Tea is the most popular beverage in the world, aside from plain water. In America, tea consumption in all categories is rising- especially in the area of green teas and specialty teas. There are literally thousands of different teas available, and the more you learn about them, the more you realize how much more there is to know! The following is a summary of useful tea info that we have prepared to help you learn about the complexities of this amazing beverage.
Where does tea come from? All tea comes from the Camellia Sinensis bush, known as the Tea Plant. The leaves and buds of the tea plants are plucked several times per year, usually by hand. The different pickings are referred to as “flushes”, so you will notice that some teas are sold as “second flush” etc. to indicate when they were picked. The different flushes will have different flavor characteristics. Once picked, the tea can be processed into black tea, oolong tea, green tea or white tea.
Green, Black, Oolong or White?
was invented in China in the Ming dynasty as a way to keep tea fresh when it was being exported long distances. As tea had a long distance to travel before reaching America, it’s not surprising that we mostly consume black tea. However, most of the world consumes green tea.
Many Americans are beginning to branch out and enjoy teas from all categories, and green tea drinking is especially on the rise!
The main difference between the categories of tea is based on oxidization. Basically, oxidization is the process where the tealeaf interacts with oxygen and turns dark. (You can think of this process as similar to what happens when you take a bite out of an apple, and the inside turns dark.)
is unoxidized, black tea is oxidized, and oolong tea is semi-oxidized. Some older tea literature may refer to the oxidization process as “fermentation”, but this is an incorrect term for the process that is actually occurring.
Here is an oversimplification of the tea-making process:
To make black tea, the leaf is crushed up a bit to allow the juices to interact with the oxygen, and the leaf is left to sit for several hours. Then, the tealeaf is heated up, to halt the oxidization process. To make green tea, the leaf is heated soon after picking, to prevent oxidization from occurring.
is semi-oxidized, so the leaf is allowed to sit for maybe 2-4 hours, before being heated up to halt oxidization. The amount of oxidization will affect the flavor and appearance of the tea. Longer oxidization will make an oolong darker and more similar in taste to a black tea, and shorter oxidization will make an oolong more similar in nature to a green tea.
is the least processed of all teas. Only the unopened buds are used, and they are merely withered and dried.
Tea grading is based on the size of the leaf and types of leaves included in the tea. Though leaf size is an important quality factor, it is not, by itself, a guarantee of quality. Teas are often designated as OP or FOP. These designations are part of the grading system used for whole leaf black teas and refer to the leaf size and amount of tip in the tea.
Pekoe means teas picked as 2 leaves & a bud. OP, or Orange Pekoe, is a full-leaf tea with no tip or buds. FOP, or Flowery Orange Pekoe, is a longer leaf than an OP and has some buds. Grading systems and terminology vary with tea type and country. Generally, the more whole the leaf is and the more buds it contains, the higher the grade of tea.
Black Tea Leaf Grades
P: Pekoe smaller, shorter leave than OP
OP: Orange Pekoe long, thin, tightly rolled leaves
FOP: Flowery Orange Pekoe longer leaf than an OP but not as tightly rolled
GFOP: Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe FOP with some golden tips
TGFOP: Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe GFOP with more golden tips
FTGOP: Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe Better quality TGFOP teas
BOP: Broken Orange Pekoe OP leaves that are broken
FBOP: Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe FOP leaves that is broken.
Green Tea Grades
There is no uniform grading system for green teas, but the better quality green consist of a leaf & bud, then 2 leaves & a bud and so on.
Organic means that the tea was grown without the use of any artificial pesticides and herbicides, and that the estate has gone through a certification process to ensure you of this fact. Sometimes organic teas cost more than non-organic teas. The difference is in the flavor, but also due to the fact that organic crops are often smaller than non-organic crops, and because organic gardens have undergone more expenses to meet the certification requirements.
Decaffeinated tea is different from herbal tea. Herbal tea is usually naturally caffeine free. Decaffeinated tea is regular tea (usually green or black) that has undergone processing to have most of the caffeine removed from it. Unfortunately, decaffeination often removes some of the tea’s natural flavor along with the caffeine. Most of our teas are decaffeinated through a chemical-free process called the CO2 process.