It is very hard to find a single person who does not enjoy a cup of tea from time to time. For some of us, it is an everyday occurrence that brings comfort and satisfaction; while for others it may only be consumed when illness strikes such as a when you have an upset stomach or when you must improve your health and well-being.
If you’ve never spent time buying and trying different teas, it can certainly be a confusing experience. From supermarkets to health food stores and from Asian stores to specialty tea shops, you could spend the next five years trying to find a tea you enjoy (or trying to decide which style and flavor one you like better). But there is no need for that; let’s see if we can break it down to make the quest a little easier for you?
What Is Tea?
That may sound like an odd question but it is a valid question. Most teas are made from the Camellia sinensis, a species of the Camellia plant. Teas such as herbal tea and tisanes are made from a mixture of flowers, herbs, leaves, seeds, and roots but don’t often include actual tea leaves from the Camellia plant. Teas have different flavors depending on which country the plant is grown in and how long the leaves are left to dry before rolling or cutting.
Tea Growing Regions Around The World
Tea is grown in many countries around the world and often the tea is named after where it is grown. The main growing regions include China, India (Assam, Darjeeling, Nilgiri), Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Taiwan, Indonesia, Himalayas, Japan, Africa, Brazil, Nepal, Kenya, and Turkey. There are some smaller growing areas in England, Ireland and Australia. Yes, that’s right, in North Queensland and Northern NSW there are tea plantations producing a small amount of black tea.
Tea from China
China produces a number of different types of teas and their history with tea go back quite a long way. Tea was originally used as a medicine and then moved onto being viewed as a tonic, and finally onto a beverage. The country is one of the largest producers and consumers of tea, producing over 30% of the world’s tea. In China, tea tends to be grown in the southern and eastern provinces where the climate is humid, although it does grow west to the Sichuan and Yunnan provinces and north to the Shandong province.
The types of teas produced in China are black, green, white, oolong, yellow and pu-erh tea. Growers have also started producing teas that originated in other countries such as Sencha tea, which originated in Japan. Chinese Green Tea is always offered at Chinese restaurants, and when you visit a Chinese person’s home.
Purchasing black, green, white and oolong tea is easy today from many stores or online where the choice, variety, and prices are very affordable.
Tea from Japan
The main type of tea you will find in Japan is green tea. It is the most widely consumed tea in the country and a number of the green teas available for sale throughout the western world originated here. Japanese green teas are slightly different from those found in China, A distinct difference is that Japanese teas are steamed rather than pan-fried like those in China; the main exception here is kamairicha and mushi-guricha teas.
Japan’s basic green tea is bancha which is harvested later in the season through to the more well-known sencha tea that is easily available in western countries. Other teas produced in Japan include genmaicha (brown-rice tea) and hojicha.
Tea from India
Apart from China, India is the other large producer of tea around the world. Similarly to China, tea has been consumed in India for thousands of years used both for medicinal and beverage purposes. Most of India’s tea is consumed in India but there are large amounts of mass-produced and artisan tea which is exported out of the country.
India is known for black tea although there has been expansion into green, white and oolong teas in recent years; as drinking tea has become more popular throughout the world. The main teas you will find coming out of India are those from the Darjeeling and Assam regions. A popular Tea from India is Chai Tea or Spiced Tea.
Sri Lankan Tea
Sri Lanka is mainly known for its production of Ceylon tea. The country is the third largest producer of tea in the world and grows tea across the entire country; the various temperatures and humidity levels allow for tea that while inherently the same, has slight taste variations depending on where it is grown.
Ceylon tea is used across a number of different blends including flavored back teas, Earl Grey, English Breakfast and fruit black teas. Dilmah and Twinnings typically use Ceylon Tea as the base of their tea.
Teas from other parts of the world – Australia & New Zealand
If you are looking for a tea produced closer to home, there are a number of small producers of tea across Australia and New Zealand. Australia produces a number of herbs which are used in herbal teas and a small number of our native plants such as Lemon Myrtle are used to make herbal teas. Other teas produced in Australia include black tea, hibiscus tea, green tea, and shincha.
New Zealand has only begun to grown tea in recent years and is now producing a great tasting oolong tea.
Different Types of Tea
Now we know what exactly tea is and what it is made from and where it is grown, it’s time to look at the different types of teas available. When trying to choose what teas to keep stocked in your cupboard it is important not to dismiss any tea types just because they weren’t purchased at a tea shop or they aren’t loose-leaf. Everyday brands such as Lipton, Dilmah, and Twinnings produce some lovely teas which are great if you are at work or traveling, but if you are after more then the stock standard common variety then trying other brands may give you a new experience and appreciation of tea altogether.
The different types of tea on the market come down to two main areas – the type of tea and the region the tea comes from. While there are many growing areas across the world, some areas produce tea types and blends that other areas don’t. We have already looked at the types of teas grown in each main growing region so we will now look at the various types of tea that are on the market and ready for you to try.
For those who haven’t drunk a lot of tea, black tea is usually the starting point and most commonly drunk tea in the western world.There are many you will find on your supermarket shelf marketed as your everyday teas – Earl Grey, English Breakfast, English Afternoon, Irish Breakfast and Masala Chai. These are blended teas which means that they are a blend of different types of teas including Assam, Ceylon, and Kenyan teas.
Single origin teas are those you are more likely to find in your specialty tea stores or Asian supermarkets. These include teas such as Ceylon, Assam, Darjeeling, Nepali, Tibeti, and Nilgiri.
There are a huge number of green teas with most coming from China or Japan. We are most likely going to find the Japanese green teas in western countries including varieties such as sencha, matcha, and hojicha. Chinese green teas include Jasmine tea (which has added Jasmine flowers), gunpowder tea and Qing Ding.
While produced from the same plant as black and green tea, white tea is thought to contain the most antioxidants and is named as such due to the fine hairs on the young buds which make the tea look white. White tea is produced by plucking young tea leaves, and then going through the drying process.
There are two definitions of red tea. In western countries, red tea is known as rooibos tea which is actually a herbal tea and comes from a small red bush only grown in South Africa. The tea has a red color which is distinctive to rooibos and has a sweet and slightly nutty flavor. In China, red tea is what we in the west call black tea. Red teas, similarly to black teas, have bold flavors which, depending on the tea you are drinking, may be earthy, sweet, woody, floral or fruity.
Herbal, Tisane & Fruit Teas
These teas are made from an infusion of herbs, spices or flowers and usually don’t contain caffeine. Herbal teas are perfect for those who want something to help them relax before bed or just need to wind down. Some of the more popular herbal teas include hibiscus tea, lemon myrtle tea, chamomile tea, fennel tea, ginger tea, peppermint tea, raspberry leaf tea, rose hip tea and many more. A lot of these teas are used for their perceived health benefits such as relieving hot flushes, settling an upset stomach, a cleanser or for digestive help.
Medicinal and Ceremonial Use
Tea has been used for thousands of years throughout the world for ceremonial and medicinal purposes and it is widely known that there are many tea benefits.
Some countries, such as Japan, still use tea in their tea ceremonies while tea is still used for medicinal purposes across the world whether on its own or supplementing dietary requirements.
Green tea can help in lowering the chances of heart diseases, specific types of cancer and eye diseases such as glaucoma; black tea can be helpful for those suffering cardiovascular disease and help to lessen the risk of stroke; white tea has properties which can help those with cardiovascular disease, help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol and also boost the immune system; and oolong tea can help those with inflammatory disorders, heart disease, and high cholesterol as well as helping with good dental health. In the Chinese culture, Pu-erh tea is thought to combat the effects of alcohol consumption while herbal teas can help with relaxation and have many antioxidant properties.
Tea ceremonies are still held in countries such as China, Japan, and Korea. In China, the ceremony is usually a quiet casual gathering of tea drinkers, but these ceremonies also happen on more formal occasions such as weddings. The Japanese tea ceremony is a long affair, often lasting up to four hours. Guests are served a single bowl of thick tea which is passed around the room and then served thin tea. There are a number of elements in a Japanese tea ceremony which are strictly followed. In Korea, tea ceremonies are held for a variety of events and are a formal but relaxed event involving the wearing of traditional clothing, with a routine involving the preparation, serving and even the drinking of the tea.
Basic Rules for Brewing Tea
The main “rules” as such around drinking tea are focused on how it is brewed. There are some things you should do to ensure you taste the flavor and subtleties of the tea.
- Only use cold water to fill the kettle. If you have poor quality water use filtered or bottled water, otherwise tap water is fine
- Only boil the water once. If you want another cup, use fresh water
- Boil to the right temperature. If you don’t want to muck around with thermometers, just turn your kettle off when it is 80% boiled
- When using tea leaves use a ratio of 1 teaspoon of leaves per cup
- When using a pot, wash the pot out in fresh water and make sure you wash all the leaves out.
There are many benefits to drinking tea and with so many different types of tea readily available both online and through your local food and specialty tea shops; you are likely to find one or more flavors that suit your mood and taste. Heck! There are so many flavors of tea to be tried that you could seek comfort in a new flavor just about every week.