Oct 16 2013

Tea Primer Revisited: Overview

mariannerusso

I’m often asked how a particular tea is made; for instance does green tea come from a different plant than black tea? What makes one tea different from another? So it seemed time to review the basics of tea. For starters, all true tea comes from the same type of plant, Camellia Sinensis – Sinensis or Camellia Sinensis – Assamica. The Sinensis plant is native to China and the Assamica plant is larger leafed and native to India. Although there are thousands of cultivars of these species, in the same way there are thousands of rose cultivars, just as a rose is a rose is a rose, so is tea, a tea, a tea…

Anything infused from a different plant, such as mint, Rooibos, chamomile, or fruit, is technically not tea but rather is an herbal infusion or tisane.

So, back to tea. The tea plant is a distant relative of the Camellia which grows so prolifically in our Southern states and whose flowers have such a sweet scent. The specific cultivar used might make a better green, black, white or oolong tea, but in general, any of the cultivars could be used to make any type of tea. The difference is in the process the leaf undergoes after it is harvested. For instance, if the leaf is plucked and very shortly heated and dried, it will be green tea because the leaf has not undergone any oxidation. On the other hand, if the leaf is plucked, bruised a bit and allowed to sit and fully oxidize before it is heated and dried, it will become black tea.

Tea is native to China and was first discovered 5,000 years ago. Throughout history it has sometimes been used medicinally, sometimes eaten as a vegetable, and has been at the core of wars, mystery, and intrigue. And yet this humble leaf when infused and ingested promotes such clarity and peace of mind, that I am quite sure those who planned and waged wars over tea were imbibing in quite another beverage. Below you can see freshly plucked leaves in the first step of becoming a fine tea. Stay tuned for the next issue of a Tea Primer. We’d also love to have you join one of our classes.

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