How can such complexity come from just one plant?
There are so many different types of tea, that people are often surprised to learn that all teas (white tea, green tea, oolong tea, black tea and pu-erh tea) are made from the leaves of the same species. While the varietal of the particular Camellia sinensis plant as well as the weather conditions and soil contribute to the final taste of the tea, the significant differences of tea type develop in the processing of the leaves.
The distinguishing factor that determines whether a tea plant will become white, green, oolong, or black tea is oxidation. Oxidation begins after the leaf has been plucked from the plant, and begins a process of being dried, withered, rolled, and heat treated. A black tea is fully oxidized, causing it to turn black, while a white tea is barely oxidized at all, thus retaining its soft, silvery down.
We tend to call many things that we infuse in hot water a tea. But technically, it’s only tea if it’s made from the leaves of Camellia sinensis, an evergreen plant indigenous to China and India. Today tea is grown in over one hundred countries to meet the worldwide demand.
Tea is the world’s second most popular beverage, after water. More people in the US are drinking tea than ever before, joining a booming worldwide trend. Increased understanding of the role antioxidants play in weight loss as well as the prevention of cancer and cardiovascular disease has revealed tea as an ideal health beverage. Fresh brewed tea is 100% natural, fat-free, calorie-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, preservative-free, and low in caffeine—tea is the healthy choice.
Not sure where to start?
White teas are the least processed of all teas. They release the least amount of caffeine of all teas, generally ranging from 10-15 milligrams per 8 oz cup. Almost all white teas hail from Fujian Province, China.
White teas are picked when young tea buds are tightly enclosed in new leaves. This retains a silky, downy quality in the leaves. When you first drink white tea, it seems quite tasteless – as if you were drinking hot water. However, after a while, you’ll become aware of a subtle change in your breath and at the back of your mouth. You will taste a soft, nourishing sweetness and eventually experience a similar sensation down your throat.
Preparation of white teas requires pure water at 175° F. (Boil, then cool 3 mins)
Process: White tea is the most delicate tea in flavor and aroma, as the leaves are not rolled or crushed in the processing. Camellia sinensis bushes that have large, fleshy leaf buds are used for most white teas today. Those leaf buds become Silver Needles white tea. If the next two leaves are picked and processed the same way, they yield White Peony white tea.
Origins: With flavors that are close to the heart of the tea plant, they were the favorite of the famous ’Tea Emperor’ in the 1100’s who was so preoccupied with his love of tea and his pursuit of the perfect cup, that he lost his empire to invading Mongols. White teas have since traditionally been used as a Tribute Tea to the Chinese Emperor. Long popular in China, they are just becoming well-known in America. Recent claims that white tea has less caffeine than green tea are often debatable. Caffeine content is sometimes more dependent on the part of the plant used, rather than on process. View our selection of White Teas.
Green tea leaves plucked in the morning are ready to be brewed in a pot the same night. The bypass of oxidation allows green tea to retain most of its natural dark green color, tannins, vitamin C, chlorophyll and minerals. The taste of green tea is therefore more astringent and subtler than oolong or black tea.
The lack of oxidation is also responsible for the very low caffeine content of green tea (only 1%). Its caffeine effect produces a nearly steady, mild high with no big peaks or plunges. Green tea is therefore the perfect meditative aid: it acts as a mild stimulant, without causing insomnia or nervousness. It refreshes and quiets.
The names of Chinese green teas denote leaf styles and often make reference to the region where the tea is from. The names of Japanese green teas generally end in "cha" (meaning tea).
Preparation of green teas requires pure water at 175° F. (Boil, then cool 3 mins)
Process: The leaves are heated immediately after plucking. The heat prevents the leaves from withering or oxidizing. The dry leaf retains its green color.
Origins: Traditionally from China and Japan. Chinese green teas include such classics as Lung Ching and Gunpowder, as well as Pi Lo Chun (Green Spring Spiral) and Yunwu (Cloud-and-Mist). Japan produces only green teas, including Gyokuro, Sencha, Bancha, Hojicha (roasted), Genmaicha (tea with roasted corn and rice), Kukicha (roasted twigs) and Matcha (powdered tea that must be whisked.) Green teas can also be flavored and scented. Jasmine is the most popular scented green tea. Other green tea producing countries now exporting include Thailand, Korea and Vietnam. View our selection of Green Teas.
Oolong teas are semi–oxidized, which places them mid–way between green and black teas. This gives them the body and complexity of a black tea, with the brightness and freshness of a green tea.
The caffeine content and antioxidant level is also mid–way between that of green and black teas, making them most healthy and palatable. A very favorite and desired tea amongst connoisseurs, all oolongs hail from either China or Taiwan.
Preparation of oolong teas requires pure water at 195° F. (Boil, then cool 2 mins)
They may be infused multiple (3–7) times, each steep lasting 1–3 minutes. The caffeine content of oolong teas decreases dramatically from the first to the third brew, yielding about 30–50 mg in first the cup, 15–25 mg in the second, and 5–10 mg in the third.
Process: The leaves are withered and then rolled, often by hand. The leaves are allowed to partially oxidize and then are fired in pan or basket to arrest the oxidation process. Oxidation may range from 12–85%. Sometimes charcoal smoke is used to impart a flavor to the tea.
Origins: From lightly oxidized to dark roasted, oolongs can be fragrantly floral to lusciously rich. A special category of minimally oxidized oolong leaves ranges from 6–12% and are known as pouchongs. Taiwan is famous for its many wonderful oolong teas, and deservedly so. Their teas are often named after the particular mountain on which they're grown. Ti Quan Yin ("Iron Goddess of Mercy") is one of the most famous Chinese oolong teas whose characteristic flavor is produced in the charcoal firing of the leaves. Ti Quan Yin is a variety of tea plant that produces Ti Quan Yin oolong, and was discovered in the Anxi province of China. Other well–known Chinese oolongs include Huang Jin Gui and Bai Hao. View our selection of Oolongs.
Black teas are fully oxidized teas. Black teas brew a liquor from reddish brown to dark brown. They are the most popular type of tea in the Western world. Black teas range from 40 – 60 milligrams of caffeine per 8 oz cup.
Black Teas from China are divided into two main categories: Northern Chinese (Keemun teas from Anhui province and similar teas such as Golden Monkey) and Southern Chinese which are the black teas from the Yunnan province. Many teas from China often have poetic names that don’t give any information about the type of tea or the region that it came from, such as Cloud Mist and Fairy Branch.
There are three major tea producing areas in India: Darjeeling, Assam, and Nilgiri. Black teas are also available from Sikkim, an area bordering Darjeeling. Ceylon teas come from the island nation now called Sri Lanka. Other loose-leaf black tea producing countries include: Nepal, Turkey, Indonesia, Kenya and Australia.
Preparation of black teas requires pure water at boiling point (212° F).
Process: After the leaves are plucked they are allowed to wither. They are then rolled and crushed by hand or by machine. This activates the oxidation processes and the leaves are allowed to turn black. Finally they are fired in ovens to stop the oxidation process.
Origins: Traditionally from China, India, and Sri Lanka (Ceylon).
There are several ways to reference any particular tea from India or Sri Lanka:
- By estate
- The grade of the tea
- The year of the plucking
- The plucking season (or flush)
Tea gradings refer primarily to the way the leaf looks.
- S, or "super" means that the particular estate considers this tea one of its "best of best".
- F, or "fine" usually means that the tea is a very high quality, clean, dust free and relatively uniform leaf.
- T, or "tippy" means that the tea has many leaves from the very end bud - the terminal bud.
- G, or "golden" refers the those terminal buds that had tiny hair-like fuzz on them that, after oxidation, has turned golden in color (desirable)
- F, or "flowery" generally refers to the nose, it’s floral in character.
- O, or "orange" is a reference to the Earl of Orange who once was so involved in tea trade that he required the estates to note whether or not they thought the teas measured up to his expectations. Using the letter "O" means that the tea does indeed do this.
- P, or "pekoe" simply means a hand picked and processed tea that is dust and mold free.
Flavored Black Teas
Chinese black tea leaves have been flavored since around the time the Ming Dynasty was founded in 1368, and have become wildly popular in America and Europe in recent decades. The addition of natural essences and flavors create an exciting sensual and gastronomic experience, as both the tea and the scent are often enhanced in the marriage of the two. Tea can be flavored by adding fruits, floral essences, and/or flavorings to the finished black tea leaves. All tea leaves are very absorbent of fragrances (and all odors, which is another reason why air-tight containers are important for storage.) Popular scented black teas include Earl Grey, scented with bergamot; Lapsang Souchong, which is scented with pine wood smoke; Rose tea, Caramel tea and various fruit-flavored black teas. View our entire selection of Black Teas.
Chai is the Hindi term for "tea." Most of the tea India produces is consumed in the country, but India is also the second largest exporter of tea! This gives us an idea of the magnitude of tea production in the country and its economic impact.
The large leaf varietal of tea plant that makes bold black teas, Camellia sinensis assamica, is indigenous to Northwestern India, but tea was not a big part of the Indian diet until the British began producing it there in the mid-nineteenth century. The Indian palate was not satisfied by the the British version of tea, which was perceived as nothing more than a thin, sugared beverage. By drawing from their own cultural pantry, the Indian people created the tea drink that we know as chai - black tea simmered with milk, sugar, and rich flavorful spices such as cardamom, ginger, clove and cinnamon. This blend of spices that they added to black tea is called masala, meaning "spiced." Every household in India has its own family recipe for what they call masala chai, or spice tea.
The black tea base for a traditional chai blend is Assam, a very strong tea. Assam is characterized by its distinctive malty aroma and honey finish to the taste. Assam tea steeps up into a dark liquor. Adding milk to the tea turns it to a characteristically ruby-amber hue.
Our sourcing team at The Tea Spot tea sampled dozens of Assam teas and spices to find the best selections to make our unique and premium chai blends. Our Mile High Chai is our Colorado twist on a classic masala chai, and makes a smooth and deeply flavorful latte.
Pu’erh teas are aged and fermented. These aged teas are revered throughout Asia for their medicinal benefits, which range from curing hangovers to reducing cholesterol.
Pu’erh tea is very smooth in taste, and can be even darker than black tea. This is a naturally fermented tea, and, if stored properly, the older the tea, the better the flavor. Black Pu’erh teas contain about 60–70 milligrams of caffeine per 8 oz cup, and Green Pu’erh yields about 30–40 milligrams of caffeine for the same sized serving.
Preparation: Requires pure water at boiling point (212° F).
Process: Pu’erh tea is processed through special fermentation by using the semi-fermented green tea of Yunnan large leaf tea. It is black or brown in color. This tea undergoes a secondary fermentation process that takes 6 months to a year, during which the tea is contained in a warm, humid environment, allowing beneficial bacteria and fungal microflora to flourish. The more aged Pu’erh tea is mellow and gives a sweet taste in mouth after drinking.
Health Benefits: This is an ideal health drink. It can cut through grease and cholesterol, help digestion, warm you, help produce saliva and shake thirst, dispel the effects of alcohol, and refresh one’s mind. Pu’erh tea has also been shown to lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels in the body.
Origins: Grown exclusively in and around the county of Pu’erh in Yunnan Province, China, the leaves are mildly sweet, with an aroma reminiscent of autumn leaves. View our selection of Pu'erh Teas.
Yerba Mate Tea
Yerba Maté (pronounced "yerba mahtay") is a medicinal and cultural drink of ancient origins. Introduced to the world by the Guarani Indians of South America, Maté is a species of holly plant, and can range in flavor from earthy and roasted to grassy.
Mate is a healthy and stimulating drink, with roughly 35 milligrams of caffeine per 8 oz. serving. Yerba Maté is an appetite suppressant, also high in Vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, and manganese. Mate contains xanthines, which are in the same family as caffeine, and sometimes called "mateine". Mate also contains other natural chemicals and trace minerals that seem to mellow out the experience of consuming this particular type of caffeine, and many mate drinkers report that they feel alert and focused without any negative effects of coffee, such as jitters and a caffeine crash. Preliminary scientific studies of mate have shown that the compounds in the plant have a relaxing effect on smooth muscle tissue, rather than a stimulating effect on the central nervous system.
Preparation: Requires pure water at 203° F (Boil, then cool 1 min)
Yerba Maté should be steeped for 6–7 minutes using hot, but not boiled water. Boiling water can make mate bitter, just like tea. Some people even like to pour cool water over the mate leaves before filling the rest of the cup with hot water to avoid extracting tannins, which create the bitter flavor.
Process: After harvesting, yerba mate branches are dried sometimes with a wood fire, imparting a smoky flavor to some styles. Other styles are steamed which results in a grassier flavor, which can be likened to Japanese green tea. The leaves are then chopped to a specific size of leaf cut.
Origins: Grown and processed in South America, specifically in northern Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and southern Brazil. Cultivators are known as yerbateros (Spanish) or ervateiros (Brazilian Portuguese). View our selection of Yerba Mate Teas.
The history of herbs and spices is far more ancient than that of tea. Herbal Infusions are not tea, per se, as they do not come from the Camellia sinensis plant. They are popular after’dinner beverages and naturally 100% caffeine–free.
Many host a variety of health benefits, and all the ones we offer deliver a sensational experience in aromatherapy and taste. Herbal Infusions include many well-known herbs such as mint, flowers such as hibiscus and chamomile, roots like licorice and ginger, and other botanicals including rooibos and lemongrass. Some blends combine many herbs and even add seeds, berries, nuts and even cocoa.
Herbal infusions have a wide variety of purported health benefits and cures, from indigestion to allergies to insomnia. There are infinite combinations and possibilities for creating herbal infusions, and all of them are free of caffeine.
Most herbal infusions should be steeped for 6–7 minutes using freshly boiled water, or decocted for 10–20 minutes on the stovetop for maximum effectiveness. View our selection of Herbal Teas.
As a naturally decaf tea, hibiscus is a great way to stay healthfully hydrated any time of day. Medical research shows that hibiscus is promising in treating high blood pressure and possibly high cholesterol triglyceride levels*. It also offers a natural source of Vitamin C and antioxidants to give your immune system a boost. When cold-brewed, hibiscus makes a mouthwatering, smooth & refreshing, vibrant red infusion in under ten minutes. Brewed hot, the taste of hibiscus flowers is more tart. Hibiscus is the most prevalent component in herbal teas sold in North America. View our selection of Hibiscus Teas.
* Reference: Hopkins AL, et al., Hibiscus sabdariffa L. in the treatment of hypertension and hyperlipidemia: a comprehensive review of animal and human studies, Fitoterapia. 2013 Mar;85:84-94. doi: 10.1016/j.fitote.2013.01.003.
Rooibos is a naturally caffeine-free herbal tea indigenous to the Cedarburg mountain area in South Africa, also known as red bush tea. Its naturally sweet flavor, lack of bitter tannins, and naturally decaf nature makes it a great tea for the whole family.
Its needle-like leaves are well suited to its arid home. It is harvested manually during the summer, at which point it is still green. Oxidation is essential in order to enhance the flavor of the tea and this turns the tea leaves from green to bright red. This faintly sweet red herbal infusion is unique because it contains health benefits while being naturally caffeine free and low in tannin, thus allowing iron absorption. Rooibos contains almost no tannins, but has many replenishing minerals including iron, potassium, copper, alpha-hydroxy and zinc. It is rich in antioxidants, the substances that combat free radicals in the body.
Rooibos is a great thirst quencher and is an excellent beverage for active people, including children. Most kids will drink Rooibos without added sugar or sweeteners. This tea contains almost no oxalic acid, making it a good beverage for people prone to kidney stones. Rooibos contains the following minerals: copper, iron and potassium, calcium, fluoride, zinc, manganese, alpha-hydroxy (for healthy skin) and magnesium (for the nervous system) are also components of this tea. In South Africa pregnant women and lactating mothers drink Rooibos because it contains loads of antioxidants without any caffeine. With its many positive attributes, Rooibos tea is an excellent choice of drink for health conscious people. View our selection of loose leaf Rooibos.