“Tea” in the broadest sense refers to almost any hot drink made by adding water or milk to steep leaves, herbs, or spices. And while that definition is fine for daily conversation, it is hardly accurate or specific.
Tea in the narrowest sense refers to the tea plant, camellia sinensis. While a more accurate term for a brew of herbs or spices is infusion or tisane.
Tea (Camellia Sinensis)
True tea in all of its different varieties actually comes from the plant called Camellia Sinesis. In order to produce tea leaves, the plant has to be more than ten years old when the leaves are picked from it. The plant Camellia Sinensis grows in high altitudes and it is an evergreen tree. They can get taller more than hundred feet.
As all tea comes from one species of plant, the different types of tea are determined by conditions in which the bush is grown, the timing of the leaf picking, and the post-picking procedures. Five types of tea are made from the Camellia Sinensis plant.
- White tea is said to be least processed.
- Then green tea is marginally more processed and the most popular in East Asia.
- The next is called oolong which is in between black and green tea. Oolong contains more caffeine than the lighter teas due to the oxidation.
- Black tea, the most widely drunk tea in India and the West, is fully oxidized and contains the most caffeine. It is often referred to as ‘red tea.’
- And finally the 5th is Pu-erh. Typically only grown in limited regions in Yunnan, China, pu-erh leaves are actually rotted having exceeded their oxidation time and then been dried. The color of its liquor is very dark and some consider it the only true black tea.
Use water at least 200º F and steep for at least one to two minutes.
The ideal water temperature is 180 º – 195 º F.
Oolong tea should be steeped in water around 195 º – 200 ºF.
Black tea should be prepared in water at 208 ºF for 3-5 minutes.
Likewise, pu-erh can withstand a higher temperature steeping.
Real tea (camellia sinensis) is not only delicious and energizing but also beneficial for our health. Consumption of tea, particularly green tea has been show to:
- Increase DDL cholesterol levels
- Lowers LDL cholesterol levels
- Enhances immune function
- Aids digestion
- Reduces the risk of cancer
- Lower blood pressure
- Decrease the risk of stroke
Moreover, scientists have found three important components of tea which are important for human body, nutrients, anti-oxidants, and caffeine (in moderate amounts).
The infusion of any herbal leaves or plants that do not come from the camellia sinensis plant is strictly-speaking not tea but rather “tisane” or simply infusion. Tisane is a Greek word which means drink prepared from pearl barley. It can be made from dried leaves, flowers, roots, seeds, or spices. To prepare a tisane, boil water for 5 minutes, pour over preparation, then add sugar, if desired. Milk is usually not added to herbal infusions but it could be. Sometimes hot drinks of milk and spices are also simply referred to as tea.
Many such tisanes of various herbs prepared in tea bags are available on the market and are called “tea.” Blends combining camellia sinensis leaves with herbs or oils are also available. For example, black tea with bergamot oil is sold under the popular name of Earl Grey.
In many cases, herbal or herb-plus-tea tisanes offer more specific functional health benefits than merely drinking camellia sinensis, such as stress relief, cold remedy, laxative effect, sleep inducing, nausea reduction, etc; these are sometimes sold as dietary supplements. As with any herb or dietary supplement some populations may experience discomfort taking the product or are contraindicated from certain types of herbs. Please do the necessary research if you are unfamiliar with an herb or if you have a medical condition.
Generally speaking, tea in all its forms and derivatives is an excellent beverage offering health-enhancing qualities, refreshment, and pleasure in each sip.