Tea is one of the most popular beverages in the world. It refreshes, uplifts and provides a great excuse for taking a break. Cuppa tea, dear? Don't mind if I do.
It comes as no surprise that tea has been enjoyed for thousand of years. Its origins are steeped in legend and mystery - the Chinese, Japanese and Hindus all claim tea as their discovery. No matter who was the first to drink it, tea gained popularity in the west in the 17th century and has never lost its allure.
Today there are dozens of types of teas available with just as many ways to prepare it. It is grown in many different parts of the world, each producing a uniquely flavoured variety. Connoisseurs appreciate the subtle differences in aroma and taste. Tea lovers everywhere enjoy the refreshing pick-me-up and the health benefits that tea provides.
The best tea growing areas are between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. China, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Japan are just a few of the tea-producing nations. There is a single tea plant (Camellia sinensis), but growing conditions and soil can greatly affect the quality and taste of the tea leaves.
Processing has the greatest affect on the taste. Tea is divided into four main types -Black, Green, Oolong, or White. The processing method determines which type of tea is produced. After picking, the leaves begin to wilt and oxidize, and it is the degree of oxidization that determines the type of tea.
Black Tea has been oxidized the most. This is the tea that most westerners are familiar with. It has more caffeine and a stronger taste than other types of tea. Black tea can keep its flavour for many years, a factor that contributed to its value as a trading commodity.
Green tea is produced by stopping the oxidation process after a short time by exposing them to heat. The Japanese use steam and the Chinese use hot pans. Green tea is the traditional tea of Japan, though in recent years it has gained popularity in the west because of its health benefits.
Oolong falls in the middle of Black and Green tea in terms of oxidation, taking between two and three days. Oolong means "black dragon" in Chinese, perhaps because dried oolong leaves look like small dragons in their twisted shape.
White tea is produced from young leaves which may be grown in the shade to prevent them from turning green. They are not oxidized at all. White tea is supposed to have strong anti-cancer properties.
Tea blending very common and practically all tea sold in bags has been blended. Blending is done to stabilize the taste from year to year and to improve the quality of inferior teas by mixing them with more expensive ones. Flavours may also be added to make a blend more unique.
Some of the popular blends include Breakfast, Jasmine and Earl Grey.
Drinking tea can be as formal or as informal as you like. It's a great beverage for afternoon get-togethers, meal times or as a replacement for morning coffee. It's no wonder that tea is so popular - there are so many ways to drink it that your taste buds will never tire of this versatile drink.
See also: Green Tea Diet