by Jeff Mares, Co-Owner of Infinitea Tea House
White tea, red tea, green tea, black tea, hot tea, cold tea, herbals, tisanes, blooming, bricked, flowering, spiced, Ceylon, Assam, Lapsang Souchong … There are a lot of teas out there! What does it all mean? And what are their benefits?
Let’s start with the basics: “Tea” in the traditional sense, comes from only one family of plant – Camellia sinensis. In the US, we use “tea” to describe any infusion of leaf, flower or fruit steeped in hot water. To the rest of the world this is a generalization, and the word “tea” describes only our good friend, Camellia sinensis.
Once the leaf is plucked, it can then become many different things. Primarily, we sort into different levels of oxidation (a fancy word for wilting): White & Green tea (0% Oxidation) to Oolong tea (20-70% Oxidation) to Black and Pu-Erh tea (100% Oxidation).
The Origins of Tea
As a beverage, tea is believed to be roughly 5,000 years old. The origins of the tea tree are rooted in China and India, but the origins of the beverage vary greatly. According to a common and widely accepted legend, tea was said to have been discovered by China’s mythical second emperor, Shen-Nung in 2737 BCE. One day while walking through his garden, a dead leaf from a wild tea plant fell into his cup of boiled water, turning it a brownish color. The emperor drank the tea and found he enjoyed the taste and tea was born.
Luck or Fate: The story goes that the first brewed tea occurred in 2737 BC when when Camellia sinensis leaves blew into a pot of boiling water. The accidental teameister who boiled that water, Chinese Emperor Shen Nung, concluded the new brew gave “vigor of body, contentment of mind, and determination of purpose.”
The World of Green Tea
In the world of tea, there are two major kinds of green tea, Japanese and Chinese. In Japan, tea is steamed (yes, just like in a steam bath) when it comes into the tea factory. There, it is lightly rolled and then fired. This gives the resulting beverage a rich green color and delicate flavor. In China, the majority of green tea is pan roasted instead of steamed. For this reason, Chinese green teas are less green, both in leaf color and in the cup, than their Japanese counterparts.
In my experience, green tea is the most misunderstood tea by the American audience. At our store, we often are told by patrons that green tea is the bitter/grassy tasting tea that their grandmas give them when they are sick. A few green teas are grassy (such as our Japan Sencha), but none of them, prepared correctly, are bitter.The common bitter taste associated with Green Tea comes from the naturally high level of tannins in Camellia sinensis. Tannins are a bitter and astringent plant polyphenol that causes that dry puckering of the mouth. Tannins in green tea are released only at very high temperatures (as water approaches boiling at sea level) or under long conditions of steeping (generally more than five minutes). For best results, use water that is about thirty degrees less than boiling and steep from one to five minutes.
Green Tea Apple Spice Infusion
Try this infusion to take the chill our of your day or serve it over ice when its warm. Either way it tastes great and is great for you!
Prep: 5 minutes Total: 20 minutes
Serves 4 to 6
- 4 cups water
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated cinnamon
- 1 Granny Smith apple, seeded and coarsely chopped, plus slices for serving
- 4 strips orange zest, from 1/2 an orange
- 1/3 cup loose green tea
Combine water, honey, nutmeg, cinnamon, apple, and orange zest in medium pot; bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 2 minutes. Cover, remove from heat, and let steep 15 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh sieve over the green tea leaves, pressing all the juices from the apple. Let steep for 1 minute. Strain out the tea, reheat if necessary, and serve.
What Makes Green Tea So Special? The secret of green tea lies in the fact that it is rich in polyphenols and anti-oxidants, particularly EGCG. EGCG is a powerful anti-oxidant. Besides inhibiting the growth of cancer cells, it kills cancer cells without harming healthy tissue. EGCG has also been effective in lowering LDL cholesterol levels, and inhibiting the abnormal formation of blood clots. Green tea can even help prevent tooth decay! Just as its bacteria-destroying abilities can help prevent food poisoning, it can also kill the bacteria that causes dental plaque. Also, because green teas are oxidized less than black or oolong teas, they contain less caffeine. An average green tea contains roughly 25% that of coffee. Links are also being made between the effects of drinking green tea and the “French Paradox.” For years, researchers were puzzled by the fact that, despite consuming a diet rich in fat, the French have a lower incidence of heart disease than Americans. The answer was found to lie in red wine, which contains resveratrol, a polyphenol that limits the negative effects of smoking and a fatty diet. In a 1997 study, researchers from the University of Kansas determined that EGCG is twice as powerful as resveratrol, which may explain why the rate of heart disease among Japanese men is quite low, even though approximately seventy-five percent of them are smokers.
Questions: email us at email@example.com, or stop in to our store at 112 East Grand Avenue in Downtown Eau Claire near Wells Fargo.