The Truth About Tea

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 while the United States has become a seemingly Starbucks-infested coffee culture, a growing number of Americans are choosing tea for more reasons than simply warmth.

In 2005, the tea industry had its fourteenth consecutive year of sales increases, while retail supermarket sales alone surpassed $1.9 billion. This number is expected to continue to grow over the next five years. No longer just for the British, tea is fighting back as the beverage that is hard to ignore. In fact, 1.42 million pounds of tea is consumed every day in the U.S. and 519 million pounds are imported into the country each year.

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. Flavored and herbal teas also deserve to be mentioned, though they are not officially “tea.”

Green 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 color 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.

White tea

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 color.

Where it grows: a Fujian province on China’s east coast

What is tastes like: As one would expect, the tea is nearly colorless and is delicate in flavor with a slighty sweet and nutty quality.

What you should know: You may recognize white tea from recent Snapple commercials launching their new line of “Good For You” white and green tea bottled drinks.

Black tea

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 flavors, but is usually found to have a heartier 茶葉推介 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 oxidized 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.

Pu-erh tea

What it is: Also speller Puer, this tea technically falls in the black tea family, but is fermented twice (instead of once), which elevates it to its own category. The double oxidation process followed by a period of maturation allows the leaves to develop a thin layer of mold.

Where it grows: Southwest China, Burma, Vietnam and Laos

What is tastes like: Due to the layer of mold, pu-erh tea takes on a soil-like flavor with a strong, earthy quality.

What you should know: Although the tea is distinctly dirt-tasting, pu-erh is often used for medicinal purposes as a digestive aid.

Oolong tea

What it is: Considered to be among the finest (and most expensive) teas in the world, oolong
Tea is semi-fermented, which means that it goes through a short oxidation period that turns the leaves from green to a red-brown color.