Tea, one of the most popular and low-cost beverages in the world, ranks second in terms of consumption, right after water. Its low cost and of course, great taste, make it one of the largest components of the world’s beverage market. India is among the top 25 countries across the world in terms of the production and consumption of tea.
But what really is tea? And how many kinds of tea varieties are there? Read on to discover!
What is ‘tea’?
Traditionally, tea is a hot drink made by infusing the dried crushed leaves of the tea plant in boiling water. And the ‘plant’ here refers to Camellia Sinensis -the evergreen shrub native to southern and eastern Asia. Over the years, however, many types of green and black teas have evolved. These are derived from the same plant but differ in taste as they are processed differently for different tea flavours.
Kind of tea varieties
Green and White teas come from a variant of the main plant called Camellia Sinensis Var C. Sinensis. It grows in mountainous regions with drier climates. The leaves are smaller in size and are heated and dried to prevent them from turning brown and getting oxidized. They need to be green, yellow or at most, light brown in colour before being brewed. Typically, green tea is light in colour and carries the grassy flavour of the leaves.
White tea is also derived from the same plant, but before the leaves open fully. It gets its name from the white strands on the tea buds and is one of the most delicate forms of tea. Once plucked, these buds are allowed to oxidize in a controlled environment for a shorter period of time and are minimally processed, giving it a softer tea flavour compared to any of its counterparts.
The other variant of this plant is called the Camellia Sinensis Assamica and, as the name suggests, comes from Assam. This plant is better suited for warm, moist climates, and particularly in sub-tropical forests. After harvesting, these tea leaves are left to oxidize completely before being dried and processed. They are dark brown or almost black in colour. This is what is used for Black tea, which is originally more astringent in nature, but which gets its flavour from the way it’s brewed.
Herbal teas, infused from leaves, barks, roots, berries, seeds and even fruits and spices that aren’t derived from the Camellia Sinensis plant are known as tisanes. Though tea is an infusion, tisanes don’t contain tea leaves. So technically, they are not teas at all. The only thing they both have in common is hot water and not much else! Many types of tisanes are therefore low in caffeine or have none at all, making them suitable at all times of the day!
Historically, tisanes were consumed as medicine since they contained no caffeine. But with time, they have grown to include more than just herbs. Modern types of tisanes contain fruit infusions, Rooibos (red tea), Yerba Mate and an array of cultural infusions as well.
It’s easy to get carried away when discussing tea, simply because there are so many varieties in the world. But let’s keep the rest for later. For now, sit back with your hot cuppa and relish every sip!