Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Is it really tea?

Photo Credit: Wikimol
What is this thing called tea? Let’s face it, it’s a bunch of leaves thrown in some hot water.  The leaves are brewed at the right temperature to infuse the water with flavor and voila!  We have tea!  Or do we?  Many other drinks referred to as tea can be prepared the same way using flower petals, dried fruit, leaves from all sorts of plants, roots, etc.  Is it all tea?

Technically tea is derived only from the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant.  It's the different processing techniques that create the many different varieties of tea - black, green, pu-erh, oolong, et al.  The Tea Council of the United Kingdom estimates as many as 1,500 tea varieties.  Tea making, like wine making, has been refined over centuries to unlock the beautiful multi-faceted essence of the tea plant.  Processing techniques include aeration (aging in air), maceration (chopping), drying (can take 5 years), and rolling of the leaf (locks in flavor).  In addition to processing, where the tea is grown affects the varietal characteristics - flavor, color, caffeine content.

But what about the other drinks referred to as tea?  Hot drinks brewed in the style of tea, but not technically tea, are tisanes, a.k.a. “herbal teas.”   Tisanes are very popular and can be found in the tea section of any store or café.  Some are enjoyed simply for their non-caffeinated flavor, others for their reputed health benefits.

So is it really tea? You decide, but for me it doesn't really have that special "oomph" unless it's the real thing, Camellia Sinensis.


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