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How to Drink and Appreciate Tea, Plus Facts for the Novice

Don and his wife love to cook. They enjoy new and different recipes and experimenting with interesting combinations of ingredients.

Tea is a popular beverage around the world and is considered to be healthy.

Tea is a popular beverage around the world and is considered to be healthy.

A Beginner's Guide to Drinking Tea

When I initially started drinking tea regularly, years ago, I was like a blind man reading a book. By that I mean that I just grabbed something off of the shelf, heated it, flavored it, and threw it down.

Since then, I have gleaned enough information about tea that I figured I should share it with you.

The good thing is that today there is so much information about tea available on the web that you can become your own expert very quickly.

Many people, especially in the US, are unaware of the long history and popularity of tea. Worldwide, tea is the world's second-favorite beverage, second only to water.

Its rich history and wide variety of blends, flavors, and aromas are what have kept it so popular around the world. With the new data that is now available on its health benefits, health-conscious people around the world are sure to make it even more popular in the future.

So, here it is, everything you need to know about tea.

First, let's look at descriptions of the four different basic varieties you will find available and then let's review;

  • a list of the health benefits of tea,
  • a definition of the term "herbal tea,"
  • a review of the popular tea brands,
  • and even watch some informative videos.

Types of Tea

Tea is simple, there are only four different types of tea: black, oolong, green, and white.

A History of Tea and Its Special Health Properties

First, you should know that tea is made from the leaves of an evergreen bush or shrub from the genus Camellia sinensis, and tea has a history that goes back to 2737 BC in China. By around 300 AD, it was a popular daily beverage throughout China.

The young leaves and leaf buds from the bush are used to make different varieties, and there are over 1500 types of tea produced today.

When you start tasting them, reading labels, and selecting your favorites, you'll begin to recognize the three major varieties (black, oolong, and green) with an unofficial fourth variety referred to as white tea.

With all teas, the important part to consider is the oils in the leaves and buds, as well as how they are processed and stored.

The level of their magic health ingredient, polyphenol, is usually relative to the fermentation used in their processing.

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You should know that black teas are highly fermented (and therefore low in polyphenols) while Oolongs are only partially fermented (higher in polyphenols) and green teas are essentially unfermented which makes them the highest in polyphenols.

The word "tea" is said to come from words of several languages and Chinese dialects: tay or te (Amoy), cha (Cantonese), or tchai, chai, or châ (Persian).

Prepared black tea usually looks a lot darker than the other varieties of tea.

Prepared black tea usually looks a lot darker than the other varieties of tea.

Black Tea Facts

  • It's called black because that's the color the leaves turn after they are oxidized. It is also known as red tea in the far East and is made from the leaves of the Assamese plant.
  • It is oxidized more than the other three major varieties and also has the highest caffeine content of them all.
  • Being the strongest, it also stores longer than the others, often for several years. This longevity was one reason for its popularity in Europe when it was first imported there in the 1600s.
  • The picked leaves are allowed to wither and are then crushed to release the oils. Then they are dried for four hours before the tea is packaged.
  • Black tea is still the most popular variety today and accounts for over 90% of the tea used in the Western world.
  • Black tea is the strongest-flavored of the four varieties and is used primarily to make iced tea in the US.
Oolong tea leaves being dried

Oolong tea leaves being dried

Oolong Tea Facts

  • Oolong is the more traditional Chinese variety of tea. The name means "black dragon."
  • The leaves and buds are dried in the sun until they are withered and oxidized. It is then roasted for anywhere from 12 to 36 hours. Then the leaves are rolled in one of two ways; either into long curly leaves or small beads.
  • Due to the differences in methods of production used, oolongs are considered full-bodied and have a wide variety of flavors, ranging from thick roasted aromas to sweet and fruity, while some even have fresh flowery aromas.
  • In terms of caffeine, this type has less than black tea but more than other varieties.
A cup of green tea

A cup of green tea

Green Tea Facts

  • Green tea is made by minimizing oxidation of the leaves during the production process and generally it has the highest levels of polyphenols (micronutrients).
  • There is a wide variation in its distribution around the world, due to the wide range of manufacturing processes used around the world, and which brands and types are made available.
  • Green tea can have a wide variety of flavorings added, but on its own, its dominant flavor is light, fresh, and slightly sweet.

Below, I have listed the health benefits of teas in general. These benefits, it should be noted, are for people who have been consistent consumers of these teas for a relatively long period of time. So if you want to take advantage of these benefits, you should be a consistent consumer, and not someone who has a glass of tea every week or so.

White tea leaves

White tea leaves

White Tea Facts

  • White tea is made from the young leaves and unopened buds on the tea plant.
  • It is called white tea due to the light coloring of the strands on the unopened buds.
  • The leaves are withered in the sun and only lightly oxidized to protect their flavor.
  • It has a mild and smooth flavor and is a pale color when brewed.
  • White tea is often sold today as silvery tip pekoe, Fujian white, and China white, to name a few of the more popular sub-varieties.

The Health Benefits of Tea

  • Tea, and specifically oolong, contains high levels of tannin (a kind of polyphenol or superfood).
  • Polyphenol is purported to help the body get rid of free radicals and can help delay the appearance of age, spots, and wrinkles in the skin.
  • Polyphenol can also help reduce the level of triglycerides and fat in the body, as well as help in reducing tooth decay.
  • Tea in general, and specifically the White variety, contains Catechins (polyphenol antioxidants) which have been found to lower blood pressure and blood sugar and reduce cholesterol levels.
  • It can improve the function of the immune system, as well as reduce the pain of rheumatoid arthritis and can help block the effects of ultra-violet rays.
  • Green tea is purported to help lower levels of heart disease and prevent certain types of cancer in some people.
  • A green tea extract containing polyphenols and caffeine can boost the body’s metabolic rate by as much as 4%, thus contributing to weight loss without increasing blood pressure.

All of these health benefits are possible for long-time drinkers of tea.

NameTea UsedAdditiveFlavor and Notes

Black Currant

Black Tea

Blended with Currant flavor

Rich flavor with a hint of blackberry.

Bombay Chai

Black Teas, India

Blended with Spices

Rich flavor with hints of clove and other spices.

Chun Mei, Chinese

Green Tea

 

Has a light color and the subtle taste of plums.

Dragon Well

Green Tea, Chinese

 

Large leaves, medium body tea with a fresh flavor.

Earl Grey

Black Tea

Bergamot (Citrus Flavor)

Bright, tart, and refreshing.

English Breakfast

Keenum Chinese Black Tea

 

Strong and smoky flavor.

Gunpowder

Green Tea

 

Most popular of the Chinese green teas.

Gyokuro

Green Tea, Japanese

 

The best of Japanese green teas; has a green color and a light flavor and aroma.

Irish Breakfast

Ceylon and Assam Black Tea Blend

 

Dark color with a strong malt flavor.

Lipton

Black Tea

Blend of several Pekoe grade Black Teas

Sold in tea bags; medium grade with an average flavor.

Matcha

Green Tea

 

Powdered tea, primarily used in Japanese tea ceremonies.

Orange Pekoe

Black Tea, medium grade, not Chinese

No Orange flavor, but the name probably refers to the Orange color of the leaves when processed

Has a subtle and light flavor and aroma.

Red Rose

Black Tea

Blend of several Pekoe grade Black Teas

Sold in tea bags; average flavor and aroma.

Sencha Green

Green Tea, Japanese Variety

 

Small leaves and full-flavored.

Silver Needle

White Tea

 

Light and sweet flavor.

Tetly

Black Tea

Blend of several Pekoe grade Black Teas

Sold in tea bags; average flavor with a slight malty hint.

Wu-Yi

Oolong Tea, Chinese

 

Rich, fruity flavor.

Herbal Tea or Tisane

  • Herbal tea (aka tisane) typically is not made exclusively from tea leaves. Rather, it is an infusion or decoction of ingredients other than Camellia sinensis.
  • A tisane is made from combinations of flowers, roots, dried fruits, or herbs or spices like cinnamon, rosemary, sage, and thyme, as well as other natural ingredients. In some brands, actual tea leaves are added.
  • The wide variety of popular manufactured herbal teas include ingredients like as mint, chamomile, jasmine, and so forth.
  • The ingredients of herbal tea are often selected for their flavor and purported health properties or medicinal value. Some ingredients are used for soothing an upset stomach, aiding with digestion, or just calming the nerves.

How to Steep Tea

The general rule: The larger the leaf, the longer the brewing time.

Earl Grey needs around 5 minutes, while a smaller leaf will only need about 3 1/2.

Allow loose tea to brew for up to 7 minutes.

Read the Label

Today, a tea drinker needs to take the time to carefully read the labels on products purporting to contain green tea. Too often, companies feel that putting a green liquid into a bottle and labeling it "green tea" is all that they need to do to sell the stuff, even if it only has minuscule quantities of the real thing. When you read the fine print, you will find that the actual green tea content in the beverage is inconsequential.

How to Brew

The Types of Teas and Tisanes

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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