The Tea reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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A tea bush

Tea is a caffeine containing beverage, an infusion made by steeping the dried leaves or buds of the shrub Camellia sinensis in hot water. In addition, tea may also include other herbs, spices, or fruit flavours.

The word "tea" is also used, by extension, for any fruit or herb infusion; for example, "rosehip tea" or "camomile tea". In cases where they contain no tea leaves, some people prefer to call these beverages "tisanes" or "herbal teas" to avoid confusion. This article is concerned with the 'true' tea, Camellia sinensis.

Table of contents
1 Cultivation and classification
2 Processing of black tea
3 Varieties
4 Blends and additives
5 History
6 The word tea
7 Tea culture
8 Tea preparation
10 See also
11 External links

Cultivation and classification

Tea is grown primarily in Mainland China, India, Pakistan Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Japan, Nepal, Australia, Argentine and Kenya. (Note that in the tea trade, Sri Lanka and Taiwan are still referred to by their former names of Ceylon and Formosa, respectively.)

Divisions of tea by processing technique

<em>Camellia sinensis</em>Enlarge

Camellia sinensis

The four main types of tea are distinguished by their processing. Camellia sinensis is an evergreen shrub whose leaves, if not quickly dried after picking, soon begin to wilt and oxidize. This process resembles the malting of barley, in that starch is converted into sugars; the leaves turn progressively darker, as chlorophyll breaks down and tannins are released. The next step in processing is to stop the oxidation process at a predetermined stage by removing the water from the leaves via heating. The term fermentation was used (probably by wine fanciers) to describe this process, and has stuck, even though no true fermentation happens (i.e. the process is not driven by microbes and produces no ethanol).

Tea is traditionally classified into four main groups, based on the degree of fermentation undergone:

White tea is produced in less quantities than most of the other styles, and can be correspondingly more expensive than tea from the same plant processed by other methods. It is also less well-known in the US, though that is changing with the introduction of white tea in bagged form.

Unusual variations - There are several tea preparations available which do not fit into the usual nomenclature:

Processing of black tea

The tea is now ready for packaging.


Black tea is usually named after the region of origin: Darjeeling, Assam, Ceylon, etc. Most green and oolong teas, however, have kept their traditional Japanese or Chinese names: Genmaicha (玄米茶), Houjicha (焙じ茶), Pouchong (包種茶), etc. White teas produce a delicate liquor that often retains a slight residual sweetness. Green tea and black tea both have antioxidants, but different kinds. Green tea has a majority from catechins, particularly epigallocatechin gallate, whereas black tea has a greater variety of flavonoids. Oolong tea falls in between. It is not clear that the quantity or type of antioxidants present have any effect whatsoever on health. White tea, the very young tea leaves, is often considered another type, although on occasion people group it in with green due to the lower amount of processing.

All types are sold as either "single" teas, meaning just one variety, or as blends.

Adulteration and falsification are serious problems in the global tea trade; the amount of tea sold worldwide as Darjeeling every year greatly exceeds the annual tea production of Darjeeling, which is estimated at 11,000 metric tonnes.

Blends and additives

Almost all teas in tea-bags and most other teas are blends. Though recently with improvements in the dry freeze technique and the improved infusion method, tea powder and condensed tea essence that only needs hot or cold water to make a cup of tea are sold. Blending may occur at the level of tea-planting area (e.g.Assam), or teas from many areas may be blended. The aim of blending is a stable taste over different years, and a better price. More expensive, more tasty tea may cover the inferior taste of cheaper tea.

There are various teas which have additives and/or different processing than "pure" varieties. Tea is able to easily receive any aroma, which may cause problems in processing, transportation or storage of tea, but can be also advantageously used to prepare scented teas.


Tea creation myths

Origin and dissemination of tea

Tea plantation in MalaysiaEnlarge

Tea plantation in Malaysia

Historically, the origin of tea as a medicinal herb useful for staying awake is unclear. The use of tea as a beverage drunk for pleasure on social occasions dates from the Tang Dynasty or earlier. For its later uses, see below.

The first Europeans to encounter tea were Portuguese explorers visiting Japan in 1560. Soon imported tea was introduced to Europe, where it quickly became popular among the wealthy in France and the Netherlands. English use of tea is attributed to Catherine of Braganza (Portuguese princess, consort of Charles II of England) and dates from about 1650.

Patriotism, supply and demand

The Boston Tea Party was an act of uprising in which Boston residents destroyed crates of British tea in 1773, in protest against the tax on tea. The high demand for tea in Britain caused a huge trade deficit with China. The British set up their own tea plantations in colonial India to provide their own supply. They also tried to balance the trade deficit by selling opium to the Chinese, which later led to the First Opium War in 1838-1842.

Prior to the Boston Tea Party, residents of Britain's North American 13 colonies drank far more tea than coffee. In Britain the exotic drink from the Americas, coffee, was far more popular. After the protests against the various taxes, Americans stopped drinking tea as an act of patriotism. Similarly, Britons slowed their consumption of coffee.

These days, many tea farmers receive a low price for their produce. This has led to tea being available as a 'fair trade' item in some countries.

The word tea

The Chinese character for tea is 茶, but it is pronounced differently in the various Chinese dialects. Two pronunciations have made their way into other languages around the world. One is 'te' which comes from the Minnan dialect spoken around the port of Amoy. The other is 'cha', used by the Cantonese dialect spoken around the ports of Canton and Hong Kong, as well as in the Mandarin dialect of northern China.

Languages that have Te derivatives include Armenian, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Hebrew, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Latvian, Malay, Tamil, Singhalese, Spanish, Yiddish, and scientific Latin.

Those that use Cha derivatives include Hindi, Japanese, Persian, Portuguese, Albanian, Czech, Russian, Turkish, Tibetan, Arabic, Vietnamese, Korean, Thai, Greek, Romanian, and Swahili.

It is tempting to correlate these names with the route that was used to deliver tea to these cultures, but this correspondence does not follow. For example, most British trade went through Canton, which uses cha.

In Ireland, or at least in Dublin, the term "cha" is sometimes used for tea, and "char" was a common slang term for tea throughout British Empire and Commonwealth military forces in the 19th and 20th centuries, crossing over into civilian usage. Recently in the United States, many coffee houses have begun to serve a milky, sweet, spiced tea called "chai", loosely based on Indian recipes but much less spicy.

Tea culture

Drinking tea is often a social event. Tea is also drunk throughout the day and especially in the morning to heighten alertness - it contains theophylline and caffeine (sometimes called "theine").

In India, the world's second largest producer, tea is popular all over North India as a breakfast and evening drink. Popularly called chaai, it is served hot with milk and sugar. Almost all the tea consumed is black tea.

In China, at least as early as the Song Dynasty, tea was an object of connoisseurship, and formal tea-tasting parties were held, comparable to modern wine tastings. As much as in modern wine tastings, the proper vessel was important; the white tea used at that time called for a dark bowl in which the tea leaves and hot water were mixed and whipped up with a whisk. The best of these bowls, glazed in patterns with names like oil spot, hare's fur, and tortoise shell, are highly valued today. The rituals and the traditional dark pottery were adopted in Japan beginning in the 12th century, and gave rise to the Japanese tea ceremony, which took its final form in the 16th century.

In Britain and Ireland, "tea" is not only the name of the beverage, but of a late afternoon light meal, called that even if the diners are drinking beer, cider, or juice. Frequently (outside the UK) this is referred to as "high tea", however in the UK high tea is an evening meal. The term evidently comes from the meal being eaten at the "high" (main) table, rather than the smaller table common in living rooms. Tea is served with milk and sugar. There is a tradition of tea shops in the UK which have declined in popularity since the second world war but still exist in small village communities. They usually provide the traditional fare of cream and jam on scones. Lyons Corner Houses were a successful chain of such establishments.

In Sri Lanka, tea is served in the English style, with milk and sugar, but the milk is always warmed.

There are several tea ceremonies which have arisen in different cultures, the most famous of which are the complex, formal and serene Japanese tea ceremony, and the commercial, crowded and noisy Yum Cha.

Specific tea culture developed in the Czech Republic in recent years, including many style tea rooms. Pure teas are usually prepared with respect to habits of country of their origin. Different tearooms had also created various blends and methods of preparation and serving.

Devonshire tea is the staple "tea ceremony" of the English speaking Commonwealth countries, available in homes and Tea shops throughout the United Kingdom, Australia, India and New Zealand. Devonshire tea is almost unknown in the USA.

In the United States, tea is often served iced; iced tea is a common meal-time beverage or hot weather treat in many parts of the country. It is sometimes served with a wedge of lemon, and may be sweetened or unsweetened, varying by region. Sun tea is brewed by leaving the water and tea with direct sunlight as the only source of heat; steeping times are necessarily long.

Cold tea is very popular in Japan as well. In cafeterias and lunch-type restaurants, the meal is usually served with hot or cold green tea according to the customer's preferences. Most of the ubiqutous vending machines also carry a sometimes excessive selection of cold bottled teas.

Recently, Boba milk tea from Taiwan has become an extremely popular drink among young people. This Asian fad spread to the USA in 2000, where it is generally called "bubble tea" or "pearl milk tea". (See news)

Tea preparation

A Japanese teapotEnlarge

A Japanese teapot

This section describes the most widespread method of making tea. Completely different methods are used in North Africa, Tibet and perhaps in other places.

The best way to prepare tea is usually thought to be with loose tea placed either directly in a teapot or contained in a tea infuser, rather than a teabag. However, perfectly acceptable tea can be made with teabags. Boiling water should be added, but the tea should not be allowed to steep for less than 30 seconds or more than about five minutes (a process known as brewing or mashing in the UK): after that, tannin is released, which counteracts the stimulating effect of the theophylline and caffeine and makes the tea bitter. Some teas, especially green teas and delicate Oolongs or Darjeeling teas, are steeped for shorter periods, sometimes less than 30 seconds. Using a tea strainer separates the leaves from the water at the end of the brewing time if a tea bag is not being used.

In order to preserve the pre-tannin tea without requiring it all to be poured into cups a second teapot is employed. The steeping pot is best unglazed earthenware — the YangXi pots are known as the best of these. The serving pot is generally porcelain, which retains the heat better.

The water for black teas should be added at the boiling point (100°C), except for very delicate Darjeeling teas, where slightly lower temperatures are recommended. This will have as large an effect on the final flavour as the type of tea used. The most common fault when making tea is to use water at too low a temperature. Since boiling point drops with altitude, this makes it difficult to brew black tea properly in mountainous areas. Water for green tea, according to most accounts, should be around 80 to 85°C — the higher the quality of the leaves, the lower the temperature. Preferably, the container in which the tea is steeped — the mug or teapot — should also be warmed beforehand (usually by swirling a little hot water around it then pouring it out) so that the tea does not immediately cool down.

Experienced tea-drinkers often insist that the tea should not be stirred around while it is steeping (sometimes called winding in the UK). This, they say, will do little to strengthen the tea, but is likely to bring the tannic acids out in the same way that brewing too long will do. For the same reason one should not squeeze the last drops out of a teabag; if you want stronger tea, use more leaves or bags.

Popular additives to tea include sugar or honey, lemon, milk, and fruit jams. Most connoisseurs eschew cream because it overpowers the flavour of tea. Milk, however, is thought to neutralize remaining tannins. When taking milk with tea, connoisseurs add the tea to the milk rather than the other way around. This avoids scalding the milk, which leads to a better emulsion and nicer taste, however this notion was contested by the author George Orwell - it also makes a more milky cup of tea with sugar harder to prepare as there is never any hot liquid in the cup or mug for the sugar to dissolve in effectively.


See also

External links