Billions of people across the globe consume tea daily. It’s been a beverage of choice for generations and is commonly a focal point of certain cultures and societies — being extremely important to their way of life, traditions and heritage. Tea also provides different health benefits and can give you that caffeine boost you’re looking for in the morning. In fact, right at this very moment you are enjoying a cuppa yourself, right?
But do you know exactly what you’re drinking? Do you know the health benefits associated with tea, and do you really know how to brew a proper cup?
Well sit back and relax. Enjoy your brew of happiness as you prepare to learn about the wonders of your favorite beverage — don’t forget to put on your favorite cozy sweater. This makes all tea that much better.
What Exactly Is Tea?
In reality, all tea actually comes from the same type of plant called the Camellia Sinensis. Tea types from this plant are the only tea leaves that are actually “tea.” All other types are technically herbal infusions or tisanes. These can come from plants like rooibos or chamomile, for example — we’ll get to those later.
The first cup of tea has its history in a legend dating back to China in the 2737 BC, when a leaf just happened to fall into the cup of boiling water of the Chinese Emperor Shen Nong. He tasted it and fell in love instantly — and seriously, who wouldn’t? So, just like that, tea drinking was born.
While we don’t know how much of that is actually true, China did grow a majority of the world’s tea supply up until the 1800s. Now you can find tea cultivation in about 40 different countries around the world — further supporting our argument that tea is the best beverage ever invented. While there are a great many different varieties of this magical plant, there are generally four categories they fall into: oolong, black, green and white.
How Is This Blessed Leaf Made?
It’s not just about growing the plant and harvesting it. There is a particular step-by-step process you must follow to ensure the tea leaves that make it to our cups pack their best flavors and aromas:
This first step is the harvest — done by hand — of the bud and first three leaves, or just the unopened bud depending on which type of tea plant. Once plucked, the bad bits are thrown out, and the good bits are sorted for the next phase. White tea is left to dry in the sun and there you have it. The remaining teas move forward in the process.
The good leaves are then left out to dry and are rotated gently to prepare them for the next steps in the process. Skipping this withering step could cause the leaves to become too stiff and shatter or crumble when attempting to roll them. Withering also gives the leaves more flavor by reducing water content.
This step allows for the softer leaves to be twisted or rolled to release juice and oils by breaking down the cell walls within the leaves. It’s also during this phase that those oils and enzymes are first exposed to oxygen, and the oxidation process begins. Oxidation is what will give the leaf its particular taste. Green tea is about done here, as it isn’t oxidized.
The leaves are laid out after the rolling process to let the oxidation phase completely happen. When the oxygen reacts with the enzymes in the tea leaf, the chemical reaction causes a change in composition and color of the leaf. The length of the oxidation phase can vary depending on the variety of tea and the environment in which you’re working.
The final step in the process is firing, and this helps the tea dry evenly. Don’t worry, the leaves aren’t burning, but they are fired in large machines to below 3% moisture content. This allows for the oxidation process to stop and the delicious flavors to be locked in.
Other Types of Herbal Infusions
Rooibos and chamomile are also other very common infusions associated with tea and tea-drinkers. However, the process to grow and harvest both of these plants varies somewhat from traditional tea plants. While they are harvested and dried by hand, there isn’t generally a firing step in the preparation of the leaves:
The Rooibos Plant
The Rooibos plant is an indigenous plant to South Africa, and it became popular as a more affordable alternative than tea for Dutch settlers in the 1700s — though it didn’t become widely known until the 20th century. It is actually a member of the legume family and has long very needle-like leaves. It is caffeine free and is a great alternative for tea drinkers who need a fix, but can’t have the caffeine.
It actually has many uses outside of tea drinking as well. It’s commonly added to cocktails, food recipes and as an extract for anti-aging cosmetics.
The Chamomile Plant
This particular plant has two popular types: German and Roman seeds. The plants grow to be about two-feet tall, and if you’re growing chamomile for tea, the German variety is the way to go.
For chamomile, you harvest the flowers of the plant and lay them out to dry on craft paper out of direct sunlight. Chamomile is often used in infusions that help with relaxation and sleep.
Health Benefits of Drinking Tea
There are loads of health benefits associated with drinking tea as well. Hallelujah! That means there is absolutely no reason to feel bad that you’re on your third — or fifth cup — of brew today:
Tea can be used to aid in weight loss.
The caffeine found in teas has been found in various studies to help your metabolism burn more fat. On top of that, the ingredient epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) you’ll find in green teas is another substance that is associated with increased fat oxidation. So drink up!
Tea can lower your risk for cardiovascular disease.
A study done in the Netherlands suggests that drinking tea is closely linked with a lower risk of cardiovascular mortality. Furthermore, Harvard found that green tea might also be able to block the oxidation of bad cholesterol in your heart and help improve how your arteries function. You really can’t go wrong with that!
Tea may be able to fight or prevent cancer.
Could this leaf be anymore magical? Probably not. From nods in breast cancer prevention to lowering the risk of digestive and prostate cancers, tea can pack a powerful punch — in a good way. Check out the National Cancer Institute website for specifics on the cancer-fighting potential of tea.
Are You Brewing Your Cuppa Correctly?
Now that we’ve established how tea is grown, made and how it is so very good for your health, you need to make sure you’re brewing it right. Here’s what you need to know:
Boil water in a kettle.
No microwaves — sorry people. If you don’t want to wait for the stovetop to heat your water, try an electric kettle. It makes brewing perfect temp water as easy as flipping a switch.
Use one tea bag or tea strainer full per pot.
Maybe it’s easier to just pour directly into your cup, but one teabag or tea strainer — for loose tea and infusions — is actually strong enough for one small pot of tea. Of course, that means more cups and no extra effort. Done.
Warm the pot.
Once you’ve boiled the water and have your tea choice ready, you’ll want to pour a bit of the boiling water into the teapot to warm it up. Then pour the water out of the teapot and replace the kettle on the stovetop to bring the remaining water back to a boil — yes, this might seem redundant, but it’s so important!
Pour the water and steep the tea.
Depending on the size of your teapot, you’ll choose the type and amount of tea and place it in the warmed teapot — remember, if it’s a smaller one, one tea bag or strainer full will suffice.
Pour in the boiling water and let the tea brew in the teapot for several minutes. If you prefer your tea stronger, add another teabag or go for the longer steep. You might want to add a tea cozy — the great benefit of the tea cozy is that it keeps your pot and remaining tea hotter longer.
Add in the milk!
If you’re brewing traditional black tea, milk is a must. You might also want to add in just a little bit of sugar, but the choice is up to you. Either way, it’s time to enjoy your perfectly brewed masterpiece!
There you have it. You now know where tea comes from, how its grown, the benefits associated with drinking it and how to make it properly yourself. All that’s missing is a guide on proper tea etiquette — wait until you learn how to drink your tea Downton Abbey style. How posh! You’ll even be able to give the English a run for their money at your next tea party.
Now, go — brew a pot!