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What Exactly Is Tea

Posted by Path of Cha on

Coming after water, tea is the second most consumed drink in the world. What comes as a surprise to many is that all teas (i.e. White, Green, Oolong, Black, and Pu-erh) come from the same plant – Camellia Sinensis.

Camellia Sinensis is a sub-tropical, evergreen plant native to China. However, since the early 19th century after it was brought to India, it has been grown all around the world. Varying with the time of year when the leaves of Camellia Sinensis are harvested, as well as the processing technique used after the harvest, several forms of tea come to life. Therefore, "tea" is everything that is derived from the Camellia Sinensis plant.

Anything else, while sometimes called "tea", is more accurately referred to as an herbal tea or tisane. Tisanes include chamomile, rooibos and fruit teas.



The best tea is usually grown at higher elevations, and often, on steep slopes.

The terrain requires these premium teas to be hand-picked. It takes around 2,000 tiny leaves to make just one pound of finished tea. On the other hand, teas that are produced for large scale commercial production are grown on flat, lowland areas to allow for machine harvesting. However, please note that high altitudes cannot be the only factor to consider when trying to determine the quality of the tea. Some of the finest, hand-picked teas are grown at lower altitudes and come from flat fields.


The finest teas usually contain only the top two or three tender leaves and an unopened bud (the "buds" are the young, unopened leaves, not flowers), which are plucked carefully by hand and then processed, creating thousands different tea varieties.

A true art form, the tea is handled by artisans often with generations of training, from the moment of harvest to when the tea is finished. For some teas, one batch can take several days of work.




For commercial production, large machine harvesters are used to “mow" the bushes to get the leaves. This way of production is crushing, tearing, and curling the leaves into fine pieces. Crush-tear-curl is usually used primarily in the tea bag industry. These teas will brew very quickly and produce a bold, powerful cup of tea. When implementing such style, leaves are not necessarily picked by hand.


The three essential components of brewed tea (also called the "liquor") are: 

1. Essential Oils - responsible for the tea’s delicious aromas and flavors. 

2. Polyphenols - providing "briskness" or astringency in the mouth; these are the components that also carry most of the health benefits of tea.

3. Caffeine - provides the tea's natural energy boost.

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