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The beverage tea is an infusion made by steeping the dried leaves or buds of the shrub Camellia sinensis in hot water. Tea may also include other herbs, spices, or fruit flavors.

A herbal or fruit "tea", that contains no tea-leaves, is more properly called an infusion or tisane.

Table of contents
1 Cultivation and Classification
2 Processing
3 Varieties
4 Blends and additives
5 Tea replacements
6 History
7 The word "Tea"
8 World market statistics
9 Tea culture
10 Tea Preparation
11 See Also
12 External links

Cultivation and Classification

Tea is grown primarily in Mainland China, India, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Japan, Nepal, Australia, and Kenya. (Note: in the tea trade, Sri Lanka and Taiwan are still referred to by their former names of Ceylon and Formosa, respectively.)

The four main types of tea are distinguished by their processing. Camellia sinensis is an evergreen shrub whose leaves, if not quickly dried after picking, soon begin to wilt and oxidize. This process resembles the malting of barley, in that starch is converted into sugars; the leaves turn progressively darker, as chlorophyll breaks down and tannins are released. The next step in processing is to stop the oxidation process at a predetermined stage by removing the water from the leaves via heating. The term fermentation was used (probably by wine fanciers) to describe this process, and has stuck, even though no true fermentation happens.

Tea is traditionally classified into four main groups, based on the degree of fermentation undergone:


Teas are processed in two ways, CTC (crush, tear, curl) or orthodox. The CTC method is used for lower quality leaves that end up in tea bags and are processed by machines. This method is efficient and effective for producing a better quality product from medium and lower quality leaves. Orthodox processing is usually done by hand and is used for higher quality leaves. While the methods employed in orthodox processing differ by tea type, this style of processing results in the high quality loose tea sought after by many connoisseurs.


Black tea is usually named after the region of origin: Darjeeling, Assam, Ceylon, etc. Most green teas, however, have kept their traditional Japanese or Chinese names: Genmaicha (玄米茶), Houjicha (焙じ茶), Pouchong (包種茶), etc. White teas produce a delicate liquor that often retains a slight residual sweetness. Green tea and black tea both have antioxidants, but different kinds. Green tea has a majority from catechins, particularly epigallocatechin gallate, whereas black tea has a greater variety of flavonoids. Oolong tea falls in between. It is not clear that the quantity or type of antioxidants present have any effect whatsoever on health.

All types are sold as either "single" teas, meaning just one variety, or as blends.

Adulteration and falsification are serious problems in the global tea trade; the amount of tea sold worldwide as Darjeeling every year greatly exceeds the annual tea production of Darjeeling, which is estimated at 11,000 metric tons.

Blends and additives

There are various teas which have additives and/or different processing than "pure" varieties:

Tea replacements

Products of some other plant species are also sometimes subsumed under the term tea.


Historically, the origin of tea as a medicinal herb useful for staying awake is unclear. The use of tea as a beverage drunk for pleasure on social occasions dates from the Tang Dynasty or earlier. For its later uses, see below.

The first Europeans to encounter tea were Portuguese explorers visiting Japan in 1560. Soon imported tea was introduced to Europe, where it quickly became popular among the wealthy in France and the Netherlands. English use of tea is attributed to Catherine of Braganza (Portuguese princess, consort of Charles II of England) and dates from about 1650.


The Boston Tea Party was an act of uprising in which Boston residents destroyed crates of British tea in 1773, in protest against the tax on tea. The high demand for tea in Britain caused a huge trade deficit with China. The British set up their own tea plantations in colonial India to provide their own supply. They also tried to balance the trade deficit by selling opium to the Chinese, which later led to the Opium War in 1838-1842.

The word "Tea"

The Chinese character for tea is (茶) but has two completely different pronounciations. One is 'te' which comes from the Malayan word for the beverage is used in the Min-nan dialect found in Amoy. Another is used by Cantonese and Mandarin which comes from the word 'to pick' and sounds like 'cha'.

This fact causes the name of tea in non-Chinese languages to fall into two groups.

Languages which have Te derivatives include Danish, Hebrew, Hungarian, Finnish, German, Korean, Indonesian, Latvian, Tamil, Singhaiese, French, Dutch, and scientific Latin.

Those that use Cha derivatives in Hindu, Japanese, Persian, Portuguese, Albanian, Czech, Turkish, Tibetan, Arabic, Vietnamese, and Greek.

It is tempting to coorelate these names with the route that was used to deliver tea to these cultures, but this correspondence does not follow. For example, most British trade went through Guangdong which uses Cha.

In Ireland, or at least in Dublin, the term "cha" is sometimes used for tea, and "char" was a common slang term for tea throughout British Empire / commonwealth military forces in the 19th and 20th centuries, crossing over into civilian usage. Recently in the United States, many coffee houses have begun to serve a milky, sweet, spiced tea called "chai", loosely based on Indian recipes but much less spicy.

World market statistics

The only significant exporters of black tea are India and Sri Lanka (Ceylon). China is the only significant exporter of green tea, as nearly the entire Japanese production is consumed domestically.

As of the late 1990s, the annual tea production of India was just short of one billion kilograms, of which 203 million kg were exported in 1997.

Tea culture

Drinking tea is often a social event. Tea is also drunk throughout the day and especially in the morning to heighten alertness - it contains theophylline and caffeine (sometimes called "theine").

In China, at least as early as the Song Dynasty, tea was an object of connoisseurship, and formal tea-tasting parties were held, comparable to modern wine tastings. As much as in modern wine tastings, the proper vessel was important; the white tea used at that time called for a dark bowl in which the tea leaves and hot water were mixed and whipped up with a whisk. The best of these bowls, glazed in patterns with names like oil spot, hare's fur, and tortoise shell, are highly valued today. The rituals and the traditional dark pottery were adopted in Japan beginning in the 12th century, and gave rise to the Japanese tea ceremony, which took its final form in the 16th century.

In Britain and Ireland, "tea" is not only the name of the beverage, but of a late afternoon light meal, called that even if the diners are drinking beer, cider, or juice. Frequently (outside the UK) this is referred to as "high tea", however in the UK high tea is an evening meal. The term evidently comes from the meal being eaten at the "high" (main) table, rather than the smaller table common in living rooms.

Devonshire tea is the staple Commonwealth tea ceremony, available at Tea Housess throughout the United Kingdom, Australia, India and New Zealand. Devonshire tea is almost unknown in the USA, probably due to an impedance mismatch with pancakes and coffee. There are several other tea ceremonies coming from different cultures, the most famous of which in the west is the complex, formal and serene Japanese tea ceremony, and the commercial, crowded and noisy Yum Cha.

In the United States, tea is often served iced with a wedge of lemon.

Boba milk tea was invented in Taiwan in the 1980's and has become an extremely popular drink among young people. This Asian fad spread to the USA in 2000, where it is generally called "bubble tea".

In colloquial Taiwanese, the expression to drink tea (lim te) means be extension to drink anything in much the same way that to eat rice means to eat anything.

Tea Preparation

The best way to prepare tea is usually thought to be with loose tea in a teapot, rather than a teabag. Boiling water should be added, but the tea should not be allowed to steep for more than about five minutes (a process known as brewing or mashing in the UK): after that, tannin is released, which counteracts the stimulating effect of the theophylline and caffeine and makes the tea bitter. Some teas, especially green teas and delicate Oolongs or Darjeeling teas, are steeped for shorter periods, sometimes less than 30 seconds. Using a tea strainer separates the leaves from the water at the end of the brewing time if a tea bag is not being used.

In order to preserve the pre-tannin tea without requiring it all to be poured into cups a second teapot is employed. The steeping pot is best unglazed earthenware - the YangXi pots are known as the best of these. The serving pot is generally porcelain, which retains the heat better.

The water for black teas should be added at the boiling point (100°C), except for very delicate Darjeeling teas, where slightly lower temperatures are recommended. Since boiling point drops with altitude, this makes it difficult to brew black tea properly in mountainous areas. Water for green tea, according to most accounts, should be around 80 to 85°C -- the higher the quality of the leaves, the lower the temperature. Preferably, the container in which the tea is steeped--the mug or teapot--should also be warmed beforehand (usually by swirling a little hot water around it then pouring it out) so that the tea does not immediately cool down.

Experienced tea-drinkers often insist that the tea should not be stirred around while it is steeping (sometimes called winding in the UK). This, they say, will do little to strengthen the tea, but is likely to bring the tannic acids out in the same way that brewing too long will do. For the same reason one should not squeeze the last drops out of a teabag; if you want stronger tea, use more leaves or bags.

Popular additives to tea include sugar or honey, lemon, and milk. Most connoisseurs eschew cream because it overpowers the flavour of tea. Milk, however, is thought to neutralize remaining tannins. When taking milk with tea, connoisseurs add the tea to the milk rather than the other way around. This avoids scalding the milk, which leads to a better emulsion and nicer taste.

See Also

External links