Camellia sinensis (or tea) was originally used for medicinal properties and has since turned into what most would consider a basic necessity; its use and consumption is widespread all across the world. In the U.S. on average we drink about 50 million servings a year. With origins in China, India, and Tibet, this one plant has changed the world more than we could ever know.
There are some interesting myths as to how tea came about. One theory is that the Buddha fell asleep for seven years after meditating. After he awoke he was so disappointed that he cut off his eyelids and they fell to the ground and a tea plant sprouted. Another is that Shennong, an emperor and the inventor of agriculture and Chinese medicine, was drinking hot water when leaves fell into his cup. He took a drink of the brew and was surprised by its flavor and restorative properties.
The medicinal uses for tea are many. Tea has L-theanine, an amino acid that promotes mental acuity which, in combination with caffeine, can create a sense of mindful awareness, a relaxed but aware mental state, and can help selective attention. This can help us get through our mornings, stay up at night, and get through hard tasks (like writing this article...). It also can increase beneficial micro-flora in the intestine and can provide immunity against intestinal disorders. Tea has been shown to normalize blood pressure, thereby possibly preventing coronary heart disease and diabetes by reducing blood-glucose activity. Black and green tea also contain antioxidents.
It’s interesting that one plant can produce so many different flavors. All tea comes from one species of plant and it is the processing these leaves undergo which will determine their “color.” White tea is the most delicate and probably the most powerful of all varieties of tea. It brews up a very airy aroma and somewhat fruity taste.
This tea also offers more powerful antioxidant properties than other teas. White tea is in fact young—that is, the leaves are picked before they fully open and are covered with tiny fuzzy, whitish hairs which earns it its name “white tea.”
Green tea is offers great health benefits. Grown and highly consumed in both China and Japan, this tea branches off into literally hundreds of varieties. I’ve only tried the more popular types of tea in the green family, and there are still so many.
Oolong tea, which is also called wu long tea, is in between green and black. It is a sweet, floral, woody brew that consists of larger leaves. This tea has also proven in studies that it can help people lose pounds and even decrease the progress of wrinkles and aging of the skin.
Black tea, which is the most commonly consumed tea in the world, is the most processed of the four types. Mostly brewed by tea bag in America and traditionally served in the United Kingdom as “afternoon tea,” this and everyday type of tea.
Pu-erh is one of the most interesting teas to me. It is aged and the older it is, the more sought after and therefore more costly (a 40-year-old 250g brick can cost up to $9,000).
Okay, now we get to the heart of it—tea steeping. There are about as many variations on steeping as there are teas. Depending on your personal tastes, you may want to steep longer or shorter, but if you want a stronger tea, it is best to add more leaves instead of steeping it longer. Some black teas need to be at or near boiling to release the active substances in it, so you don’t want to steep it less than 30 seconds or longer than five minutes. Some delicate teas might only need to be steeped 30 seconds. In many cultures, tea is given multiple steepings. It is a great way to understand how steeping times and temperatures can affect the taste of your tea. Loose tea is considered the best way to drink tea as bagged tea doesn’t let the tea expand and makes it harder for the water to saturate all the leaves. Also squeezing the tea bag is not helpful when using a tea bag, this will make your tea bitter and ruin the energy of the tea. When making tea with a tea bag, it is best to use a pyramid tea bag. This will help the leaves expand and make a better tea. The drawback with these is that they are mostly made out of non-compostable materials.