What is tea?

So, what is tea anyway?  Strictly defined, tea is a delicious drink prepared by steeping the leaves of camellia sinensis in hot water.  Camellia Sinensis is an evergreen shrub native to China and now grown in many spots around the world. While it is a single plant species, there are hundreds of cultivars (cultivated varieties) developed as tea farmers have selectively bred plants to emphasize and improve qualities of the plant.
Tea Plantation in Kyoto
Tea farm in Kyoto, Japan

One thing we learned while Mike studied for his Tea Specialist Certification is that all tea comes from the same plant.  All types of tea - Green Tea, Black Tea, White Tea, Yellow Tea, Oolong and Dark Tea - are made from the leaves and buds of camellia sinensis.  Differences in terroir and processing determine what type of tea a specific harvest is destined to be.

Terroir is everything that influences the way tea grows from environmental factors like weather and shade to the specific qualities of the soil and water of individual tea regions.  Terroir has such a significant effect on the flavor profiles of tea that we often name teas after the region they're from - Darjeeling and Assam Black being good examples of this. 

Another key factor is processing.  Tea processing involves five specific steps, some or all of which are performed on each tea type.  Plucking, Withering, Rolling, Oxidizing and Firing.  Which steps are performed and how are what determine which type of tea is made.

While each step is interesting in its own right, oxidation is fascinating.  Apples and potatoes are classic examples of oxidation in action.  Cut and left to sit out, they will oxidize and turn brown.  But, if we apply heat - bake an apple pie, deep fry cut potatoes in oil - we prevent oxidation and the apples and potatoes stay the same color they started.  The same process is used for tea.  Green Tea is heated to prevent oxidation and retain the green color.  In Japan, tea is often steamed in this process.  In China, typically a dry heat is applied.
Pan fired Dragonwell leaves processed in Longjing, Zhejiang, China

Colloquially, we've allowed the term tea to bleed into any hot infusion.  But herbal "teas" which lack any camellia sinensis at all are more properly labeled herbal tisanes or infusions.  And while we love a good herbal tisane, they are not a true tea.
Our Dream Glider Herbal Tisane - beautiful but not a tea leaf in sight

Over the thousands of years that humans have been enjoying tea, we've developed an astounding variety of options.  As we always say here at Coalition Tea, tea should taste good, feel good and do good.  Our goal is to bring you wonderful options that do just that.
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