herbal medicine in China, but because of its amazing restorative and preventative health properties, tea set itself apart and has been growing in popularity ever since. Today there are hundreds of varieties of tea within China (and even more coming from the newer tea-growing countries) each with a distinct aroma and flavor. The first exports of tea from China were flavor driven, as the British loved the taste and smell of tea from the moment it was first introduced to the UK in the early 1600s. In recent years, modern science has been looking more closely at this beverage, and the medical world is now discovering a long list of health benefits that come from drinking tea.

►Tea, Glorious Tea

The health benefits of tea come mostly from its high concentration of antioxidants, about 30% of the dry weight of tea leaves, called polyphenols.

Green teas and white teas are heated, dehydrated, sealed, and then stored at cold temperatures to keep them fresh, and they are closest to raw tea leaves. As such, they contain only the simple polyphenol antioxidants, called catechins.

Black teas are fully aged, or oxidized, before they are heated and dehydrated. In China most of the natural processes by which black teas are made are well-kept local secrets. These processes involve twisting, rolling, breaking, pressing, and fermentation to break up the cell structure of the leaves. Because of the presence of an active oxidase within tea leaves, these processes lead to the formation more complex polyphenols called flavanoids, theaflavins, etc. The catechin quinones also react during oxidation to form hundreds of protean compounds that form the aromas of black teas. This is one reason why black teas are so variable and popular throughout the tea-drinking world. This is also why it’s so important to smell your teas, because the essence of tea is in the aroma.

Oolong teas lie somewhere in between green and black teas. They are partially aged (oxidized) teas, and their colors can range from green to black. Oolong teas are aged longer than green teas but less than black teas, and their composition lies somewhere in between as well.

Welcome to tea country! Welcome to flavor country!

Click the interactive map below to see details about China’s tea regions.



The Wide World of Tea Continued→

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