What is Tea?
The technical definition of tea is a brew made from the infusion of water and the leaves of an evergreen plant of the Camellia family. There are four major types of tea: Black, Green, Oolong and White. The way the leaves are processed-steamed, fermented (oxidized), dried, or bruised-gives the tea the special characteristics of its category.
Types of Tea:
In black teas, the fresh green leaves are rolled and crushed, then allowed to fully ferment. This imparts the dark color and characteristic flavor of black teas can be enjoyed with or without milk. Includes varieties such as American Classic, Assam, Ceylon, Darjeeling, Keemum, Kenya, Pu-Erh and Yunnan.
Green teas are heated immediately after harvesting to prevent fermentation. This preserves a fresh, vegetal or slightly pungent, green flavor, a delicate body and aroma. The infusion is clean and light. Milk is never used.Includes varieties such as Bamboo, Dragonwell, Genmaicha, Gunpowder, Hojicha and Sencha.
Oolongs are partially fermented and fall somewhere between black and green, often combining features of both. They vary from light, greenish, and flowery to dark, spicy or toasted. Like the greens, they are taken without milk. Includes varieties such as Oooh Darjeeling, Jasmine and Pouchong.
Herbal teas, properly speaking, should not be referred to as "teas" at all. Tea is the beverage made only from the leaves of the Camellia tea plant. Herbal infusions are beverages made from one or more herbs and spices. In much of the world herbal infusions are referred to as Tisanes. All herbal infusions are naturally caffeine free. Includes varieties such as African Autumn, Bella Coola, Cha Cha, Egyptian Chamomile, Honeybush, Mango Melange, Passion Fruit, Peppermint, Pina Colada, Rooibos, Strawberry Cream, Summer Breeze and Yerba Mate.
White tea, originally produced in China's Fujian Province is different from all other teas in that the fresh leaves undergo only two processing operations: withering and drying. Very little white tea is produced and its manufacture requires particular care. The name white tea comes from the silvery-white color of its leaves, which often have a white down on them. China is practically the only supplier of high quality white teas. The tea is also only picked one week a year, as it is composed of the tea leaf buds and very little leaf. Includes varieties such as Ginger Peach, Oasis Mango White, Pai Mu Tan, Silver Needle and Snowbud.
Tea Health Benefits
Tea contains antioxidant compounds of polyphenols that help the body fight harmful free radicals. It is believed that harmful free radicals can lead to cancer and heart disease. Studies also suggested that the high concentration of antioxidants in tea have an anti-aging effect. Tea also contains flavonoids that restricts the build up of cholesterols and help with blood vessel functionality. A recent study by researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and Harvard medical School showed that tea, unlike coffee, boosts the body's immune system to fight infection. The study also showed blood cells from tea drinkers responded five times faster to germs than did those of coffee drinkers.
The History of Tea Drinking
Legend has it that the origin of tea drinking has been traced back to the Chinese Emperor Chen Nung of 2737 BC, who discovered the drink when he was sitting beneath a tree while his servant was boiling a pot of water. A few leaves from a tea plant dropped into the pot of water, gave an excellent aroma and he found it tasted as good when sipped. The first tea used in England came from Dutch sources between 1652 and 1654. When Charles II of England married the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza, she introduced the pleasures of tea drinking to the English Court. By 1650 the Peter Stuyvesant brought the first tea to America to the colonists in the Dutch settlement of 'New Amsterdam' (later re-named New York). Settlers here were avid tea drinkers and it was found that the small settlement consumed more tea at that time then all of England put together. Although Americans liked tea, due to the high taxes placed on it by the British, Americans revolted with the Boston Tea Party.
The History of Tea Ceremonies
In the 18th century, Anna, the Duchess of Bedford decided that she was rather hungry; but since it was afternoon, she knew that she would have to wait several hours before dinner. Adopting the European tea service format, she invited friends to join her for an additional afternoon meal at five o'clock in her rooms at Belvoir Castle. The menu centered around small cakes, bread and butter sandwiches, assorted sweets, and tea. She liked her afternoon tea time so much that it soon became a habit. When ladies went to visit others during tea time, they would often take their own tea cup in a pretty, decorative box. Before they knew it, the wealthy and middle class families all over England were stopping in the middle of the afternoon for tea and snacks, and it is a tradition that is still followed today.
Types of Tea Ceremonies
- Afternoon Tea consists of savories, scones and pastries.
- Full Tea is a complete four-course Afternoon Tea with sandwiches, scones, sweets, and a dessert finale.
- Light Tea is a lighter version of Afternoon Tea with a scone and a sweet.
- High Tea is a hearty sit down meal that includes a meat dish. It is often enjoyed as a buffet supper or brunch. An entree is sometimes served with breads, salad, cheese, fruit, and sweets.
The History of Iced Tea/Sweet Tea
Iced tea's popularity parallels the development of refrigeration. In 1879, a community cookbook called Housekeeping in Old Virginia, by Marion Cabell Tyree was published containing the oldest sweet tea (iced tea) recipe in print. In 1884, the first printed recipe using black tea, which has become so universal today, is considered to be the earliest version of pre-sweetened iced tea, the usual way of making it in the South today. It was popularized at The St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. Sweet Tea, often called Southern style tea is typically sweetened with sugar and is served plain, or with mint or lemon.
The History of Teacakes
Legend has it that teacakes were originally developed from leftover ingredients during slavery; however, some Southern food historians say teacakes evolved from an English recipe brought to America by British settlers in the 18th century. They were known as "little cakes" and were served with afternoon tea. However they evolved, teacakes are definitely a Southern tradition. The basic recipe was passed by word-of-mouth for generations. Unlike the English, Southerners made the cakes for snacks or special occasions. Each cook added special ingredients, such as molasses or grated lemon rind and spices.