Tea Basics with Owner Tim Smith

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Tea Basics

Welcome to the world of tea! Tea is more than just another beverage. Since its discovery by the Chinese over 5000 years ago, it has become the 2nd most popular drink in the entire world.

The last several years have seen a new awakening of interest in tea in the United States. Once confined to English tea parlors or Asian style tea rooms; we're discovering the intriguing and flavorful range of tastes offered by this plant.

Let's take a quick look at the basics of tea:

First and foremost, all tea comes from one family of plant; camellia sinensis. Whether it is white, green, oolong, puerh, or black tea, it all starts from the same plant. The tea plant is native to China and India, and is now grown in dozens of countries including Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Kenya, and Argentina. Left to grow wild, it can achieve heights of 30 feet or more. Most plants are kept about waist high to facilitate picking.

So what about chamomile tea or red bush tea? Simply put, since they are not from the camellia sinensis, they are NOT tea. They are herbal infusions.

Okay, one myth destroyed. So if they all come from the same plant, what is the difference between the types of teas?

To start, there are basically 6 types of tea: white, yellow, green, oolong, black, and puerh. The difference comes from how they are processed. There are just a few basic steps to processing tea, which, taken at the surface, are deceptively simple. The many variations and manipulations of each of these steps are far too numerous to detail, but are what make the final difference in the quality of what we drink.

Orthodox loose leaf teas are handpicked from the tea plant, usually harvesting only the bud, and first two tender leaves. Teas that will go into bags, or lower grade blends are mechanically harvested, and may contain the larger coarser leaves and more stems. For our discussion purposes, we will focus on the production of loose leaf tea. Tea processed from the whole leaf is Orange Pekoe. While many people think Orange Pekoe is a type of tea or a flavor of tea, it is actually a grade designation.

Myth two destroyed.

We will talk about the processing that the types of teas undergo in the various sections. For now you know where tea comes from, where it is grown, the major types, and a little about grading and processing.