Tea is an evergreen plant of the Camellia genus or by its scientific name, Camellia Sinensis and originated in China, Tibet and Northern India. The tea plant has thick leaves, a strong thick stem and is dark green in color. The tea flowers bloom in white or pink and have a delicate fragrance. There are about 200 different species of the tea plant around the world.
The tea plant requires a hot, moist climate. It grows in temperatures ranging from 10 -30 degrees Centigrade, in areas with an average yearly rainfall of 2,000 mm and at a ground level of between 600-2000 meters above sea level.
A carefully selected source plant can be used for creating new tea seedlings. The soft seedlings develop in a nursery for ten months, which protects them from difficult weather conditions. After they've strengthened, the tea plants continue to develop in open fields that are sheltered by the shade of wide trees.
Tea picking is still conducted in the traditional manner. The tea leaves are hand plucked and gathered into wide baskets on the backs of the tea pickers. Hand picking tea ensures that only the best leaves of the tea plant are collected and used for producing the tea.
In Asian countries, the tea picking season starts with the beginning of spring and continues from May until August. In Africa, the tea picking continues all year long.
The first tea crops of every year are called "new tea" and is both rich in flavor and aroma. Only the plant's bud and two young leaves are used for processing the tea. The tea flowers are also picked, dried and added to the blend to supplement the aroma.
A common myth about tea is that the different types of tea – White tea, Green tea, Oolong tea, Black tea - are produced from different tea plants. In fact, all pure teas originate from the same plant species, Camellia Sinensis. What distinguishes each of the tea type's characteristics is by the different processing procedures.
Picked tea leaves are made up of 80% liquid while tea sold to consumers has less than 10% liquids. A crucial phase in the production processes of every tea type is the stage in which the leaves are dried. The stages are necessary for reducing the moisture of the leaves and thereby strengthening and preserving the tea leaf.
White tea is produced in small quantities and the best crops use only the first two buds of each tea plant before they open to become leaves. Thus, they are extremely fragile, and harvesting is labor intensive. Tea leaves for white tea are not only hand-picked but they also need to dry in the sunlight for one to three days before being oxidized briefly from 30 minutes to 3 hours, varying by weather. White tea is the least processed of all tea types and offers the most antioxidants.
After the leaves are plucked, they are dried on bamboo trays for a few hours and heat treated. This halts the oxidation process, preserving the leaf's emerald hue, delicate flavor and natural occurring antioxidants and amino acids like Theanine. The Green tea leaves are roasted or "stir fried" in hot roasting pans in order to vaporize additional moisture. To give the Green tea leaves its final shape, they are put back into the pans for additional drying and often rolled or twisted once more.
A popular tea due to its intricate tea production process, Oolong tea is extremely complex in its taste profile, even within its type. The process of producing Oolong tea is near identical to that of black tea, except for a shorter fermentation stage in direct sunlight. This degree of semi oxidation can range from 10-80%. Oolong's caffeine content is midway between black tea and green tea. The range of taste profile can be dramatic. A light Oolong can taste similar to green tea, and a darker Oolong will taste like a mild black tea.
The leaves picked from the tea plant are spread out over mats for vaporization in the sun. The leaves are rolled and then oxidized to darken and develop the desirable natural flavor and color. Lastly, they are dried to halt the oxidation process to lock in its distinctive characteristics. Another method for drying the leaves is by blowing currents of warm air over them. During the drying phase, the leaves lose about 60% of their moisture.
Similar to Oolong tea, Black teas offer a range of taste profiles within its type and generally contain the most caffeine of all tea varieties. Like a cabernet sauvignon or merlot, Black teas are rich in color and flavor and can be extremely smooth to finish.
The Rooibos plant was discovered in the 17th century in South Africa by the local tribes of the Cape Town area. These tribes used the entire Rooibos plant to create a refreshing, aromatic drink with medicinal benefits. When dried, the leaves take on a red-brown hue which is where the plant gets its name: Rooibos meaning "Red Bush". Similar to the benefits of Green tea, the Rooibos plant is also rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which help prevent numerous chronic diseases. The Rooibos tea also assists the digestive system and eases heartburn and nausea. Rooibos is caffeine free.
Herbal tisanes are comprised of various combinations of natural plants and fruits and include: blossoms, stems, roots, fruits, herbs and buds. The infusion mixtures are caffeine and sugar free and are sweetened by the natural sugars in the fruits.