What Is Tea?

tea farmer

Tea is one of the most consumed beverages in the world next to water.   Although on the surface a cup of tea seems to be quite a simple product, it’s actually fairly complex in nature.  Believe it or not, all tea (Green, White, Black, Oolong, and Pu’erh) comes from one plant…the Camelia sinensis.  This shrub is related to the beautiful ornamental camellias found in gardens, but this particular species is native to Asia.  It’s classified as a sub-tropical evergreen, and it is now cultivated around the world.  It grows best in deep soil at high altitudes in sub-tropical climates, but it’s even able to be cultivated here in Texas (but not on a commercial scale).  Technically, “tea” is anything that comes from the Camelia sinensis plant; herbal “teas” are a completely different category unto themselves (and properly referred to as “tisanes”).

In Asia, tea is grown not only in small family gardens, but also on estates that encompass thousands of acres.  The best quality tea are often produced at high elevations on steep slopes, so it is often hand-plucked to retain its quality.  Because this method is used, it is typical that 2,000 leaves must be collected to make just a pound of prepared tea.

So What’s In Tea?

There are three components of brewed tea (which is called “liquor’):

Essential Oils: which contain the flavors and aromas

Ployphenols:  Where the health benefits lie;  the include the brisk flavor — or astringent — taste

Caffeine:  the energy kick that’s naturally found in Camelia sinensis leaves

Orthodox or Unorthdox?

Teas produced in a traditional manner are referred to as “orthodox” teas.  In short, only the top two newly unfurled leaves and an unopened leaf bud are plucked from the plant.  These are picked by hand and then processed using five basic steps, which is how most tea we consume is made.  Today, most orthodox Tea production involves traditional methods (such as bamboo trays) and modern methods (calibrated leaf rollers).  However, since producing tea is an art form, the leaves are generally handled by artisans with generations of training.  Some teas take several days of work to produce.

Another way of making tea is the Unorthodox method, which is commonly used in for creating black tea.  This Unorthodox method is called CTC (or, crush/tear/curl).  This is a faster style which is targeted specifically for commercial production.  In this method, machine harvesters are used to mow (or trim) the tops of the bushes to get the newly emerged leaves.  A mechanical leaf shredder then crushes, tears and curls the leaves into fine pieces.  Some are then rolled into little balls.  This type of tea will brew quickly and produce a bold flavor.  CTC methods are primarily used when making tea to fill tea bags.

Tea Culture

Although tea is largely consumed throughout the world, it’s “culture” can be very local.  In China, most people do not drink black tea.  Matcha has been used for centuries in Japan, but most people in India will not have tasted it.  Tea is truly in a class by itself, as it is both uniting and defining.  The manner of taking tea differs in every culture across the globe, but it is also universal in that we all make use of a singular plant.  With the advent of mass-travel and the internet, tea culture is spreading and aficionados are able to experiment and taste a variety of teas from all over the world.  At Serendipity we aim to help you in that quest…as well as cater to your other gathering needs.


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