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What is Tea?

True teas are made of leaves of the
Camellia sinensis plant which have
been plucked, withered, and roasted
before steeping in hot water to extract flavor.


Oxidation: Categories of Tea

Oxidation is an enzymatic process that causes harvested plants to turn brown. Just as an apple turns brown when sliced, tea leaves begin to oxidize after plucking.

Oxidation is halted by applying heat. Heat denatures the enzyme responsible for the browning process. A tea’s category is determined by how much the leaves have browned before being roasted. The most common categories used are white, green, oolong, black, and pu-erh.


Identity: What Makes a Tea?

All teas come from the same species of plant, but four main variables produce a diverse range of flavors:

variety

Think of the difference between a Granny Smith apple and a Fuji apple. In the same way, different varieties of the tea plant have different characteristics. There are over 2000 cultivated varieties (or 'cultivars') of the tea plant. Each one has unique properties and flavors.

provenance

The area where a tea is grown can have a big impact on the quality and flavor of it's leaves, much like in wine or coffee. This is sometimes called the tea's 'terroir'. Any tea's flavor changes depending on its climate, elevation, soil, and surrounding vegetation.

harvest date

The time of year at which tea leaves are harvested can make a huge difference in the quality of the final product. In particular, the harvest dates of green and white teas directly determine the grade of the tea. For these styles, the first spring harvests fetch the highest prices. But preferred harvest dates vary for each category of tea.

craftsmanship

The method of crafting determines a tea's final category and flavor profile. Techniques to control withering, oxidation, and roasting have passed down through generations. Regional specialties often depend on variations in crafting styles. Experienced tea crafters can manipulate natural flavor notes to create unique teas.

Chemistry: Natural Effects of Tea

Tea has been used in Chinese medicine for much of its long history. But definitive research on the chemical compounds found in tea leaves is still new. Most studies on the topic have only occurred within the last decade. Tea leaves contain a myriad of chemical compounds, many of which may be healthy. But most health claims focus on two naturally occurring substances: antioxidants and caffeine.

Since all teas are created from the same species of plant, they are all similar in their chemical makeup. It is difficult to say whether any particular tea has more or less of either of these substances. But, one thing is certain: a high quality, handcrafted, whole leaf tea will always be healthy for the body.

Types of Tea

Read more about what makes each category of tea distinct, and learn how we decide which teas to purchase at the farms.