Tea is a beverage made by steeping processed leaves, buds, or twigs of the tea bush (Camellia sinensis) in hot water for a few minutes. The processing can include oxidation, heating, drying, and the addition of other herbs, flowers, spices, and fruits.
There are four basic types of true tea: black tea, oolong tea, green tea, and white tea. The term “herbal tea” usually refers to infusions of fruit or of herbs (such as rosehip, chamomile, or jiaogulan) that contain no C. sinensis.(Alternative terms for herbal tea that avoid the word “tea” are tisane and herbal infusion.) This article is concerned exclusively with preparations and uses of the tea plant C. sinensis.
Tea is a natural source of the amino acid theanine, methylxanthines such as caffeine and theobromine, and polyphenolic antioxidant catechins. It has almost no carbohydrates, fat, or protein. It has a cooling, mildly fragrant, slightly bitter, and astringent flavor.
- Processing and Classification
- Blending and Additives
- Origin and History
- The Word ‘Tea’
- Tea Culture
- Tea Bags
- Loose Tea
- Compressed Tea
- Instant Tea
Camellia sinensis is an evergreen plant and grows in tropical to sub-tropical climates. In addition to tropical climates (at least 50 inches of rainfall a year), it also prefers acidic soils. Many high quality tea plants grow at elevations up to 5,000 feet (1524 meters), as the plants grow more slowly and acquire a better flavor. Only the top 1-2 inches of the mature plant are picked. These buds and leaves are called flushes, and a plant will grow a new flush every seven to ten days during the growing season.
Tea plants will grow into a tree if left undisturbed but cultivated plants are pruned to waist height for ease of plucking.
Processing and Classification
Tea plant (Camellia Sinensis) from Köhler’s Medicinal Plants.Main article: Tea processing
These types of tea are distinguished by the processing they undergo. Leaves of Camellia sinensis soon begin to wilt and oxidize if not dried quickly after picking. The leaves turn progressively darker because chlorophyll breaks down and tannins are released. This process, enzymatic oxidation, is called fermentation in the tea industry although no true fermentation happens (that is, the process isn’t microorganism-driven). The next step in processing is to stop the oxidation process at a predetermined stage by heating, which deactivates the enzymes responsible. In black tea this is done simultaneously with drying.
Without careful moisture and temperature control during its manufacture and life thereafter, fungi will grow on tea. This form of fungus causes real fermentation that will contaminate the tea with toxic and sometimes carcinogenic substances and off-flavours, rendering the tea unfit.
Tea is traditionally classified based on the degree or period of “fermentation” the leaves have undergone:
Young leaves (new growth buds) that have undergone no oxidation; the buds may be shielded from sunlight to prevent formation of chlorophyll. White tea is produced in lesser quantities than most other styles, and can be correspondingly more expensive than tea from the same plant processed by other methods. It is less well known in countries outside of China, though this is changing with increased western interest in organic or premium teas.
The oxidation process is stopped after a minimal amount of oxidation by application of heat, either with steam, a traditional Japanese method, or by dry cooking in hot pans, the traditional Chinese method. Tea leaves may be left to dry as separate leaves or they may be rolled into small pellets to make gun-powder tea. This process is time consuming and is typically done with pekoes of higher quality. The tea is processed within one to two days of harvesting.
Oxidation is stopped somewhere between the standards for green tea and black tea. The oxidation process takes two to three days. In Chinese, semi-oxidized teas are collectively grouped as blue tea (青茶, literally: blue-green tea), while the term “oolong” is used specifically as names for certain semi-oxidized teas.
Black Tea /Red Tea
The tea leaves are allowed to completely oxidize. Black tea is the most common form of tea in southern Asia (Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc.) and in the last century many African countries including Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Malawi and Zimbabwe. The literal translation of the Chinese word is red tea, which is used by some tea lovers. The Chinese call it red tea because the actual tea liquid is red. Westerners call it black tea because the tea leaves used to brew it are usually black. However, red tea may also refer to rooibos, an increasingly popular South African tisane. The oxidation process will take between two weeks and one month. Black tea is further classified as either orthodox or as CTC (Crush, Tear, Curl, a production method developed about 1932). Unblended black teas are also identified by the estate they come from, their year and the flush (first, second or autumn). Orthodox processed black teas are further graded according to the post-production leaf quality by the Orange Pekoe system, while CTC teas use a different grading system.
Teas that undergo a second oxidation, such as Pu-erh, Liu’an, and Liubao, are collectively referred to as secondary or post-fermentation teas in English. In Chinese they are categorized as Dark tea or black tea. This is not to be confused with the English term Black tea, known in Chinese as red tea. Pu-erh, also known as Póu léi (Polee) in Cantonese is the most common type of post-fermetation tea in the market.
Either used as a name of high-quality tea served at the Imperial court, or of special tea processed similarly to green tea, but with a slower drying phase.
Also called winter tea, kukicha is made from twigs and old leaves pruned from the tea plant during its dormant season and dry-roasted over a fire. It is popular as a health food in Japan and in macrobiotic diets
Blending and Additives
Tea weighing station north of Batumi, before 1915Main article: Tea blending and additives
Almost all teas in bags and most other teas sold in Britain are blends. Blending may occur at the level of tea-planting area (e.g., Assam), or teas from many areas may be blended. The aim of blending is a stable taste over different years, and a better price. More expensive, better tasting tea may cover the inferior taste of cheaper tea.
There are various teas which have additives and/or different processing than “pure” varieties. Tea is able to easily receive any aroma, which may cause problems in processing, transportation or storage of tea, but can be also advantageously used to prepare scented teas.
Tea contains catechins, a type of antioxidant. In a fresh tea leaf, catechins can be up to 30% of the dry weight. Catechins are highest in concentration in white and green teas, while black tea has substantially less due to its oxidative preparation. Tea contains theanine, and the stimulant caffeine at about 3% of its dry weight, translating to between 30mg and 90mg per 8oz (or 0.25 L) cup depending on type and brand and brewing method. Tea also contains small amounts of theobromine and theophylline. Tea also contains fluoride, with certain types of brick tea made from old leaves and stems having the highest levels. Regular drinking of tea can prevent dental cavity to some extent. However, excessive consumption of tea (brick tea in particular) has led to cases of fluorosis. Finally, as a dried plant, tea preserves some vitamins and played an important role in keeping Chinese sailors’ health in history, such as the voyage led by Zheng He.
Origin and History
The tea bush originated in the area where India, China and Myanmar meet, in the hot wet mountainous regions of the Eastern Himalayas. It was originally eaten and drunk by tribal groups in this area. Over two thousand years ago it was used as a medicine and aid to concentration in China, being helped by the expansion of Buddhism from India.
Origins of human use of tea are described in several myths, but it is unknown as to where tea was first created as a drink.
In one popular Chinese legend, Shennong, the legendary Emperor of China, inventor of agriculture and Chinese medicine, was drinking a bowl of boiling water, some time around 2737 BCE. The wind blew and a few leaves from a nearby tree fell into his water and began to change its colour. The ever inquisitive and curious monarch took a sip of the brew and was pleasantly surprised by its flavour and its restorative properties. A variant of the legend tells that the emperor tested the medical properties of various herbs on himself, some of them poisonous, and found tea to work as an antidote. Shennong is also mentioned in Lu Yu’s Cha Jing, famous early work on the subject.
According to a Tang Dynasty legend which spread along with Buddhism, Bodhidharma, founder of the Zen school of Buddhism based on meditation, known as “Ch’an”. After meditating in front of a wall for nine years, he accidentally fell asleep. He woke up in such disgust at his weakness, he cut off his eyelids and they fell to the ground and took root, growing into tea bushes. Sometimes, the second story is retold with Gautama Buddha in place of Bodhidharma In another variant of the first mentioned myth, Gautama Buddha discovered tea when some leaves had fallen into boiling water.
Whether or not these legends have any basis in fact, tea has played a significant role in Asian culture for centuries as a staple beverage, a curative, and a symbol of status. It is not surprising its discovery is ascribed to religious or royal origins.
The Chinese have enjoyed tea for centuries, if not millennia. While historically the use of tea as a medicinal herb useful for staying awake is unclear, China is considered to have the earliest records of tea drinking, with recorded tea use in its history dating back to the first millennium BC.
Lao Tzu (600-517 BCE), the founder of Taoism described tea as “the froth of the liquid jade” and named it an indispensable ingredient to the elixir of life. Legend has it, Lao was disgusted at his nations treatment of Taoism and he fled westward to Ta Chin. While passing through the Han Pass, he was offered tea by a customs inspector named Yin Hsi, an elderly sage who encouraged him to write a book of his teachings, Tao Te Ching. Yin’s generosity helped many people and thus began a national custom of offering tea to guests, in China.
In 220 BCE, a famed physician and surgeon named Hua Tou wrote Shin Lun, in which he describes tea’s ability to improve mental functions: “to drink k’u t’u [bitter tea] constantly makes one think better”
In 59 BCE, Wang Bao wrote the first known book providing instructions on buying and preparing tea, establishing that, at this time, tea was not only a medicine but an important part of diet.
During the Sui Dynasty (589-618 CE) tea was introduced to Japan by Buddhist monks.
Lu Yu’s statue in Xi’an.The Tang Dynasty writer Lu Yu’s 陸羽 (729-804 CE) Cha Jing 茶經 is an early work on the subject. (See also Tea Classics) According to Cha Jing writing, around 760 CE, tea drinking was widespread. The book describes how tea plants were grown, the leaves processed, and tea prepared as a beverage. It also describes how tea was evaluated. The book also discusses where the best tea leaves were produced. Teas produced in this period were mainly tea bricks which were often used as currency, especially further from the center of the empire where coins lost their value.
During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), production and preparation of all tea changed. The tea of Song included many loose-leaf styles (to preserve the delicate character favoured by the court society), but a new powdered form of tea emerged. Steaming tea leaves was the primary process used for centuries in the preparation of tea. After the transition from compressed tea to the powdered form, the production of tea for trade and distribution changed once again. The Chinese learned to process tea in a different way in the mid-13th century. Tea leaves were roasted and then crumbled rather than steamed. This is the origin of today’s loose teas and the practice of brewed tea.
In 1391, the Ming court issued a decree that only loose tea would be accepted as a “tribute.” As a result, loose tea production increased and processing techniques advanced. Soon, most tea was distributed in full-leaf, loose form and steeped in earthenware vessels.
Darjeeling tea infusionSee also: Assam tea, Darjeeling tea, and Nilgiri tea
Tea cultivation flourished in India under the British and today India is the largest exporter of tea in the world.
Darjeeling tea is grown in the foothills of the Himalayas, and is a prized Indian black tea. The use of milk and sugar in tea is also linked to India. This convention may have originated during the British Raj. It is also possible that the Indians, who had enjoyed cow’s milk as a favorite beverage, developed it on their own and passed it on to the British.
The East India Company also had interests along the routes to India from Great Britain. The company cultivated the production of tea in India. Its products were the basis of the Boston Tea Party in Colonial America.
The earliest known references to green tea in Japan are in a text written by a Buddhist monk in the 9th century. Tea became a drink of the religious classes in Japan when Japanese priests and envoys sent to China to learn about its culture brought tea to Japan. Ancient recordings indicate the first batch of tea seeds were brought by a priest named Saichō (最澄; 767-822) in 805 and then by another named Kūkai (空海; 774-835) in 806. It became a drink of the royal classes when Emperor Saga (嵯峨天皇), the Japanese emperor, encouraged the growth of tea plants. Seeds were imported from China, and cultivation in Japan began.
In 1191, the famous Zen priest Eisai (栄西; 1141-1215) brought back tea seeds to Kyoto. Some of the tea seeds were given to the priest Myoe Shonin, and became the basis for Uji tea. The oldest tea specialty book in Japan, Kissa Yōjōki (喫茶養生記; How to Stay Healthy by Drinking Tea), was written by Eisai. Eisai was also instrumental in introducing tea consumption to the warrior class, which rose to political prominence after the Heian Period.
Japanese tea ceremonyGreen tea became a staple among cultured people in Japan — a brew for the gentry and the Buddhist priesthood alike. Production grew and tea became increasingly accessible, though still a privilege enjoyed mostly by the upper classes. The modern tea ceremony developed over several centuries by Zen Buddhist monks under the original guidance of the monk Sen-no Rikyu (1522-1591). In fact, both the beverage and the ceremony surrounding it played a prominent role in feudal diplomacy.
In 1738, Soen Nagatani developed Japanese sencha (Japanese: 煎茶), literally roasted tea, which is an unfermented form of green tea. It is the most popular form of tea in Japan today. In 1835, Kahei Yamamoto developed gyokuro (Japanese: 玉露), literally jewel dew, by shading tea trees during the weeks leading up to harvesting. At the end of the Meiji period (1868-1912), machine manufacturing of green tea was introduced and began replacing handmade tea.
The first historical record documenting the offering of tea to an ancestral god describes a rite in the year 661 in which a tea offering was made to the spirit of King Suro, the founder of the Geumgwan Gaya Kingdom (42-562). Records from the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) show that tea offerings were made in Buddhist temples to the spirits of revered monks.
During the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), the royal Yi family and the aristocracy used tea for simple rites, the “Day Tea Rite” was a common daytime ceremony, whereas the “Special Tea Rite” was reserved for specific occasions. These terms are not found in other countries. Toward the end of the Joseon Dynasty, commoners joined the trend and used tea for ancestral rites, following the Chinese example based on Zhu Xi’s text formalities of Family.
Stoneware was common, ceramic more frequent, mostly made in provincial kilns, with porcelain rare, imperial porcelain with dragons the rarest. The earliest kinds of tea used in tea ceremonies were heavily pressed cakes of black tea, the equivalent of aged pu-erh tea still popular in China. However, importation of tea plants by Buddhist monks brought a more delicate series of teas into Korea, and the tea ceremony. Green tea, “chaksol” or “chugno,” is most often served. However other teas such as “Byeoksoryung” Chunhachoon, Woojeon, Jakseol, Jookro, Okcheon, as well as native chrysanthemum tea, persimmon leaf tea, or mugwort tea may be served at different times of the year.
Tea Spreads to the World
The earliest record of tea in European writing is said to be found in the statement of an Arabian traveler, that after the year 879 the main sources of revenue in Canton were the duties on salt and tea. Marco Polo records the deposition of a Chinese minister of finance in 1285 for his arbitrary argumentation of the tea taxes. The travellers Giovanni Batista Ramusio (1559), L. Almeida (1576), Maffei (1588), Taxiera (1610), also mentioned tea. In the last named year ships of the Dutch East India Company bought the first tea into Europe. It was then known to France by 1636, and reached Russia in 1638. Tea first appeared publicly in England during the 1650s, where it was introduced through coffee houses. From here it was introduced to her respective Colonies in America and elsewhere.
The Word ‘Tea’
The Chinese character for tea is 茶, but it is pronounced differently in the various Chinese dialects. Two pronunciations have made their way into other languages around the world. One is tê, which comes from the Amoy Min Nan dialect, spoken around the port of Xiamen (Amoy). This pronunciation is believed to come from the old words for tea 梌 (tú) or 荼 (tú). The other is chá, used by the Cantonese dialect spoken around the ports of Guangzhou (Canton), Hong Kong, Macau, and in overseas Chinese communities, as well as in the Mandarin dialect of northern China. This term in ancient times is used to describe the first flush harvest of tea. Yet another different pronunciation is zu, used in the Wu dialect spoken around Shanghai.
Languages that have tê derivatives include Afrikaans (tee), Armenian, Catalan (te), Czech (té or thé, but these words sound archaic; čaj is used nowadays, as explained in the next paragraph), Danish (te), Dutch (thee), English (tea), Esperanto (teo), Estonian (tee), Faroese (te), Finnish (tee), French (thé), (West) Frisian (tee), Galician (té), German (Tee), Hebrew (תה, te or tei), Hungarian (tea), Icelandic (te), Indonesian (teh), Irish (tae), Italian (tè), scientific Latin (thea), Latvian (tēja), Malay (teh), Norwegian (te), Polish (herbata from Latin herba thea),Lithuanian (arbata from Latin herba thea), Scots Gaelic (tì, teatha), Singhalese (thé), Spanish (té), Swedish (te), Tamil (thé), Welsh (te), and Yiddish (טיי, tei).
Those that use cha or chai derivatives include Albanian (çaj), Arabic (شاي shai), Assyrian (pronounced chai), Azeri: (çay), Bengali (চা), Bosnian (čaj), Bulgarian (чай chai), Capampangan (cha), Cebuano (tsa), Croatian (čaj), Czech (čaj), English (char, slang), Greek (τσάι tsái), Gujarati (cha), Hindi (चाय chai), Japanese (茶, ちゃ, cha), Kazakh (шай shai), Korean (茶,차 cha), Macedonian (čaj), Marathi (chahaa), Mongolian (цай, tsai), Nepali (cheeya), Oriya (cha), Persian (چای chaay), Punjabi (ਚਾਹ), Portuguese (chá), Romanian (ceai), Russian (чай, chai), Serbian (чај chaj), Slovak (čaj), Slovene (čaj), Somali (shaax), Swahili (chai), Tagalog (tsaa), Thai (ชา), Tibetan (ja), Tlingit (cháayu), Turkish (çay), Ukrainian (чай chai), Urdu (چاى), Uzbek (choy) and Vietnamese (trà and chè are both direct derivatives of the Chinese 茶; the latter term is used mainly in the north and depicts a tea made with freshly-picked leaves).
The Polish word for a tea-kettle is czajnik, which could be derived directly from cha or from the cognate Russian word. However, tea in Polish is herbata, which was probably derived from the Latin herba thea, meaning “tea herb”.
It is tempting to correlate these names with the route that was used to deliver tea to these cultures, although the relation is far from simple at times. As an example, the first tea to reach Britain was traded by the Dutch from Fujian, which uses te, and although later most British trade went through Canton, which uses cha, the Fujianese pronunciation continued to be the more popular.
In Ireland, or at least in Dublin, the term cha is sometimes used for “tea”, with “tay” as a common pronunciation throughout the land (derived from the Irish Gaelic tae), and char was a common slang term for tea throughout British Empire and Commonwealth military forces in the 19th and 20th centuries, crossing over into civilian usage.
In North America, the word chai is used to refer almost exclusively to the Indian chai (or masala chai) beverage.
Perhaps the only place in which a word unrelated to tea is used to describe the beverage is South America (particularly Andean countries), because a similar stimulant beverage, mate de yerba, was consumed there long before tea arrived.
In many cultures, tea is often drunk at social events, such as afternoon tea and the tea party. It may be drunk early in the day to heighten alertness; it contains theophylline and bound caffeine (sometimes called “theine”), although there are also decaffeinated teas. In many cultures such as Arab culture tea is a focal point for social gatherings.
There are tea ceremonies which have arisen in different cultures, Japan’s complex, formal and serene one being one of the most well known. Other examples are the Chinese tea ceremony which uses some traditional ways of brewing tea. One form of Chinese tea ceremony is the Gung Fu Cha tea ceremony, which typically uses small Yi Xing clay pots and oolong tea.
For a more detailed treatment of tea preparation and serving habits, particularly in non-western countries, see Tea culture.
Taiwanese tea kettle over hot coalsThis section describes the most widespread method of making tea. Completely different methods are used in North Africa, Tibet and perhaps in other places. In the American South, iced tea is also prepared differently.
The way to prepare tea is usually thought to be with loose tea placed either directly in a teapot or contained in a tea infuser, rather than a teabag. However, perfectly acceptable tea can be made with teabags. Some circumvent the teapot stage altogether and brew the tea directly in a cup or mug. This method is becoming more popular. For an acceptable quality, however, it is necessary to obey the rules for preparation such as sufficient infusion time by placing the teabag in the cup before pouring the hot water.
Historically in China, tea is divided into a number of infusions. The first infusion is immediately poured out to wash the tea, and then the second and further infusions are drunk. The third through fifth are nearly always considered the best infusions of tea, although different teas open up differently and may require more infusions of boiling water to bring them to life.
Typically, the best temperature for brewing tea can be determined by its type. Teas that have little or no oxidation period, such as a green or white tea, are best brewed at lower temperatures around 80 °C, while teas with longer oxidation periods should be brewed at higher temperatures around 100 °C.
The amount of tea to be used per amount of water is obviously of critical importance, yet is the subject of some confusion. One reason is to do with knowledge in popular culture (one spoon per person and one for the pot etc), another to do with the varying nature and quality amongst different teas and within the same garden from season to season. One basic recipe may be one slightly heaped teaspoon of tea (about 5mLs) for each 200mLs of water prepared as above. This may be varied according to tea and taste, with a stronger Assam to be drunk with milk prepared with more leaf, and a more delicate high grown tea such as a Darjeeling prepared with a little less (as the stronger mid-flavours will overwhelm the champagne notes). For tea, as with many such things, there is no right or wrong answer, only the quest for perfection. Another way to taste a tea, throughout its entire process, is to add hot water to a cup containing the leaves and after about 30 seconds to taste the tea. As the tea leaves unfold (“the Agony of the Leaves”) they give up various parts of themselves to the water and thus the taste evolves. Continuing this from the very first flavours to the time beyond which the tea is quite stewed will allow an appreciation of the tea throughout its entire length.
Black Tea Infusion – Black Tea
The water for black teas should be added at the boiling point (100 °C or 212 °F), except for more delicate teas, where lower temperatures are recommended. This will have as large an effect on the final flavour as the type of tea used. The most common fault when making black tea is to use water at too low a temperature. Since boiling point drops with increasing altitude, this makes it difficult to brew black tea properly in mountainous areas. It is also recommended that the teapot be warmed before preparing tea, easily done by adding a small amount of boiling water to the pot, swirling briefly, before discarding. Black tea should not be allowed to steep for less than 30 seconds or more than about five minutes (a process known as brewing or [dialectally] mashing in the UK, Specifically in Yorkshire.). After that, tannin is released, which counteracts the stimulating effect of the theophylline and caffeine and makes the tea bitter (at this point it is referred to as being stewed in the UK). Therefore, for a “wake-up” tea, one should not let the tea steep for more than 2-3 minutes. When the tea has brewed long enough to suit the tastes of the drinker, it should be strained while serving.
Water for green tea, according to most accounts, should be around 80 °C to 85 °C (176 °F to 185 °F); the higher the quality of the leaves, the lower the temperature. Hotter water will burn green-tea leaves, producing a bitter taste. Preferably, the container in which the tea is steeped, the mug, or teapot should also be warmed beforehand so that the tea does not immediately cool down.
Oolong teas should be brewed around 90 °C to 100 °C (194 °F to 212 °F), and again the brewing vessel should be warmed before pouring in the water. Yixing purple clay teapots are the ideal brewing vessel for oolong tea. For best results use spring water, as the minerals in spring water tend to bring out more flavour in the tea.
Premium or Delicate Tea
Some teas, especially green teas and delicate Oolong or Darjeeling teas, are steeped for shorter periods, sometimes less than 30 seconds. Using a tea strainer separates the leaves from the water at the end of the brewing time if a tea bag is not being used. Elevation and time of harvest offer varying taste profiles, proper storage and water quality also plays a large impact on taste.
Puer teas require boiling water for infusion. Some prefer to quickly rinse puer for several seconds with boiling water to remove tea dust which accumulates from the aging process. Infuse puer at the boiling point (100 °C or 212 °F), and allow to steep for 30 seconds or up to five minutes.
In order to preserve the pre-tannin tea without requiring it all to be poured into cups, a second teapot is employed. The steeping pot is best unglazed earthenware; Yixing pots are the best known of these, famed for the high quality clay from which they are made. The serving pot is generally porcelain, which retains the heat better. Larger teapots are a post-19th-century invention, as tea before this time was very rare and very expensive. Experienced tea-drinkers often insist that the tea should not be stirred around while it is steeping (sometimes called winding in the UK). This, they say, will do little to strengthen the tea, but is likely to bring the tannins out in the same way that brewing too long will do. For the same reason one should not squeeze the last drops out of a teabag; if stronger tea is desired, more tea leaves should be used.
Tea is sometimes taken with milk. The addition of other items such as milk and sugar to tea is primarily a European invention, though it has also spread to 19th and 20th century British colonies such as Hong Kong or India. Some connoisseurs eschew cream because it overpowers the flavour of tea. Many teas are traditionally drunk with milk. These include Indian chai, and British tea blends. These teas tend to be very hearty varieties which can be tasted through the milk, such as Assams, or the East Friesian blend. Milk is thought to neutralise remaining tannins and reduce acidity.
Sugar cubes ready to be added to a cup of teaWhen taking milk with tea, some add the tea to the milk rather than the other way around when using chilled milk; this avoids scalding the milk, leading to a better emulsion and nicer taste. In Britain and some Commonwealth countries, the order in which the milk and the tea enter the cup is often considered an indicator of social class. Persons of working class background are supposedly more likely to add the milk first and pour the tea in afterward, whereas persons of middle and upper class backgrounds are more likely to pour the tea in first and then add milk. This is ostensibly a continuing practice from a time when porcelain (the only ceramic which could withstand boiling water) was only within the purchasing range of the rich – the less wealthy had access only to poor quality earthenware, which would crack unless milk was added first in order to lower the temperature of the tea as it was poured in.
Adding the milk first also makes a milkier cup of tea with sugar harder to dissolve as there will be no hot liquid in the cup. In addition, the amount of milk used is normally determined by the colour of the tea, therefore milk is added until the correct colour is obtained. If the milk is added first, more guesswork is involved. If the tea is being brewed in a mug, the milk is generally added after the tea bag is removed (however, it is arguably better to add milk before removing the tea bag than it is to remove the tea bag too soon: the tea will continue to brew even with milk added).
Other popular additives to tea include sugar or honey, lemon, and fruit jams. In colder regions such as Mongolia, Tibet and Nepal, butter is added to provide necessary calories. Tibetan butter tea contains rock salt and dre (yak) butter, which is then churned vigorously in a cylindrical vessel closely resembing a butter churn. The flavour of this beverage is more akin to a rich broth than to tea, and may be described as a very acquired taste to those unused to drinking it. The same may be said for salt tea, which is consumed in some cultures in the Hindu-Kush region of northern Pakistan, and probably in other areas as well.
In 1908, American tea merchant Thomas Sullivan began distributing samples of his tea in small silk bags with a drawstring. Consumers noticed that they could simply leave the tea in the bag, and better still re-use it with fresh tea. However, the potential of this distribution/packaging method would not be fully realized until later on. During World War II, tea was rationed. In 1953 (after rationing in the UK ended), Tetley launched the tea bag to the UK and it was an immediate success. The convenience of the tea bag revolutionized how Britons drank their tea and now the traditional tea pot has given way to making tea in a cup utilising a tea bag.
Tea leaves are packed into a small (usually paper) tea bag. It is easy and convenient, making tea bags popular for many people today. However, the tea used in tea bags has an industry name – it is called “fannings” or “dust” and is the waste product produced from the sorting of higher quality loose leaf tea. It is commonly held among tea aficionados that this method provides an inferior taste and experience. The paper used for the bag can also be tasted by many, which can detract from the tea’s flavor. Because fannings and dust are a lower quality of the tea to begin with, the tea found in tea bags is less finicky when it comes to brewing time and temperature.
Additional reasons why bag tea is considered less well-flavored include:
Dried tea loses its flavour quickly on exposure to air. Most bag teas (although not all) contain leaves broken into small pieces; the great surface area to volume ratio of the leaves in tea bags exposes them to more air, and therefore causes them to go stale faster. Loose tea leaves are likely to be in larger pieces, or to be entirely intact.
Breaking up the leaves for bags extracts flavoured oils.
The small size of the bag does not allow leaves to diffuse and steep properly.
Triangle Tea Bags
A relative newcomer to the market, the “triangle tea bag” has an unusual design that addresses two of connoisseurs’ arguments against paper tea bags. Its three-dimensional, pyramidal shape allows more room for tea leaves to expand while steeping, and because the bags are made of nylon mesh, they do not leave flavours (such as paper) in the tea. These characteristics let the delicate flavors of gourmet selections (such as white teas) shine through; however, the bags have been criticized as being environmentally irresponsible, since the synthetic material does not break down in landfills as loose tea leaves and paper tea bags do.
Loose-leaf teaThe tea leaves are packaged loosely in a canister or other container. Rolled gunpowder tea leaves, which resist crumbling, are commonly vacuum packed for freshness in aluminized packaging for storage and retail. The portions must be individually measured by the consumer for use in a cup, mug, or teapot. This allows greater flexibility, letting the consumer brew weaker or stronger tea as desired, but convenience is sacrificed. Strainers, “tea presses”, filtered teapots, and infusion bags are available commercially to avoid having to drink the floating loose leaves and to prevent over-brewing. A more traditional, yet perhaps more effective way around this problem is to use a three-piece lidded teacup, called a gaiwan. The lid of the gaiwan can be tilted to decant the leaves while pouring the tea into a different cup for consumption.
A lot of tea such as Pu-erh tea is still compressed for transport, storage, and aging convenience. The tea is prepared and steeped by first loosening leaves off the compressed cake using a small knife. Compressed teas can usually be stored for longer periods of time without “spoilage” when compared with loose leaf tea
In recent times, “instant teas” are becoming popular, similar to freeze dried instant coffee. Instant tea was developed in the 1930s, but not commercialized until the late 1950s, and is only more recently becoming popular. These products often come with added flavours, such as vanilla, honey or fruit, and may also contain powdered milk. Similar products also exist for instant iced tea, due to the convenience of not requiring boiling water. Tea connoisseurs tend to criticize these products for sacrificing the delicacies of tea flavor in exchange for convenience.
This latest method of marketing tea was first launched in 1981 in Japan.
Tea has a shelf-life that varies with storage conditions and type of tea. Black tea has a longer shelf-life than green tea. Some teas such as flower teas may go bad in a month or so. An exception, Pu-erh tea improves with age. Tea stays freshest when stored in a dry, cool, dark place in an air-tight container. Black tea stored in a bag inside a sealed opaque canister may keep for two years. Green tea loses its freshness more quickly, usually in less than a year. Gunpowder tea, its leaves being tightly rolled, keeps longer than the more open-leafed Chun Mee tea. Storage life for all teas can be extended by using desiccant packets or oxygen absorbing packets, and by vacuum sealing. Refrigeration or freezing is not recommended.
Improperly stored tea may lose flavor, acquire disagreeable flavors or odors from other foods, or become moldy.