Thursday, May 26, 2011


Tea is the agricultural product of the leaves, leaf buds, and internodes of various cultivars and sub-varieties of the Camellia sinensis plant, processed and cured using various methods. "Tea" also refers to the aromatic beverage prepared from the cured leaves by combination with hot or boiling water, and is the common name for the Camellia sinensis plant itself. After water, tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world. It has a cooling, slightly bitter, astringent flavour which many enjoy.
There are at least six varieties of tea: white, yellow, green, oolong, black, and post-fermented teas of which the most commonly found on the market are white, green, oolong, and black. Some varieties, such as traditional oolong tea and Pu-erh tea, a post-fermented tea, can be used medicinally.
The term "tea" is sometimes loosely used to refer to "herbal teas", which are an infusion or tisane of leaves, flowers, fruit, herbs, or other plant material that contains no Camellia sinensis. In East Asian culture, the term "red tea" has always been used to represent what the West understands as "black tea". This can be confusing in the English speaking world because the same term is now also used to represent the drink made with the South African rooibos plant which contains no Camellia sinensis.
Tea plants are propagated from seed or by cutting; it takes approximately 4 to 12 years for a tea plant to bear seed, and about 3 years before a new plant is ready for harvesting. In addition to a zone 8 climate or warmer, tea plants require at least 127 cm. (50 inches) of rainfall a year and prefer acidic soils. Traditional Chinese Tea Cultivation and Studies believes that high-quality tea plants are cultivated at elevations of up to 1,500 metres (4,900 ft): at these heights, the plants grow more slowly and acquire a better flavour.
Only the top 1-2 inches of the mature plant are picked. These buds and leaves are called flushes. A plant will grow a new flush every seven to fifteen days during the growing season, and leaves that are slow in development always produce better flavored teas.
A tea plant will grow into a tree of up to 16 metres (52 ft) if left undisturbed, but cultivated plants are pruned to waist height for ease of plucking.
Two principal varieties are used: the China plant (C. sinensis sinensis), used for most Chinese, Formosan and Japanese teas (but not Pu-erh); and the clonal Assam plant (C. sinensis assamica), used in most Indian and other teas (but not Darjeeling). Within these botanical varieties, there are many strains and modern Indian clonal varieties. Leaf size is the chief criterion for the classification of tea plants, with three primary classifications being: Assam type, characterized by the largest leaves; China type, characterized by the smallest leaves; and Cambod, characterized by leaves of intermediate size.
A tea's type is determined by the processing which it undergoes. Leaves of Camellia sinensis soon begin to wilt and oxidize, if not dried quickly after picking. The leaves turn progressively darker as their chlorophyll breaks down and tannins are released. This enzymatic oxidation process, known as fermentation in the tea industry, and is caused by the plant's intracellular enzymes and causes the tea to darken. In tea processing, the darkening is stopped at a predetermined stage by heating, which deactivates the enzymes responsible. In the production of black teas, the halting of oxidization by heating is carried out simultaneously with drying.
Tea is traditionally classified based on the techniques with which it is produced and processed.
  • White tea: Wilted and unoxidized
  • Yellow tea: Unwilted and unoxidized, but allowed to yellow
  • Green tea: Unwilted and unoxidized
  • Oolong: Wilted, bruised, and partially oxidized
  • Black tea: Wilted, sometimes crushed, and fully oxidized
  • Post-fermented tea: Green tea that has been allowed to ferment/compost
Tea contains catechins, a type of antioxidant. In a freshly picked tea leaf, catechins can compose up to 30% of the dry weight. Catechins are highest in concentration in white and green teas, while black tea has substantially fewer due to its oxidative preparation. Research by the U.S. Department of Agriculture has suggested that levels of antioxidants in green and black tea do not differ greatly, with green tea having an oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) of 1253 and black tea an ORAC of 1128 (measured in μmolTE/100g). Tea also contains theanine and the stimulant caffeine at about 3% of its dry weight, translating to between 30 mg and 90 mg per 8 oz (250 ml) cup depending on type, brand and brewing method. Tea also contains small amounts of theobromine and theophylline. Due to modern day environmental pollution fluoride and aluminum have also been found to occur in tea, with certain types of brick tea made from old leaves and stems having the highest levels. This occurs due to the tea plant's high sensitivity to and absorption of environmental pollutants.
Dry tea has more caffeine by weight than coffee; nevertheless, more dried coffee is used than dry tea in preparing the beverage, which means that a cup of brewed tea contains significantly less caffeine than a cup of coffee of the same size. Tea has negligible carbohydrates, fat, and protein.
Although tea contains various types of polyphenols and tannin, tea does not contain tannic acid. Tannic acid is not an appropriate standard for any type of tannin analysis because of its poorly defined composition.
Tea plants are native to East and South Asia and probably originated around the point of confluence of the lands of northeast India, north Burma, southwest China, and Tibet. Although tales exist in regards to the beginnings of tea being used as a beverage, no one is sure of its exact origins. The usage of tea as a beverage was first recorded in China, with the earliest records of tea consumption with records dating back to the 10th century BC. It was already a common drink during Qin Dynasty (around 200 BC) and became widely popular during Tang Dynasty, when it was spread to Korea and Japan. Trade of tea by the Chinese to Western nations in the 19th century spread tea and the tea plant to numerous locations around the world.
Tea was imported to Europe during the Portuguese expansion of the 16th century, at which time it was termed chá. In 1750, tea experts traveled from China to the Azores Islands, and planted tea, along with jasmines and mallows, to give the tea aroma and distinction. Both green tea and black tea continue to grow in the islands, that are the main supplier to continental Portugal. Catherine of Braganza, wife of Charles II, took the tea habit to Great Britain around 1660, but it was not until the 19th century Britain that tea became as widely consumed as it is today.
Tea bags
Tea leaves are packed into a small envelope (usually composed of paper) known as a tea bag. The use of tea bags is easy and convenient, making tea bags popular for many people today. However, the tea used in tea bags has an industry name—it is called fannings or "dust" and is the waste product produced from the sorting of higher quality loose leaf tea, although this certainly is not true for all brands of tea, especially in the case of many specialty, high quality teas now available in bag form. It is commonly held among tea aficionados that this method provides an inferior taste and experience. The paper used for the bag can also be tasted by many, which can detract from the tea's flavor. Because fannings and dust are a lower quality of the tea to begin with, the tea found in tea bags is less finicky when it comes to brewing time and temperature.
Loose tea
The tea leaves are packaged loosely in a canister or other container. Rolled gunpowder tea leaves, which resist crumbling, are commonly vacuum packed for freshness in aluminized packaging for storage and retail. The portions must be individually measured by the consumer for use in a cup, mug, or teapot. This allows greater flexibility, letting the consumer brew weaker or stronger tea as desired, but convenience is sacrificed. Strainers, "tea presses," filtered teapots, and infusion bags are available commercially to avoid having to drink the floating loose leaves and to prevent over-brewing. A more traditional, yet perhaps more efficient way around this problem is to use a three-piece lidded teacup, called a gaiwan. The lid of the gaiwan can be tilted to decant the leaves while pouring the tea into a different cup for consumption.
Compressed tea
Some teas (particularly Pu-erh tea) are still compressed for transport, storage, and aging convenience. The tea brick remains in use in the Himalayan countries. The tea is prepared and steeped by first loosening leaves off the compressed cake using a small knife. Compressed teas can usually be stored for longer periods of time without spoilage when compared with loose leaf tea.
Instant tea
In recent times, "instant teas" are becoming popular, similar to freeze dried instant coffee. Similar products also exist for instant iced tea, due to the convenience of not requiring boiling water. Instant tea was developed in the 1930s, but not commercialized until later. Nestea introduced the first instant tea in 1946, while Redi-Tea introduced the first instant iced tea in 1953.
These products often come with added flavors, such as vanilla, honey or fruit, and may also contain powdered milk. Tea connoisseurs tend to criticize these products for sacrificing the delicacies of tea flavor in exchange for convenience.
Canned tea
Canned tea was first launched in 1981 in Japan. As such, it is a fairly recent innovation, and it has mostly benefits in marketing.



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