Tea is one of the most popular beverages in the world, second only to water. The origins of tea are somewhat muddled, however there is a popular legend which tells of the discovery of tea by the mythical Chinese emperor Shen Nung about 5,000 years ago.
In order to encourage sanitation throughout China, the emperor ordered that all citizens boil their water before consumption. During a trip to a remote area of China, the emperor and his entourage stopped to rest. As the servants were boiling water, leaves from a nearby bush blew into the hot liquid. The resulting concoction turned an amber color. Curious, Shen Nung tried the mixture and found it both refreshing and flavorful. Tea was born!
There are four main types of tea: black, oolong, green, and white, all of which originate from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. Specific processing techniques are responsible for the differences in flavor between these four varieties. Tea is usually picked by hand twice a year, once in the early spring and once in summer. Immediately after it is picked, oxidation begins to occur (oxidation is the process that takes place when oxygen molecules come in contact with any type of substance). It is this oxidation process that leads to the different types of tea.
Black tea is the most processed of the four types. Picked tea leaves are immediately transferred to a factory where they are withered to reduce moisture. Next, the leaves are rolled to release the rest of their moisture. After this, the leaves are spread out in a cool, dark place to allow the oxidation process to work its magic. The leaves begin this stage green, but as oxidation takes place they turn a copper brown color. Finally, the leaves are dried with hot air, and their color changes from copper to the more recognizable black.
Oolong tea undergoes the same process as black tea, however it is only partially oxidized, and never reaches the same stage as black tea. Green tea is withered, rolled and dried, but the oxidation process is removes. The exclusion of this step is what preserves the tea’s color.
White teas are particularly special, as they are only picked two days out of the year when the buds haven’t fully opened. White tea is processed like green tea, but it has a smoother, less grassy taste.
Herbal teas are not really teas at all, as they contain no part of the Camellia sinensis plant, and thus generally no caffeine. Herbal teas are usually a mixture of herbs, dried fruits, flowers, and rooibos, a plant native to South Africa. As stated before, herbal teas are generally caffeine free.
High Plains Spice Company carries over 30 different, unique varieties of loose leaf black, green, white, and herbal tea. We also carry many tea accessories, such as cast iron pots, enamel kettles and tea infusers. So whether you are new to tea, or it has been a part of your daily routine for years, we’ve got something for you!
paraphrased from How Tea Works, by John Fuller