By Rob Ridge - Owner of English Tealeaves

What is Tea?

To have a drink that is called Tea, in my opinion it has to contain Tea!

It reminds me of the old advertisement for burgers “where’s the beef?”, so where is the Tea? There are many offerings of Herbal and Fruit Teas that miss this necessary ingredient, which I call Herbal and Fruit (Tisane) infusions. Over the years this Tea idea has developed because they are brewed (steeped) the same way as Tea, but it has confused a lot of people.

So to be a “real” Tea, the leaves or buds have to come from the Camellia Sinensis plant. There are over 3,000 types of Tea produced all over the world and there are great similarities to wine, and probably as many choices. The different types can be divided into 3 main categories, green; black and oolongs. White Tea is really a very young green. One of the main differences with Tea and wine is the aging process. Tea needs to be delivered to the customer as quickly and fresh as possible and Darjeeling has a similar “contest” to Beaujolais Nouveau, but with better results. Pu Erh, an oolong, is the only purposely aged Tea, and has some fantastic medicinal properties.

So how are the Teas produced? Here is a very brief explanation. If you imagine taking a leaf from a Tea plant, and immediately dry it, you have green Tea. If you take another leaf, wrinkle it in your hand to make the juices flow and hold it in the air for, say 6 hours, dry it, you have black Tea. Taking another leaf and wrinkle it a little, and hold it in the air for 1 to 3 hours, dry it, and you have an oolong. This is obviously an over simplification, missing out the exact processing such as withering and rolling etc., but it demonstrates the basic differences. Holding the leaves in the air is called oxidization, which is sometimes referred to as fermentation.

This is some basic information on Tea. Like wine there are so many to try, to find the ones for you! With Tea there is one further complication, you have to know how to make it, which will be covered in the next article.

Note – there are some excellent herbal and fruit teas, tisanes. Simpler to call them teas than infusions. The majority of the flavored varieties use Rooibos, a healthy herb form South Africa and apple for the tisanes.