Tea is an aromatic beverage commonly prepared by pouring hot or boiling water over cured leaves of the Camellia sinensis, an evergreen shrub native to Asia. After water, it is the most widely consumed beverage in the world. Some teas, like Darjeeling and Chinese greens, have a cooling, slightly bitter, and astringent flavour, while others have vastly different profiles that include sweet, nutty, floral, or grassy notes.

Tea originated in China as a medicinal drink. It came to the West via Portuguese priests and merchants, introduced to it there during the 16th century. Drinking tea became fashionable among Britons during the 17th century, who introduced the plant to their possessions in India to bypass a Chinese monopoly.

The phrase herbal tea usually refers to infusions of fruit or herbs made without the tea plant, such as steeps of rosehip, chamomile, or rooibos. These are also known as tisanes or herbal infusions to distinguish them from "tea" as it is commonly construed.


Varieties

Traditionally, Darjeeling teas are classified as a type of black tea. However, the modern Darjeeling style employs a hard wither (35-40% remaining leaf weight after withering), which in turn causes an incomplete oxidation for many of the best teas of this designation, which technically makes them a form of oolong. Many Darjeeling teas also appear to be a blend of teas oxidized to levels of green, oolong, and black.

• First flush is harvested in mid-March following spring rains, and has a gentle, very light colour, aroma, and mild astringency.

• In between is harvested between the two "flush" periods.

• Second flush is harvested in June and produces an amber, full bodied, muscatel-flavoured cup.

• Monsoon or rains tea is harvested in the monsoon (or rainy season) between second flush and autumnal, is less withered, consequently more oxidized, and usually sold at lower prices. It is rarely exported, and often used in masala chai.

• Autumnal flush is harvested in the autumn after the rainy season, and has somewhat less delicate flavour and less spicy tones, but fuller body and darker colour.

Darjeeling White Tea

The white variant of Darjeeling tea has a delicate aroma and brews to a pale golden colour with a mellow taste and a hint of sweetness. Darjeeling white tea leaves are very fluffy and light; therefore, it is recommended to use more (by volume) when preparing it than one normally would for other teas.

The tea is hand picked and rolled, then withered in the sun, making it a rare tea. It is grown in the rainy and cold climate of Darjeeling at altitudes up to 2000 metres.


Darjeeling Oolong Tea

TThe oolong variant of Darjeeling tea has two distinct types: clonal and China. The China type is more similar to Taiwan oolong and the clonal type is totally different from it.

Darjeeling oolong is lighter than usual Darjeeling black tea during first flush, as it is semioxidized. The cup looks light orange and infusion remains green. Darjeeling oolong in second flush is more accepted worldwide. It is more thick in cup and dark orange in liquor with distinct muscatel flavours. The China type oolong has very rare muscatel flavour and sells somewhere around US$40–200 per kg. Clonal oolong has distinct flowery or spicy taste, so is not as well accepted as Darjeeling oolong worldwide.

Not all Darjeeling gardens are qualified to produce Darjeeling oolong; only those with the following conditions are capable of making it:

1. Altitudes 3000 ft above sea level are required.

2. Old China bush (Chesima) concentration should cover at least 40% of total tea-growing area.

3. Clonal type (AV II) is required – at least 25% at high altitude. (Like the Tingling Division Of Singbulli Tea Estate)

4. Average temperatures should remain between 5 and 20 °C throughout the season.

Lower elevation gardens can produce teas of similar appearance, but the flavour differs greatly from the main characteristics of oolong tea.

Darjeeling oolong teas are made from finely plucked leaves, usually two leaves and a bud, and are sometimes withered naturally in sun and air. The withered leaves get hand-rolled and pan-fired at certain temperatures. This can also be done in machine: withered in trough, lightly rolled in a rolling machine and fired at 220 °C in a quality dryer with faster run-through, depending on the leaves used.


Grades

When Darjeeling teas are sold, they are graded by size and quality. The grades fall into four basic groups: whole leaf, broken leaf, fannings, and dust.

Whole leaf

• SFTGFOP: Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe indicates it contains many tips and is long and wiry in appearance. The liquors are lighter in colour.

• FTGFOP: Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe

• TGFOP: Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe Broken leaf consists of small tea leaves or pieces of large leaves.

• FTGBOP: Fine Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe

• TGBOP: Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe

• FBOP: Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe

• BOP: Broken Orange Pekoe

Fannings consists of even smaller leaf sizes than the brokens.

• GFOF: Golden Flowery Orange Fannings

• GOF: Golden Orange Fannings

Dust, the lowest grade, consists of small pieces of tea leaves and tea dust.

• D: Dust

S. Souchong - A twisted leaf picked from the bottom of the tea bush. China produces this grade used in their smokey teas. Broken Leaf teas produce a darker cup and infuse faster than whole leaf teas.

P. Pekoe - A wiry, large broken leaf usually without golden tips. Sri Lanka produces large amounts of Pekoe. B.O.P. Broken Orange Pekoe - A small, flat broken leaf with medium body.


Origin and History

ea plants are native to East and South Asia, and probably originated around the meeting points of the lands of north Burma and southwest China. Statistical cluster analysis, chromosome number, easy hybridization, and various types of intermediate hybrids and spontaneous polyploids indicate that likely a single place of origin exists for Camellia sinensis, an area including the northern part of Burma, and Yunnan and Sichuan provinces of China. Tea drinking likely began during the Shang Dynasty in China, when it was used for medicinal purposes. It is believed that, soon after, "for the first time, people began to boil tea leaves for consumption into a concentrated liquid without the addition of other leaves or herbs, thereby using tea as a bitter yet stimulating drink, rather than as a medicinal concoction."

Chinese legends attribute the invention of tea to Shennong in 2737 BC. A Chinese inventor was the first person to invent a tea shredder. The first recorded drinking of tea is in China, with the earliest records of tea consumption dating to the 10th century BC. Another early credible record of tea drinking dates to the third century AD, in a medical text by Hua Tuo, who stated, "to drink bitter t'u constantly makes one think better." Another early reference to tea is found in a letter written by the Qin Dynasty general Liu Kun. It was already a common drink during the Qin Dynasty (third century BC) and became widely popular during the Tang Dynasty, when it was spread to Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. In India, it has been drunk for medicinal purposes for a long but uncertain period, but apart from the Himalayan region seems not to have been used as a beverage until the British introduced Chinese tea there.

Tea was first introduced to Portuguese priests and merchants in China during the 16th century, at which time it was termed chá. The first record in English is from Peter Mundy an East India Company agent writing to Macao requesting "the best sort of chaw" in 1615. In 1750, tea experts travelled from China to the Azores, and planted tea, along with jasmine and mallow, to give it aroma and distinction. Both green and black tea continue to grow on the islands, which are the main suppliers to continental Portugal. Catherine of Braganza, wife of King Charles II of England, took the tea habit to Great Britain around 1660 when it was tasted by Samuel Pepys, but tea was not widely consumed in Britain until the 18th century, and remained expensive until the latter part of that period. Tea smuggling during the 18th century led to Britain’s masses being able to afford and consume tea, and its importance eventually influenced the Boston Tea Party. The British government eventually eradicated the tax on tea, thereby eliminating the smuggling trade by 1785. In Britain and Ireland, tea had become an everyday beverage for all levels of society by the late 19th century, but at first it was consumed as a luxury item on special occasions, such as religious festivals, wakes, and domestic work gatherings such as quiltings. The price in Europe fell steadily during the 19th century, especially after Indian tea began to arrive in large quantities.

The first European to successfully transplant tea to the Himalayas, Robert Fortune, was sent by the East India Company on a mission to China in 1848 to bring the tea plant back to Great Britain. He began his journey in high secrecy as his mission occurred in the lull between the Anglo-Chinese First Opium War (1839–1842) and Second Opium War (1856–1860), at a time when westerners were not held in high regard.

Tea was introduced into India by the British, in an attempt to break the Chinese monopoly on it. The British brought Chinese seeds into Northeast India, but the plants failed; they later discovered that a different variety of tea was endemic to Assam and the northeast region of India and that it was used by local tribes. Using the Chinese planting and cultivation techniques, the British launched a tea industry by offering land in Assam to any European who agreed to cultivate it for export. Tea was originally consumed only by anglicized Indians; it became widely popular in India in the 1950s because of a successful advertising campaign by the India Tea Board.

Types of Tea

Tea is generally divided into categories based on how it is processed. At least six different types are produced:

• White: Wilted and unoxidized

• Green: Unwilted and unoxidized

• Oolong: Wilted, bruised, and partially oxidized

• Black: Wilted, sometimes crushed, and fully oxidized (called 'red tea' in China)

The most common are white, green, oolong, and black. Some varieties, such as traditional oolong and Pu-erh, a post-fermented tea, can be used medicinally.

After picking, the leaves of C. sinensis soon begin to wilt and oxidize unless immediately dried. An enzymatic oxidation process triggered by the plant's intracellular enzymes causes the leaves to turn progressively darker as their chlorophyll breaks down and tannins are released. This darkening is stopped at a predetermined stage by heating, which deactivates the enzymes responsible. In the production of black teas, halting by heating is carried out simultaneously with drying.

Tea harvest on the eastern shores of the Black Sea, circa 1905–15

Without careful moisture and temperature control during manufacture and packaging, growth of undesired molds and bacteria may make tea unfit for consumption.

Content

Caffeine constitutes about 3% of tea's dry weight, translating to between 30 mg and 90 mg per 8-oz (250-ml) cup depending on type, brand, and brewing method.

Tea also contains small amounts of theobromine and theophylline, which are stimulants and xanthines similar to caffeine. Because of modern environmental pollution, fluoride and aluminium also sometimes occur in tea. Certain types of brick tea made from old leaves and stems have the highest levels.

Nutrients and Phytochemicals

Main article: Health effects of tea

Black and green teas contain no essential nutrients in significant content, with the exception of the dietary mineral, manganese at 0.5 mg per cup or 26% of the Daily Value. Tea leaves contain diverse polyphenols, including flavonoids, epigallocatechin gallate (commonly noted as EGCG) and other catechins.

It has been suggested that green and black tea may protect against cancer or other diseases such as obesity or Alzheimer's disease, but the compounds found in green tea have not been conclusively demonstrated to have any effect on human diseases. One human study demonstrated that regular consumption of black tea over 4-weeks had no beneficial effect in lowering blood cholesterol levels.
 

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