What Is Tea?

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Tea is the second-most consumed beverage in the entire world, second only to water. Black, green, white, oolong and pu-erh tea all comes form the same plant: Camellia sinensis and a variety known as Camellia assamica. Camellia sinensis is used for most Chinese, Formosan and Japanese teas (but not Pu-erh); and the clonal Camellia assamica is used in most Indian and other teas (but not Darjeeling). Camellia sinensis and Camellia assamica are now found in many regions throughout the world. Many people (mistakenly) call herbal blends of fruits, herbs and spices “tea,” but if there’s no camellia sinensis or Camellia assamica found in it, then it is actually a tisane.

A New Leaf carries many different tisanes, include Egyptian camomile, flavored rooibos and fruit blends such as Seventh Street Colada and Garden City Blend.

How Are Teas Grown?

Tea plants are propagated from both seed and cuttings; it can take anywhere from four to 12 years for a tea plant to bear seed, and about three years before a new plant is ready for harvesting. Temperate climates (zone 8 or warmer) are required, as is at least 50 inches of rainfall a year and acidic soil.

Only the top one to two inches of the mature plant are picked. These buds and leaves are called flushes. Tea plants typically  grow a new flush every seven to 15 days during the growing season, and leaves that are slow in development tend to produce better-flavored teas. A tea plant can grow up to 52 feet tall  if left undisturbed, but cultivated plants are pruned to waist height for ease of harvesting.

Camellia sinensis and Camellia assamica are grown in small family gardens to large estates that can be thousands of acres large. Many fine teas are grown at high elevations and on steep slopes. Great teas are often plucked by hand by skilled workers. Teas which are processed in the traditional fashion are called Orthodox teas and typically contain only the top two tender leaves and an unopened leaf bud, and blended to make the thousands of varieties of tea we know and love today.

Another production process is known as CTC (crush-tear-curl). These teas may or may not be plucked by hand, but are typically processed by machine (unorthodox production). CTC production uses a leaf shredder which grinds the leaves (crushing, tearing and curling) into fine pieces, then rolls them into little balls. The result can resemble large coffee grinds. These CTC teas will brew very quickly and produce and a bold, powerful cup of tea. CTC is used primarily in the tea bag industry and  in India to create Masala Chai blends.

Coming Up: Tea Production – How Leaves Become Precious Teas

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