The Queen of all beverages

You brew it, you drink it, but what actually is it? A closer look at what tea is made of, where it comes from, how it’s made and why it’s so special.

Where does tea come from?

Tea has been a source of medicine, meditation, and connection for over 5,000 years. It has been favoured by everybody from emperors to revolutionaries, and today is the most popular drink in the world after water. But what is it really? 

Many tea lovers are surprised to learn that all traditional teas – whether white, green, oolong, black or pu’er – are made from the leaves of just one plant species: the humble tea bush, also known as Camellia sinensis. A relative of our garden Camellia, the origins of this sub-tropical evergreen shrub have been traced to the valleys and mountains of South-West China and North-East India.


The Different Varieties

Two principal varieties of tea bush are used in tea making – Camellia sinensis var. sinensis (China bush) and Camellia sinensis var. assamica (Assam bush). Which variety is used plays an important role in determining taste and appearance, but it’s not the only factor.

The growing conditions are equally important. Every tea crop is hugely affected by temperature and rainfall, shadow and light, and the quality of the soil and water. Just like wine, tea can taste vastly different region to region, year to year and even week to week. And then, of course, there is the tea making process itself.

The Tea Master’s Craft

Once harvested, it is the specific processing of the leaves that determines the style of the tea. Like all plants, once picked, the tea leaves will immediately begin to dehydrate and oxidise (that is, start turning brown). This process can be quickened (by bruising or rolling) or slowed (by drying or baking). These decisions dictate the colour of the final product.

So black teas are fully oxidised, oolongs are partially oxidised, and green and white teas experience little or no oxidisation. A great tea master can control the subtleties of the process; a craft that takes a lot of expertise and skill.

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