Tea 101

Next to water, tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the entire world. So what’s the secret behind the leaves?

A picky plant

It takes about three years before a new tea plant is ready for harvesting. And, although a tea plant will grow into a tree if left untended, most plants are pruned to waist height and only the top 1-2 inches of the mature plant are picked.

After picking, tea leaves are dried and heated. In tea processing, the drying and darkening of the leaves is stopped at a predetermined stage by heating, which deactivates certain enzymes. Tea is highly receptive to inclusion of various aromas, which allows for the design of an almost endless range of scented and flavored variants.

Teas are processed in different ways, creating different categories of tea. The most common types are: white, yellow, green, oolong, and black. Although single estate teas are available, almost all teas in bags and most other teas sold in the West are now blends. The aim of blending is to obtain better taste with better value.

A long history.

Chinese Emperor Shen-Nung is commonly credited with the first pot of tea, born when some tea leaves accidentally blew into the Emperor’s pot of boiling water, all the way back in 2737 BC. Anna, Duchess of Bedford, is credited with creating the traditional British “afternoon tea” in 1840, when she made a habit of taking tea with a light snack around 4:00 p.m. The custom of High Tea originated in the British working class. Workers would return to their homes at about 6:00 p.m. for a hearty meal and a pot of strong tea.

A global heritage.

From China to Tanzania, the world’s best tea can be found in some of the world’s most exotic places. Much of the world’s tea grows in mountainous areas 3,000 – 7,000 feet above sea level. The high elevation encourages slower growing—which can help produce better flavor. Tea plants thrive in mainly tropical and subtropical climates, although tea plants have been cultivated as far north as Pembrokeshire in Britain and Washington State in the U.S. Mineral-rich soil in countries like Argentina, China, India, Indonesia, Kenya Malawi, Sri Lanka, and Tanzania helps produce richly flavored, fragrant teas. And tea’s global reach and heritage helps make it one of the most popular beverages across all continents.

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