“Tea is the magic key to the vault where my vault is kept.” ~ Francis Hardinge
Fact: Tea is the second-most consumed beverage after water.
But what is tea, really? Where does it come from?
Tea comes from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. In fact, all teas come from the same plant.
The Camellia sinensis plant is a form of sub-tropical evergreen plant that’s native to areas in Asia. Traditionally, this plant is best grown in loose, deep soil, at high altitudes and in hot, tropical climates (i.e. Asia and surrounding areas). Today, with the advancement of technology and transportation, the tea plant is grown around the world.
But, to put simply, tea is anything that comes from this wonderful tea plant. Anything else is traditionally called an herbal tea or tisane – like chamomile, Rooibos and fruit teas.
What’s the difference?
There are several classifications of tea, all of which come from the Camellia sinensis plant mentioned earlier. The only difference is in the techniques used to produce and process the leaves.
White Tea – After picked, the leaves are wilted and left unoxidized. These kinds of tea are very light in taste and are great for tea newbies.
Green Tea – These leaves are unwilted and unoxidized. The flavor of green tea is traditionally very earthy and green (pun intended) tasting. This kind of tea can sometimes be an acquired taste.
Oolong Tea – These tea leaves are wilted, bruised and partially oxidized after picking. The flavor is similar to that of green tea, but can be much smoother and lighter. Oolong tea is best in multiple infusions and typically the more infusions the better tasting it is.
Black Tea – After picked, these leaves are wilted, sometimes crushed and fully oxidized. Black tea has a strong taste and can be quite astringent (which is why people sometimes add milk). If you’re a coffee drinker this is the kind of tea that you may favor the most.
Pu-erh Tea – (Post-fermented Tea) This is green tea that has been allowed to ferment/compost for a period of time, sometimes many years. These kinds of tea are really better the older they get.
Granted all these teas come from the same basic plant there is still a difference even within the classification. For example, if you have a black tea made from leaves picked in China and the same black tea made of leaves picked in India they will tastes significantly different.
The difference is terrior – or the subtle differences in soil, climate and elevation based on location – is what causes the difference in flavors of the same tea. So ultimately, the flavor of your tea is greatly dependent upon where the plant it originates from.
Wait! What about Herbal Tea?
If you may remember, anything that is produced from the Camellia sinensis plant is classified as tea. Herbal teas (or tisanes) are created from things other than this plant. So technically, herbal teas are not really teas at all.
Instead, herbal teas are basically blends of dried fruits and berries with a base of hibiscus flowers and rosehips as a base. Obviously they have a fruity flavor and aroma and are quite sweet.
But there are types of herbal teas made from “herbs” (haha, get it?) and spices as well.
But wait, there’s more!
Now, don’t get confused. There are many kinds of tea (from the Camellia sinensis plant) that are blended with other things similar to what’s in herbal teas.
So it’s quite common to find many different flavors of tea that are combined with fruits and other things, the only difference is that the base of those teas is actual tea from the Camellia sinensis plant.