Historical notes and facts about tea indicate this ever-popular beverage originated in China some 5,000 years ago. It was discovered in 2737 BC by Chinese Emperor Shen-Nun, who was considered a divine healer, when some tea leaves accidentally blew into a pot of boiling water.
Yet it took nearly 100 years for tea to reach other parts of the globe. Dutch traders were the first to bring tea to the West in the early 1600s where it later became a commonly accepted staple of trade.
The facts about tea reveal that all types of tea originate from the same evergreen shrub: the Camellia Sinensis. There are more than three thousand varieties of this tea bush that are grown in mountainous areas around the world. Whether you sip black, green, oolong or white tea depends on what happens after the flush, when the top two leaves and bud are harvested, processed and shipped
Facts about Tea Types
Black tea, the most popular variety, offers a hearty flavor and deep reddish color that results from an extensive fermentation process that includes exposing crushed tea leaves to the air for a set amount of time until they are fully oxidized and dried.
Green tea makes up about 10% of world-tea production and is a milder brew with a mild, appealing taste and understandably green appearance. There is no oxidation during processing. Rather, the leaves are simply withered and then roasted or dried.
Oolong tea is a cross between black and green tea, which can be detected in both taste and color. Recognized for its distinctive fruity flavor, oolong leaves undergo a moderated fermentation process where they are withered, partially fermented and then dried.
White tea, the rarest type of tea, come from young tea leaves that are picked before the buds have fully opened. The tea features a delicate, soft taste and light coloration. With a minimalist approach to processing, white tea leaves are simply steamed and dried, which keeps them closer to their natural state.
Withering is freshly harvested tea leaves spread out onto tables or trays, which are then left to dry. Moisture is removed and the leaf becomes soft and prepared for rolling.
Rolling is the process whereby machines break the cells in the leaves. This releases the tea leaf juices and enzymes and exposes them to the air to enhance oxidation.
Oxidation, also known as fermentation, begins during the rolling process. The rolled leaves are spread out in a temperature and humidity controlled room where the leaf color deepens from green to reddish-brown... and then to black.
Firing is a process whereby the tea leaves are fired (or dried) by slowly heating them in a drying chamber. This stops the oxidation process and the leaves are prepared for storage.
Natural Chemicals in Tea
Substances inherent to tea leaves include essential plant oils, caffeine and polyphenols. Facts about tea reveal that the oils provide the tea’s aroma, caffeine serves a stimulant, and the polyphenols are attributed to a tea’s anti-oxidant properties.
The type of fermentation process tea leaves undergo determines the level and impact of the chemicals found in various tea types. For example, black tea, which undergoes complex fermentation, evokes a strong scent and has the heaviest concentration of caffeine.
On the other hand, white tea, with its limited processing is best known for healing and protective properties that remain in the leaves from polyphenols. Green and oolong are known to feature moderated levels of caffeine, aroma and antioxidant properties, which ties to their partially fermented processing.
Click here for article about the health benefits of white tea.
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