Whether one says “tea”, te”, “cha-i”, “cha”, “chay”, etc, the experience of this beverage is universal…crossing continents and cultures. After water, tea is the most widely consumed beverage. So what exactly is in your cup?
Tea simply defined is a beverage derived from pouring hot water over the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant. The result is an aromatic, flavor-filled drink that varies in levels of astringency and lingering flavor. Traditionally we categorize teas into five types: black, green, white, oolong, and dark. ALL varieties, however, begin with leaves from the Camellia Sinensis plant. The distinctions between these types are derived from the different cultivars of the Camellia Sinensis plant, from the local environment in which the tea plant is grown, and also from the specific way in which the leaf is processed. The process includes withering (to reduce moisture in the leaf after plucking), shaping or rolling (by machine or hand) to begin leaf ‘bruising,’ oxidation and/or firing to stop the oxidation, and finally sorting. The degree and level of oxidation partially determines the color and flavor distinction between the five types of tea. Dark and black tea is highly oxidized, white tea is slightly oxidized, and green tea is processed in such a way that oxidation is prevented.
China is the home of tea and the country of origin for all teas. Other traditional countries of origin for tea include China, Japan, India, Taiwan, and Sri Lanka. Tea production, however, is not only limited to these traditional countries. The list has grown to include several other prominent producers in Africa, South America, and other Asian nations.
You may be wondering why we haven’t discussed herbals yet. This is because there are no actual tea leaves present in herbal drinks. Therefore, the drink is often referred to as an herbal infusion or tisane. A variety of roots, leaves, flowers, dried fruit and bark are infused with hot water to create a variety of unique flavors. Rooibos and Honeybush originate from South Africa and also fit into the category of tisanes. Most herbal tisanes, including Rooibos and Honeybush, are naturally caffeine-free.