Beating out pop and juice,and even coffee, tea is the choice drink for the majority of folks in the world, next to good ol’ H2O. According to The Tea Association of Canada, Canadians consume about 9 billion cups of the leaves per year.
That’s why we’re here: we’re going to dish (er, pour?) you out a primary lesson in tea drinking basics.
The main ingredient
All tea (with the exception of herbal and specialty teas) hail from the Camellia Sinensis bush (easier known as the “tea plant”).
Invented in China, black tea was developed as a way to maintain freshness while being exported. Black tea leaves are allowed to fully oxidize, making their leaves darker than their counterparts. (Oxidization, by the way, is the process where the leaf reacts with oxygen). Black tea still remains the most popular choice among tea drinkers. Orange Pekoe is a common type of black tea in many mainstream brands.
These leaves are unoxidized; as soon as the leaf is picked, it’s steamed right away, basically preventing the oxidation process from occurring. A similar variety is yellow tea, steamed for a shorter amount of time. Green and yellow teas are generally sourced from China and Japan; Chinese green tea is a little sweeter and lighter, whereas Japanese Green tea is often grassier and fresher.
Think of a cross-between green and black teas: oolong is semi-oxidized. The length of oxidization affects the flavour of the tea; longer oxidization equals a darker tea, akin to black tea. Shorter oxidation processes taste closer to green tea.
This Chinese tea is delicate, subtle with a hint of floral. Developed from the buds and young leaves of a tea plant, white tea leaves are fried or steamed immediately after picking, resulting in the least processes of all teas. It tastes a little sweeter, and the least like “tea” (compared to the aforementioned varieties).
Known as Tisane in Europe, herbal teas combine leaves, seeds, herbs, flowers, roots, barks and spices , infused together in countless variations. There are no tea leaves present, although some manufactures combine tea leaves to create flavoured tea combination.
Also known as red tea, this caffeine-free alternative is made from a South African shrub, and has a distinct, nutty flavour.
Often a favourite, chai combines black tea with milk, sugar, and spices, including cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, pepper, allspice and nutmeg
n herbal tea that is popular in South America, made by steeping dried leaves of Yerba Mate.
Also known as flowering tea, blooming teas are a small bundle of dried tea leaves or herbs and flowers that are bound together in a ball. They are prepared in transparent tea pots, and when steeped, the bundle “blooms” into, what looks like a flower. They most often contain jasmine, lily, and hibiscus.
Tea and caffeine
According to the folks at Celestial Seasonings, per cup, black tea has the most caffeine at 60mg, white tea at 50mg, and green tea at 30mg. Most herbal teas contain almost no caffeine. Coffee generally has about 90mg per cup, and cola about 45mg. (Source)
So how can you reduce the caffeine? About 80% of the caffeine in your tea is released in the initial 30 seconds of steeping time. To reduce the most caffeine from your tea, all of you have to is allow it to steep for about 30 seconds, pour out the brew (but not the bag/leaves), then add more boiling water and re-start the steeping process. Trust us, it tastes the same (and if you’re a tea-lover, it’s a great way to enjoy multiple teas a day.
Antioxidants and tea
According to Health Canada, tea is a source of antioxidants and may support cardiovascular health.
Green tea, especially, is a great choice because of its higher level of antioxidants that combat your body’s free radicals. Free radicals, when left to build in your body, can cause health problems. These antioxidants also benefit and support your cardiovascular system.
You don’t have to travel to specialty tea stores to get on board with new teas. Mainstream brands, avaialble at your grocer, give you the chance to sample them all – without the splurge in case you’re not keen on the flavour.