All types of teas are made from the plant Camellia sinensis that belongs to the Theaceae family. In Latin, sinensis means Chinese and this is no wonder since the plant originated in Mainland China and South East Asia but is now also cultivated in tropical and sub-tropical regions and a cultivated version also exists in order to grow it commercially from anywhere. Camellia sinensis is a small tree usually kept trimmed to reach a height of 2m, it has white yellow flowers, leaves of 4 to 15cm long and it grows naturally in high altitude from 1000m to 2500m. The seeds of camellia sinensis are used to produce tea oil (not to confuse with tea tree oil), which is an oil used for culinary purposes much like olive oil and that has naturally occurring vitamin E, unsaturated fats and antioxidants. The tea oil is also used in the manufacturing of cosmetics (soaps, hair products).
The dried leaves of camellia sinensis are used to make tea and depending on the age of the leaves, the quality of the tea varies as their chemical composition changes. The altitude at which the plant grows plays also a big role and tea leaves grown at higher altitudes give the tea a much better flavor. Soils and harvesting and processes are as much as important since these factors will contribute to producing the various types of teas we know such as black tea, green tea, white tea, pu-erh tea or oolong tea, all having a different oxidation.
Organic black tea: Black tea is darker in color because it is more oxidized due to the fact that the leaves are dried longer, withered, fully fermented, and fired. The used leaves are usually more mature leaves. The best quality black teas are rarely exported unless fair trade deals have been made with the growers so always read the label and favor fair trade products.
Organic oolong tea: Oolong tea is also made with mature leaves that are withered, semi-fermented, panfired and dried. The cooking of the leaves is typically made over charcoal, giving the tea its characteristic taste.
Organic pu-erh tea: Pu-erh tea is made with matures leaves that are withered and go through a special fermentation process that darken the leaves and change their flavor over time, just like a good wine.
Organic green tea: Green tea uses mature leaves that are withered, steamed or panfired and dried.
Organic white tea: White tea uses young leaves that are only steamed and dried.
These types of teas are divided in sub-categories resulting in a variety of more than 2000 teas. Then, we can also find beverages made from botanicals or herbs and these are often wrongly referred to as “herbal teas”; wrongly because all teas come from the Camellia sinesis plant so that a beverage made of chamomile flowers is not a tea but a tisane or an herbal infusion.
Organic tea health benefits
People have been drinking tea for more than 5000 years and for a reason. Tea is rich in phytochemicals that are chemicals naturally present in plants, some of which are beneficial for health. Tea contains antioxidants (flavanoids and polyphenol types) that may reduce the risk of cardio-vascular disease and cancers. Tea can also help fight bad cholesterol and boost the immune system and it contains fluoride that is beneficial to the teeth and bad breath. Tea is however rich in caffeine and green teas, white teas and all teas contain more or less the same amount of it. The caffeine content is found in the fresh tea leaves (4% of caffeine) so the way the tea is processed does not drastically influence the amount of caffeine although black tea is the most caffeinated of all teas. Black tea contains 4g of caffeine per serving, oolong tea 30g, green tea 20g and white tea 15g. Black tea is also more oxidized and because of the way it is processed (fully fermented, fired and dried), it looses some of the effect of the polyphenol content while green tea is only withered, steamed and dried, and white tea only steamed and dried, keeping fully their health properties.
However, it is important when you chose a tea to chose it right. Indeed, the tea plant is today commercially grown and therefore is sprayed with chemicals that inevitably end up in your cup of tea. Also, what is better, a tea bag or loose tea leaves? The loose tea leaves are derived from the full tea leaves or broken leaves but from the best part of the leave. Meanwhile, tea bags usually contain the fannings or the dust of the leaves, basically the worse part. Tea bags are convenient but they are not as high quality as full tea leaves. The same applies for herbal infusions.
Regardless of the type of tea you prefer, chose an organic loose leaves tea that has been grown in non-contaminated soils and that has not gone through a chemical treatment such as pesticides or herbicides spray. As always, read the label when you buy organic products because of the marketing scams. Don’t forget that where you prepare your tea is also important not to boil the leaves. Bring the water to boiling and once off the cooker, throw 2 to 4 grams of leaves and let it infuse for a few minutes. If in a hurry and you want to pour the boiling water on the leaves, you should first dip them in cold water so that the tea will keep all its good properties.