What is tea?
Allow us to share with you the wonderful world of tea! If you’ve ever asked yourself “what is tea?” you’re in the right place. Tea is one of the most popular beverages in the world after water. Although you might drink tea every morning, do you really know where these beautiful leaves come from? Read further to learn more about this curious leaf.
Tea leaves are in fact leaves that have been picked from the Camellia Sinensis plant. From here, the leaves are processed in various ways to acquire the delicious tea leaves we brew in our teapots. For many who are new to tea you will be surprised to know that although tea can taste wildly different, all tea is picked from the same Camellia Sinensis plant. Green tea, black tea, oolong tea, white tea… All of these types of tea leaves derive from the same tea plant!
What is the Camellia Sinensis plant?
The Camellia Sinensis plant is a beautiful green species of evergreen shrubs. The plant belongs in the flowering plant family called Theaceae. As we mentioned before, Camellia Sinensis is to thank for producing all of the scrumptious tea leaves we enjoy in our morning cuppa. The variety and difference among teas (yellow, green, black, oolong, white etc.) is created once the leaves have been picked from the plant.
Ultimately, what differentiates a black tea from a green tea is the length of time the tea leaves are oxidised and how they are processed. Oxidisation is the process where the tea leaves are exposed to oxygen and then brown. With black tea being the most oxidised and green tea being the least, the experience of the cups of tea are opposite. The difference in flavour between the green and black tea is one example of how impactful the oxidation process is on tea leaves.
How is tea grown?
Since tea was discovered in China over 2000 years ago tea has become popularised across the world. Now, tea is found grown in different places across the globe Each each region offering unique processes and unique flavours to the tea leaves.
Tea thrives in tropical and sub-tropical environments that experience humid climates with high rainfall of at least 127 cm (50 in) of rainfall a year. Depending on the location, tea can thrive in full sun or, in partial shade. As long as the tea plants are receiving ample rainfall and the soil is rich and acidic… The tea plants will grow healthy, strong and full of flavour for your cuppa!
Where is tea grown?
Popular countries where tea is grown include Asia, Africa, South America, and around the Black and Caspian Seas. These locations offer beautiful tropical and sub-tropical environments where tea thrives. The best tea is grown at high elevations and on steep slopes where water drainage is efficient and tea leaves are often handpicked. Although tea plants prefer the humidity and rainfall of tropical countries, tea can also be grown in other environments; however, the result might not be as delicious.
In Australia, tea is only grown in small parts in North Queensland through to Victoria and Tasmania. Although there are tea companies that sell and distribute these teas, their quality and flavour doesn’t match countries who have been growing and nurturing tea plants for centuries long such as China, India, Sri Lanka and Japan. Mostly Australia produces black tea, due to the hotter and drier climate.
Here at Pure Tea, we source our high-quality tea leaves from the stunning island in South Asia – Sri Lanka. Tropical, warm and with up to 2,500 millimetres (98.4 in) of rainfall each year – this makes for an ideal environment for growing tea leaves.
Fun fact: it takes approximately 2,000 tiny leaves to make less than half a kilo of finished tea leaves. That’s a whole lot of picking for a small quantity of tea!
How is tea processed?
There’s many steps involved in transforming the green tea leaf that’s plucked from the Camellia Sinensis plant to the finished dried tea leaves sold at the store. The only true way to understand the magnitude of involvement that goes into the processing is to experience it for yourself on a tea farm (which we would highly recommend doing). However, considering that isn’t an option for most individuals we’ll do our best to summarise the tea processing steps:
Plucking: tea leaves and buds are picked from Camellia Sinensis bushes typically twice a year during early spring and early summer or late spring. Picking is done by hand when a higher quality tea (such as White Tea) is needed, or where labour costs are not prohibitive.
Wilting: the tea leaves will begin to wilt or wither soon after picking. This step, in which the leaves are dried by the sun or air, removes excess water from the leaves and allows a very slight amount of oxidation. The leaves sometimes lose more than a quarter of their weight in water during this stage. This stage starts the breakdown of leaf proteins into free amino acids and increases the availability of caffeine, both of which change the taste of the tea.
Leaf maceration: the teas are bruised or torn in order to promote oxidation. Traditionally this is done by tossing or tumbling in baskets, or more often these days with machinery. Bruising promotes oxidation and releases some of the leaf juices, which may change the taste of the tea.
Oxidation: for teas that require oxidation, such as black teas, the leaves are left on their own in a climate-controlled room where they turn progressively darker. Sometimes they are also stirred. Tannins are released or transformed during this process. Oxidation is important in the formation of many taste and aroma compounds, which give a tea its colour and strength.
Fixation: this process moderately heats tea leaves to stop oxidation and remove unwanted scents, without damaging the flavour of the tea. Traditionally, the tea leaves are panned in a wok or steamed.
Rolling: the damp tea leaves are then rolled to be formed into wrinkled strips by hand or machine. The rolling action also encourages some of the sap, essential oils, and juices inside the leaves to ooze out, which further enhances the taste of the tea.The strips of tea can then be formed into other shapes, such as being rolled into spirals, kneaded and rolled into pellets, or tied into balls, cones and other elaborate shapes.
Drying: this is done to “finish” the tea for sale. Baking is usually the most common method of drying tea. The drying of the tea produces many new flavour compounds particularly important in green teas.
Curing: Some teas required additional ageing or curing to reach their drinking potential. Flavoured teas are manufactured in this stage by spraying the tea with aromas and flavours or by storing them with their flavourants, such as flowers.
What makes tea, a ‘true’ tea?
True tea is made from the Camellia Sinensis plant. Any tea that advertises itself as “tea” yet doesn’t contain the Camellia Sinensis plant in some form, isn’t truly a tea! There are plenty of tisanes and fruit teas that don’t contain any tea plant yet have a yummy flavour. These tisanes and fruit teas use other ingredients such as flowers, herbs, spices, cacao, fruits and sometimes nuts to brew a glorious hot drink. We recommend checking the ingredients of your tea to find out what your tea contains.
Note: if your tea contains any preservatives or acids we recommend not purchasing that tea.
Is tea a kind of drug?
Tea does hold a small amount of caffeine, which is recognised as a drug found naturally in the leaves and seeds of many plants – including the Camellia Sinensis plant. Caffeine is very safe and legal, and is recognised as a drug because it stimulates the central nervous system and makes the drinker feel a heightened sense of alertness. There’s only a small amount of caffeine in tea, with approximately 11mg per 100g of black tea leaves. If you’re trying to avoid caffeine, we recommend opting for a delicious tisane or fruit tea instead such as our Chamomile & Apple or, Lemongrass & Ginger.
What are the benefits if you drink tea?
Tea is a traditional Chinese medicinal beverage, used to treat countless diseases, boost the immune system and treat minor ailments like headaches, joint pains and allergies. Even mainstream Western doctors recommend a warm mug of lemongrass and ginger tea when cold and flu symptoms persist. Tea can also help the digestive system (peppermint tea), promote sleep (chamomile tea) and help with stomach cramps. Next time you’re feeling under the weather, wrap your hands around a warm cuppa, take a sip and feel your health restore.
If you drink tea, can it help you lose weight?
Teas contain a type of flavonoid called catechins that might boost your metabolism and help your body break down fats more quickly. Coupled with the increase in energy and movement you might experience from the caffeine in tea, a cup of tea can be enjoyed in conjunction with a plant based diet to help promote a healthy lifestyle. However, if you drink your tea with milk and sugar, you might find it trickier to lose those extra kgs.
Is tea healthy?
The tea plant is an incredibly healthy beverage with a long list of health benefits. Picked straight from the plant and processed, you’re essentially drinking the beautiful aroma of a fresh plant. With each cup of tea packed full of polyphenols and antioxidants, every sip offers nourishment.
Although tea itself is incredibly healthy, when sugar or milk is added, this hinders the overall health rating of the drink. If you’re a fan of Bubble Tea, be careful not to drink too much if you’re being mindful of your eating habits.
What is tea… the short version?
Tea is a type of drink that’s made from pouring boiling water over cured leaves picked from the Camellia Sinensis plant. As the plant’s leaves brew, they release a glorious aroma and delicious earthy flavour that we know today as tea. Tea can be enjoyed with milk, sugar, honey, cinnamon and many other weird and wonderful spices and sweeteners. If you ask us, the best way to enjoy high quality tea is plain, to really enjoy the subtle nuances of each type of tea.
What’s the difference between black and green tea?
Although both black tea and green tea are made from the same Camellia Sinensis plant, they’re vastly different teas. The main difference between the two teas is how the teas are processed and the level of oxidation they experience. Black tea is fully oxidised after the leaves are harvested, which produces a stronger cup of tea that’s slightly bitter. Green tea leaves are often steamed or pan-fried which halts the oxidation process. This offers a softer and more subtle brew. The result is two very different teas that are both widely consumed across the globe.
What are herbal teas?
Herbal teas (also known as tisanes or herbal infusions) aren’t true teas (containing Camellia Sinensis) but instead are teas made from fruits, spices and/or flowers. Herbal tea can range from a soft and floral cup to an earthy spiced tea. Perfect to enjoy in the evening to unwind.
Drink tea, be happy!
We hope this blog has heightened your appreciation of tea, offering you newfound information on the glorious leaves that hide in your teapot. Next time you purchase your tea, we recommend reading the blurb provided on your chosen blend and discovering more about the delicious leaves in your daily brew.
Now that you’ve finished this blog… it’s time for you to drink tea! In fact… We’ll have one too!