What is tea, anyway?

"If you're cold, tea will warm you
If you're warm, tea will cool you
If you're excited, it will soothe you
If you're lethargic, it will stimulate you"
- James Norwood Pratt, Author of New Tea Lover's Treasury

We fell in love with tea once we got to learn just how much, and paradoxically, how little goes into this simply-complex beverage:

Did you know all tea comes from one single plant?


All true tea is derived from the Camellia Sinensis - an evergreen plant with lustrous, deep green leaves. C. Sinesis has Asian origins and although it is traditionally grown in five nations - China, India, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Japan and Taiwan - tea was relatively quickly adopted and cultivated all across the globe. C. Senisis can also bloom some adorable, vibrantly coloured flowers, however tea growers discourage these blooms as that energy is ideally used in producing the finest tea leaves possible.

Tea Fields, or more often known as Tea Estates or Tea Plantations (location pending) exist in a variety of terrains; from pin-flat lands to steep mountainsides. The best tea is grown at very high elevations, many kilometres above sea level, on vast estates covering thousands of acres - quality demands that premium teas be hand-plucked.

“But many refer to chamomile, rooibos and other herbal or fruit blends as tea?”
Well, the more accurate name for these would be tisanes  or herbal infusions - but we like to call them Herbal Blends, cause we like doing things differently and we know quality can come without pretension. Some of the best loved herbal blends include our Organic Cederberg Rooibos + Peach - Rooibos (pronounced 'roy-boss') is an incredible, naturally caffeine free plant native to South Africa and Caramel Apple a caffeine-free blend of apple, orange hibiscus and natural flavours.

How does ONE PLANT make so many dfferent varie-teas?

There are two main procedures that help the leaves transform from a single type into their respective class.

Teas processed using the traditional or Orthodox method, are teas made up of the top two delicate leaves and an unopened 'bud', which are carefully hand-plucked (mainly by women, as women have been found to have superior agility and grace -- a fact I feel is clearly evident) uring the cooler-temperatures of the early morning.  This procedure is done by artisans with many generations of tradition and mastery put into each step; from the moment the leaf is plucked to the time your tea is dried.

The other procedure is considered the Unorthodox method; using a machine that reduces the labour-intensity involved in tea harvesting by mimicking the hand-plucking traditionally done by people. The leaves are then dried and fed into leaf shredders to crush, tear and curl the leaves - hence the name: Crush-Tear-Curl or CTC. CTC style teas tend to brew quickly and create a bold, powerful cup.

These methods are just the first step in the procedures used to create your perfect tea, next we’ll get into what makes a black tea, a green tea, etc...

Tea processing is 5 basic steps  

  • Plucking
  • Withering; allowing the tea leaves to soften and wilt
  • Rolling; shaping the leaves and squeezes out remaining moisture
  • Oxidizing; known in the tea industry as fermentation
  • and finally, Firing or Drying

Note: not all teas utilize every one of these steps, and some even repeat them several times.

We've covered Plucking above. Withering is done to reduce the moisture remaining in the leaves by about 20%. This can be done in full sun, in the shade or completely indoors. The length of withering is important to the flavour and class of tea you will receive. Green teas whither much shorter than Black teas, if this step is off even by a small amount, the flavour profile is drastically altered. 

The final part to this step is to either roast the leaves by hand in huge bowl-shaped pans or large rotating drums, this helps release flavour changing enzymes and prevents browning of green teas. Japanese teas generally replace roasting with steaming.

Next up is Rolling, a familiar step to us pot (of tea) heads. Rolling shapes the leaves and can be done by hand by simply placing the leaves in palm and rolling between rubbed hands to break open the cell walls, releasing juices and triggering oxidation. Oxidation is largely responsible for the fragrances, colours and layered flavour notes that makes tea so alluring. The longer the oxidation, the darker the tea. White and Greens are generally not oxidized at all, while Black teas are fully oxidized.

4: The 4 basic styles of tea:

  • Black
  • White
  • Green
  • Oolong

Black Tea utilizes all five steps of tea processing. These steps are completed in order and rarely - if ever - repeated.  A single batch of Orthodox black tea may be completed within a day, whereas a CTC batch can be completed in just a few hours. Black teas are always graded and sorted after final drying - this is necessary because many sizes are created during the rolling stage, so sorting them for uniformity prevents differences in flavour extraction and other drastic changes to your cup.

White Tea is essentially unprocessed tea and is the most subtle of all the varieties, using only the newest tea leaves from each bush and handled minimally.  In our finest white teas, only the unopened leaf buds, still covered in their delicate white hairs, are hand-plucked and harvested. The freshly gathered leaves are spread out and allowed to naturally wither until they're completely dry. Flavours are often described as light, sweet, and delicately floral.

Green Tea is produced primarily in China and Japan. The types of green tea vary significantly and what you end up with depends mostly on the production steps used. However, it is the application of heat, typically by either steam or pan-fire, which prevents the leaves from oxidizing and becoming oolong or black tea.

Oolong translates to "Black Dragon" and is one of the most time-consuming teas to create as it goes through all five steps, with rolling and fermenting done repeatedly.  After being plucked, the leaves are withered to minimize moisture, then rolled, twisted and/or curled into tight balls. After rolling, the leaves are allowed to rest and oxidize. For many oolongs those two steps - rolling and oxidizing - are repeated several times, this creates virtually infinite layers of flavor and aroma.

Bonus: Pu'erh Tea named for Pu'er City, a prefecture-level city in the only area Pu’er Tea is ever produced; China's southern Yunnan province. Pu’er is one of the oldest forms of tea and is different in processing, storage and taste than any other tea on earth. Due to its rarity and unique characteristics, Pu'erh teas have earned a connoisseur following unlike any other tea. Pu’er is also the only tea that is truly fermented and not just oxidized. The terms 'fermentation' and 'oxidation' are used interchangeably in the luxury tea trade - however, oxidation is a purely chemical reaction, whereas fermentation involves microbes.

True fermentation occurs in the creation of wine, cheese and pu'erh, but not in any other tea. Also, there are actually two types of Pu'erh; raw and ripened - we could go on and on about this incredibly unique tea...in fact we just may - in another post...