What really is tea?

What really is tea?

I'm sure we've all drank a hot mug of tea at some point in our lives - lukewarm milk tinged faintly brown by tea, black and piping hot poured straight from the pot or some other combination of the two…


The tea plant (Camellia sinensis) is pictured up close to show in detail what the leaf looks like and the top two leaves and the bud which are commonly harvested.

But, what really is tea? 

Tea is an aromatic drink that is made by infusing fresh or processed tea leaves in hot water. In the traditional sense, to be considered a tea, the leaf must come from the tea plant, Camellia sinensis. And all traditional teas stem from this same plant - black, green, white, oolong and Pu-erh.


Tea mainly contains essential oils which give it its flavour and aroma, polyphenols which give it its astringency and also carry health benefits as well as caffeine which is a natural energy booster.


Other teas, such as chamomile, peppermint and herbal infusions are not really tea. To be a true tea, they must contain the tea plant. Rather they are called tisanes.


Did you know that tea is the most consumed drink in the world only second to water?



And where does tea come from?


The tea plant is an evergreen shrub native to Asia.

There are two main varieties:

  • Camellia sinensis sinensis - a smaller leaf variety native to China that tolerates cold weather well.

  • Camellia sinensis assamica - a variety that is native to the Assam region of India and thrives well in tropical areas and low elevation geographies.

Two women are chest deep in rows of evergreen bushes. These bushes are the tea plant (Camellia sinensis) and the two women are harvesting the leaves via the plucking method ready for processing. One women is wearing a basket on a strap over her shoulder in which the picked leaves are being placed.

However, now, tea is grown in many regions across the world, including here in Australia.


Tea grows best in loose, deep soil and is often planted on steep slopes of high altitude in sub-tropical climates. These bushes are typically harvested by hand as machinery is unable to safely be used. On the other hand, large scale production that uses machinery for harvesting sees tea bushes grown on flat, lowland areas.


There are two main ways that teas are produced - Orthodox and Unorthodox methods.


Orthodox tea production involves a combination of traditional methods as well as the utilisation of modern machinery to mimic the way things were originally done by hand. Unorthodox tea production is a faster style of production that was specifically created for black tea. The most common type is called CTC (or crush-tear-curl) and is primarily used in creating tea bags. This is because the process creates teas that will brew very quickly and produce a bold, strong cup of tea. This is definitely something that I can elaborate on in future posts if there is interest. The way that the tea leaves are processed determines the type of tea that is produced.


Did you know that approximately 4000 tea leaves are required to make one kilogram of tea?

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