What is tea? Where to begin? The word “tea” actually describes one plant: camellia sinensis. The english word tea comes from the Dutch word “thé.” And the Dutch word “thé” comes from an Eastern Chinese dialect’s word, “ché.” And, finally, that Eastern Chinese dialect got their word “ché” from the Mandarin “Chá.”
So, what is chá? What is camellia sinensis? What is tea?
It’s a leafy bush that is originally native to the valleys of the Himalayas, south of Tibet, and North of India. The bush naturally has caffeine (which is great for stimulation), L-Theanine (which is great for focus), and lots of antioxidants, vitamins, and amino acids. No matter what kind of tea we’d like to make, we usually pluck the youngest buds and leaves on the plant, at the tips of the branches. Once leaves are plucked, we can decide what kind of tea we’d like to make:
We admit, naming all of these teas “unoxidized" is a bit of an over-simplification. Technically teas start oxidizing as soon as they’re plucked! That being said, these teas’ processing is very light, and it keeps a lot of the raw chemistry in tact. It takes about two hours for our stomach to break down that chemistry and release the caffeine.
So, very important note! Unoxidized teas usually take about 2 hours before the caffeine is fully released into the system.
Simply Sun-dried in raised beds, and finished with a light dehydration.
Plucked, cooked (usually either in a pan or steamed), shaped (pressed or rolled to break down cell walls and release oils), and quickly dried.
Plucked, pan-fired, shaped (usually rolled, again to break down cell walls and release oils), and then very slowly dried in small bundles. Usually a little creamier, nuttier, and funkier than green tea.
These categories value and encourage oxidation. The whole idea of encouraging oxidation in tea began in the 1400’s and has exploded since then. After pluck, leaves are allowed to sit and soften before being rolled. This rolling process causes the leaves’ veins to burst, releasing sugars, oils, and juices. Then the leaf starts bruising, and getting darker, as it absorbs these juices.
Once the tea reaches its desired degree of oxidation, the leaves are roasted to caramelize the sugars and dehydrate the leaves.
Partially oxidized. Oolong literally translates to “black dragon,” but it actually means a partially oxidized tea. If it has any intentional oxidation, it can’t be called a green tea. If it is fully oxidized, though, it can no longer be called an oolong tea.
Black Tea: Called Red Tea in China, Black tea means that after the leaves were rolled and bruised, they were allowed to oxidize fully, to get dark until they couldn’t get any darker, and then roasted.
Called Red Tea in China, Black tea means that after the leaves were rolled and bruised, they were allowed to oxidize fully, to get dark until they couldn’t get any darker, and then roasted.
Puerh is the trickiest category in the world of tea. In order for a tea to be properly called a puerh tea, it must have a few qualifications. It must be plucked from a tea tree (of the assamica subspecies). This tree must come from a seed, and can not be a clone. The tree should be at the very least about 60 to 70 years old. The older the tree, the deeper the roots. The deeper the roots, the more minerals find their way into the sweet, tender leaves at the tips of the branches. And finally, this tea tree must be in the Yunnan Province of Southwestern China, where the practice of making and drinking this tea originates.
Raw puerh is very similar to green tea. After pluck, leaves are pan-fired a little more lightly than green tea. They are then rolled and sun-dried. Raw puerh is unique in its value for aging. Of all tea categories, Raw Puerh is considered the best for aging.
All ripe puerh comes from raw puerh. If we take a bunch of raw puerh and steam it, the leaves soften up as water makes its way back into their cells. Next, the hot, wet leaves are stacked up and covered with a wet blanket. This starts a sort of composting process that breaks down a lot of the caffeine and tannins and offers a mellow, earthy, grounding cup.
This category is reserved for any other plant. This is where you’ll find our peppermint, chamomile, hibiscus, etc. Most of these are caffeine-free, except for yerba mate, which has about 4 times the caffeine of tea, and about 80% the caffeine of coffee.
Who is this tea for? The dilemma of choice is a serious concern. We live in a world that rewards us for going faster and faster still. We are inundated with emails, news alerts, and social media updates. The pace of modern life can feel all consuming and overwhelming. These experiences are universal to all people, regardless of culture.