Some facts are fundamentally universal: when it is cold and damp outside, the human body craves something warm. Now, whether that warmness be in the form of steaming soup, hot tea or fresh-brewed coffee is up to the chilly consumer.
But similar to choosing the perfect coffee bean or a complimentary bottle of wine, picking out the tea for your taste can be a dizzying task. Amazingly, all tea comes from the same plant called the Camellia sinensis, which is an evergreen native to China. It can grow up to 90 feet tall and in the past, some cultures taught monkeys to pick the tea leaves that they couldn't reach. However, modern times and technology have allowed farmers to grow the trees to just three feet for easier cultivation. The plant's leaves range from smooth and shiny to fuzzy and white-haired - each making up a specific type of tea. In total, the plant yields up to 3,000 varieties of tea, which can easily be broken up into three main categories: green, black, and oolong teas. Flavoured and herbal teas also deserve to be mentioned, though they are not officially "tea."
What it is: Making up about 10 percent of the world's tea consumption, green tea has gotten a lot of recent media coverage for its health benefits.
Where it grows: Far East: China and Japan
What is tastes like: Green tea is greenish-yellow in colour with a delicate taste that is slightly astringent and grassy.
What you should know: It is high in antioxidants and may protect against certain types of cancer (lung, ovarian, breast, prostate and stomach) as well as the precancerous condition of stomach cancer, gastritis.
What it is: The rarest of all teas, the leaves are the same as green tea leaves, but they are plucked from the plant when they are still very young, giving them their extremely light colour.
Where it grows: a Fujian province on China's east coast
What is tastes like: As one would expect, the tea is nearly colourless and is delicate in flavour with a slightly sweet and nutty quality.
What you should know: You may recognise white tea from recent Snapple commercials launching their new line of "Good For You" white and green tea bottled drinks.
What it is: This is the most common type of tea, which accounts for about 87 percent of America's tea consumption.
Where it grows: Africa, India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia
What is tastes like: Black tea can come in a range of flavours, but is usually found to have a heartier taste than green or oolong teas.
What you should know: The main difference between black tea and green tea is the oxidation process. Black tea leaves are fully oxidised whereas green tea leaves are lightly steamed before they are dried. This process contributes to the tea's taste as well as caffeine content. Like green tea, black tea has also been shown to have health benefits. Research has suggested that the antioxidants found in black tea may play a preventive role in conditions like heart disease, stroke and some cancers.
Flavoured tea, Blends, Herbal Infusions and Tisanes
Because tea naturally absorbs other flavours quite easily, cultures have been adding herbs, spices, oils and flowers to their tea for centuries. In China, adding flowers such as jasmine, orchard, rose and magnolia to teas is quite popular. In many Arabic nations, they add fresh mint leaves and heaping spoonfuls of sugar to their tea. And in India, they make spicy masala tea by adding spices like cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and peppers.
If black and green teas are considered "purebreds," then blended teas are considered "mutts." Tea producers use different strains of tea to create flavours like English Breakfast and Earl Grey.
Unlike flavoured tea and other blends, herbal infusions and tisanes are not technically tea as they are not made with leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant. Instead, tisane (tee-ZAHN) is an herbal tea made from herbs, spices and flowers and added to boiling water. Herbal drinks are typically recognised for their caffeine-free quality and also for soothing and rejuvenating effects. Commonly found herbal teas include chamomile, peppermint, fennel, rose hip and lemon verbena.
People find all sorts of reasons not to drink tea, but two of the most common center around the avoidance or obsession with caffeine. Consider these facts about tea and caffeine from the UK tea council:
- 4 cups of tea per day offer good health benefits without the contraindications of other caffeinated drinks.
- Four cups of tea contain only moderate amounts of caffeine, which has been shown to increase concentration, thereby improving performance.
- When drinking a normal cup of tea, you consume significantly less caffeine than a cup of instant coffee or one you would buy at a coffee shop.
- Tea contains at least half the level of caffeine than coffee.