What is Tea?
Camellia sinensis, the evergreen plant that we all know as the tea bush, was originally named Thea sinensis, as designated by the Swedish botanist Linnaeus in the mid 1750's. However, a few months later he also named the same plant Camellia sinensis, creating much confusion.
After some long years of debate and several further name changes, finally, in 1905 the debate was settled and the plant would at last be known as a member of the family Camellia.
There are two main varietals of Camellia sinensis, Cameillia sinensis var. sinensis, better known as China Bush, and Camellia sinensis var. Assamica, also known as Assam bush.However, all together, there are more than a thousand sub varieties of Camellia sinensis.
The differences between the China Bush and Assamica are most notably the terrain where they thrive. China Bush favors cool mountainsides with elevations of 6500-9800 feet. The growing season is short and the yield is one of tender, fine leaves.
Assamica, on the other hand, prospers in jungle like conditions, in rich loamy soil, high humidity, and 85 degree temperature. Unlike the smaller bush growth of China Bush, Assam Bush resembles a small tree reaching heights of 35 to 50 feet.
The Portuguese were the first traders to enter the Far East and were the first to bring tea, as well as spices and porcelains, back to Portugal. Dutch traders however, were the first to create the habit of drinking in the West. The Dutch set up a trading center in Jakarta (Batavia) to consolidate their tea purchases for the long trip home. The Chinese were challenged to supply a tea that would survive the wet conditions on the ships during the journey across the seas. The original produced tea was green, which was basically fresh, making it susceptible to the damage of moisture. After some trial and error they discovered that by allowing the tea to darken, and then to bake dry, it survived the journey in a way green tea had not.
The different stages in tea are:
White tea, which is the purest and simplest, yet the most delicate, is literally two leaves and a bud. Meaning that before the leaves unfurl and become fully grown they are picked, the newest and freshest growth. These leaves are steamed to preserve them in their most delicate state. The liquor is light in color and subtle in flavor, and prized for not only the purity in perfume but for the high antioxidant value. White tea has less caffeine content than the other stages of tea.
Green tea, the most widely enjoyed brew in Asia, is just as widely differing in taste. From the sweet spinachy nature of Gyokuro to the grassy taste of Sencha, to the dark and smokey brew of Gunpowder, to the nutty lightness of Lung Ching (a.k.a. Dragon Well)... not to forget the toasted rice in Genmaicha, or leave out the majesty of Matcha, the ceremonial powder that brings pause to all who sip it, these all are under the umbrella of green tea, and yet as different as night is to day. Green tea has long been valued for prohibiting the absorption of fat into the system, as well as keeping skin elastic, and assisting in the prevention of gingivitis and halitosis.
Oolongs, regal in nature, are in between green teas and fully oxidized black teas, and only become so in the hands of skilled tea handlers. Da Hong Pao, the king of oolongs, has long and twisted dark leaves and provides a toasted brew, while Ali San is tightly balled greener leaves that open and reveal leaves on the stem. All oolongs are meant to brew several times unleashing their depth and beauty in layers. Oolongs are valued not only for their giving complexity but also it is believed that their tincture aids in accelerating the metabolism and often in modern lingo are labeled the "slimming tea".
Black tea is the fully oxidized, fully manipulated, fully completed leaf, that brings to the cup all of the body born unto them. These leaves have been withered, meaning that the moisture has been diminished to particular degrees, which are then rolled, to promote oxidation, then dried to halt the process, to basically freeze dry the leaves which then, when ultimately re-hydrated with boiling water, the beauty of all of these steps are revealed in the cup. Black tea, as is true for all tea, assists in boosting the antioxidants in a body which are essential in halting the development of cancer.
Pu-erh is the tea leaf that truly is fermented, meaning that microbial life has been encouraged, much like cheese. These teas are normally aged for years, and formed into bricks that are then broken off piece by piece and brewed in small batches several times over, in a style of brewing called "gung fu". Pu-erh is also believed to break down cholesterol development in the body which helps promote a healthy vascular system.
Rooibos, or Red Bush as it is commonly known, comes from South Africa and is not a "tea". It is a brew, though, that is enjoyed for its simplicity. It, too, has a long list of health benefits, from aiding in the growth of strong teeth and bones, to the soothing and calming attributes from its liquor.
Herbals are just a delight of nature. Any fruit, seed, root, can be dried and then re-hydrated with boiling water, to unleash their goodness. Hibiscus and Rosehips are commonly used in this application and are bountiful in vitamin C. Ginger root is a marvel in assisting in warding off the acceleration of germ infliction. Licorice is very good for the mucous lining of the bronchial tubes, and of course Peppermint is a lively aid in digestion. Lavender calms and soothes, while Yerba Mate stimulates without caffeine.