The Many Shades of Tea

A resource tool on the many types, leaf grades, blends, flavours, of teas and tisanes. Also included are materials on health benefits, storage and shelf life of tea as well as various recipes, trends and tips for making tea and iced tea preparations.

Produced mainly in China and Sri Lanka.

The new buds are plucked before they open then withered to allow natural moisture to evaporate, then dried.

The curled-up buds have a silvery appearance (sometimes referred to as Silver Tip) and give a very pale, straw-coloured liquor.

Often referred to as “non-fermented” or “unfermented” tea. The freshly picked leaves are allowed to dry, then are heat-treated to stop any fermentation (or oxidation) that would rot the leaf.

The tea leaves are heated or steamed right after harvest, preserving their all-natural flavor and resulting in a nourishing beverage containing antioxidants.

Green tea contains about half the caffeine of black tea, or less than a quarter the amount of caffeine per cup in a similar sized cup of coffee.

The traditional “orthodox” method involves plucking the leaves, spreading these out to wither until limp enough to be rolled (at this stage, the leaves give out a fruity, almost apple-like odour).

The withered leaf is then rolled to release the chemicals within the leaf which is essential to the final colour and flavour. The rolled lumps of tea are then broken up and the leaf spread out in a cool, humid atmosphere for a number of hours to absorb oxygen, causing chemical change in the leaf particles turning them from green to coppery red.

Then the oxidized leaf is fired to arrest the natural decomposition, which cause the leaf particles to turn black and get that recognizable smell.

The CTC method (cut, tear and curl) produces small leaf particle that gives stronger, quicker brew, ideal for tea bags. The withered leaf is passed through a machine that tears and breaks it into tiny particles, then the same process (as orthodox tea) is applied.

Black tea is the most common tea in North America. It contains about half the caffeine of coffee and twice that of green tea. It is popular as a breakfast tea, often enjoyed with sugar, milk, or lemon.

It is generally referred to as “semi-fermented” tea and is principally manufactured in China and Taiwan.

The leaves are plucked at the right time (must not be picked too soon) and are immediately processed after plucking.

They are first wilted in direct sunlight then shaken in bamboo baskets and spread out to dry until the surface of the leaf turns slightly yellow.

The edges turn in a reddish colour as the chemicals in the bruised leaf react with oxygen.

Taiwan oolong has blacker appearance and gives a richer, darker liquor vs China oolong which has a paler orangy brown infusion.

Pu-erh is a variety of fermented tea and are commonly used for their medicinal qualities.

It is believed to be good for the digestion, for treating diarrhea, indigestion and high cholesterol levels.

Pu erh is also known as a great weight loss tea for its ability to burn fat and shed pounds.

Green, oolong, white and black teas are all used to make scented teas. The additional flavourings are mixed with the processed leaf as a final stage before the tea is packed.

Fruit-flavoured teas are generally made by blending the fruits’ essential oils with the processed tea.

Herbal fruit and flower tisanes and infusions that do not contain any product of the Camellia sinensis are herbals and not teas, and are different from scented and flavoured teas.

Sorting or grading is the final stage in the tea making process. From the dryers or ovens, leaf particles are passed through the sifters with graduated mesh sizes to divide them into different-size pieces.

Grading terminology is about the size of the leaf.

When brewing, the leaf infuses strength, flavour and colour into the boiling water at different rates according to leaf size.

The larger the leaf, the slower the rate of infusion. So when brewing tea, it is important that all pieces of leaf used in a tea pot are of the same size.

Different-size pieces of the same tea will have the same quality, the only difference is that the smaller leaf particles will brew more quickly.

After the manufacturing process, teas are either packed and marketed as “specialty” teas or blended with teas from other sources (gardens, producing areas or countries).

Some of the classic blends:

  • Earl Grey – traditionally a blend of China tea or China and Indian tea scented with oil from the citrus bergamot fruit. There are different types including China tea, Darjeeling, Ceylon and Silver tip. It is best used without milk.
  • English breakfast – usually contains Indian (usually Assam), Ceylon and African teas.

Studies and research show that drinking tea is beneficial to health and overall wellness. This is attributed to tea’s high concentration of polyphenols (anti-oxidants) which may contribute to the prevention of cancer, osteoporosis and cardiovascular diseases.

These anti-oxidants also abound in some of the food that we eat (fruits, vegetables, grains) but tea is uniquely rich in catechins , specifically EGCG (epigallocathecin gallate), a particular type of polyphenols that may also be the most powerful ones of all.

According to studies, EGCG is found to suppress lung cancer cell growth and inhibit breast cancer tumours. The catechins in green tea are also believed to inhibit the production of free radicals in the lining of the arteries and also help in the formation of blood clots.

Regular consumption of green tea has been shown to lower the risk of developing hypertension for those who drink up from 2.5 and more cups a day.

A review, published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, concludes that green tea and EGCG can be regarded as food components useful for the maintenance of cardiovascular and metabolic health.

Drinking tea can contribute to both relaxation and concentration. A powerful amino acid found in tea (i.e., L-theanine) boosts alpha wave activity in our brains, promoting a state of relaxed concentration. If one experiences a feeling of extreme high or jitteriness due to excessive caffeine intake, try the counteracting effect of drinking green tea with the calming effects of L-theanine. It helps relax the mind without inducing drowsiness, promoting calm mental alertness.

Tea can help improve bone density as it contain fluoride, a mineral that aids the development of bones. Also, flavonoids found in tea help promote bone density mass.

And of course, tea promotes social interaction when enjoyed with and among loved ones, families, peers, neighbours, in homes, the workplace, in meetings and gatherings.