What's The Tea? - January 2023

All varieties of tea are made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant.  To simplify and categorize, we offer 4 types of tea which includes black tea, green tea, wulong (oolong) tea, white tea. The Camellia sinensis plant is native to Southeast Asia, but it’s now being cultivated in tea-friendly climates world-wide.  

Beverages we call “herbal tea” - peppermint, rooibos, chamomile, etc. – are not from the Camellia sinensis plant.  Therefore, they are not tea in the technical sense (though we accept the phrase and don’t correct people for using it).

Why are there so many different kinds of tea?

Since all tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant, the differences between the types of tea are primarily due to how they are processed after the leaves are picked.  In theory, any tea plant growing anywhere can have its leaves made into any kind of tea, but this is not done in practice because geography, growing conditions, and local expertise are critical factors to proper tea production.

Does tea contain caffeine?

Yes, because all tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant, it all contains (roughly) the same amount of caffeine.  The biggest determining factors of how much caffeine will be in your cup is how much leaf you use, how hot you steep it, and how long you steep it.

“Herbal teas” are not from the Camellia sinensis plant and because of this the vast majority of them are caffeine free.  These include chamomile, rooibos, ginger, hibiscus, fruit tisanes, and other non-camellia sinensis beverages that are steeped similar to tea.

Loose tea vs. tea bags?

We advocate for using loose leaf tea because it’s the most direct method of doing tea.  It offers versatility, variety, customization, clarity, and the best bang for the buck (even if that means a lot of bucks).  Tea bags offer convenience.  In theory, you can offer the same tea you would buy as loose tea in a tea bag (might have to be a pretty large bag), but the constraints of leaf size, manufacturing/marketing costs, and other factors often prevent this.

What is green tea?

Simply put, tea leaves have a green appearance. To keep that green appearance, the leaves for green tea are “fired” as the first step after they are picked off the plant. “Firing” will prevent oxidation from happening. Oxidation is a natural chemical process that turns fresh tea leaves into black tea (the same process that causes an apple to turn brown after cutting it open). A tea is “fired” by subjecting the tea leaves to a brief period of high heat to neutralize the enzymes that enable oxidation. Other types of teas go through the firing process, but green tea is the only one that goes through it as the first step.

Green tea is primarily a product of China and Japan. Chinese green teas are “pan-fired” (meaning dry heat) to prevent oxidation while Japanese green teas are “steam-fired.” These two techniques produce wildly different results and are central to each country’s signature styles. Other countries produce green teas (not all of which are bad), but they usually lack the skills that come with China and Japan’s long traditions of green tea manufacturing.

The common cup characteristics of green tea tend to be a light body with mild astringency and a vegetal/grassy flavor, but these will vary with each particular style. Green tea is often noted as having less caffeine than black tea, but this is not exactly accurate. Green tea has a tendency to become bitter and astringent, so it is usually suggested to be steeped for shorter times and at lower temperatures than black tea (which is not bad advice). This lighter steeping method will produce less caffeine in your cup. If green tea is steeped the same way as black tea, you will get as much (or more) caffeine in your cup.

Our Green Tea Varieties include:

What is black tea?

Black tea is tea leaves that have been quickly and heavily oxidized. This gives the leaf a dark appearance and significantly changes the aroma and flavor. Oxidation is the natural chemical reaction carried out by enzymes within the leaf that begin once they are exposed to air (like an apple turning brown when cut open). Though all teas (other than green tea) go through some degree of oxidation, black tea is the only one that is defined by its high level of oxidation. 

Black tea originated in China, but its popularity in the west has made most of it destined for export. Countries that were once British colonies – mainly India, Sri Lanka, and Kenya – make almost exclusively black tea and in a style geared towards western tastes and purposes. Because of this the flavor profile tends to emphasize a strong, brisk, full-bodied cup (often with milk and sugar in mind) with varying degrees of fruitiness or maltiness. However, regional styles create such large distinctions that there is no universal black tea flavor. It’s also the most commonly used tea for blending with other ingredients into classic styles such as earl grey or masala chai.

Black teas are frequently mentioned as having the most caffeine, but that is because of the common instruction to steep with water brought to a full boil and for an extended time of up to five or six minutes. Any tea made like this will deliver a lot of caffeine in the cup.

Our Black Tea Varieties include:

What is herbal tea?

“Herbal tea” is a catch-all phrase applied to products that are steeped in a manner similar to tea, but are not from the Camellia sinensis plant.  This can include any number of plants such as chamomile, peppermint, rooibos, lavender, hibiscus, ginger, etc. – some of which are enjoyed by themselves or blended together with other products.  Since these products are not related to the tea plant, the vast majority of them are caffeine free (yerba mate and guayusa are exceptions and both contain caffeine).  They also do not share the same elaborate processing techniques that give tea its unique transformation.  Herbal products are often referred to as “tisanes”, which is a French word meaning “beverage made from herbal infusion.”

 Our Herbal Tea Varieties include:

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