Tea is often known as the ‘secret’ to good health. Also termed as cha, legend has it that tea was first discovered in ancient China when a light breeze blew a tea leaf from a nearby tea bush into Emperor Shen Nong’s cup of hot water.
Today, tea is the second most popular drink in the world. Enjoyed by millions from east to west, drinking tea has also evolved into a hobby. Tea enthusiasts spend their free time collecting various types of tea leaves from around the world and dedicate their time to exploring different tea brewing techniques and new ways of enjoying the brew.
THE SCIENCE BEHIND TEA
The tea plant, scientifically known as Thea Sinensis belongs to the Camellia Sinensis family. Tea plants grow in abundance especially in tropical climates such as India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia.
The best altitude for a tea plantation is between 4000 to 6000 feet above sea level. The temperature at this altitude slows down the growth of tea leaves, which enhances the flavour of the tea.
TYPES OF TEA
The word ‘tea’ is widely used for infusions from plants or fruits. However, tea enthusiasts would most likely agree that green tea, white tea, oolong tea and black tea are the ‘real thing’ meaning they are made from tea leaves derived from Camellia Sinensis. Most teas are made from the same type of plant and the processing method of the tea leaves is what differentiates one type of tea from another. If you’re keen on diving into the varied world of tea, it is best to understand the terminology used in ‘tea language’.
Green tea is known to have the highest concentration of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which has medicinal properties. Green tea leaves are essentially unfermented leaves, which are steamed to prevent them from oxidising. The tea undergoes minimal processing and is a popular choice due to its many health properties. Antioxidants contained in green tea are believed to improve cholesterol levels and burn fat.
Made out of tea leaves and buds, white tea got its name due to the fine white hair that can be detected on the tea buds. White tea is also made from unfermented tea leaves but what makes it different from green tea is that instead of steaming, the leaves are left to dry naturally under the sun with minimal processing.
Oolong tea is a combination of green tea and black tea. This type of tea is semi-fermented and full of flavour. It also offers great health benefits and helps to lower cholesterol levels. The taste of oolong tea depends on the fermentation method and can range from sweet or fruity to slightly bitter.
Consumed as traditional tea in the west, black tea undergoes the entire process of tea fermentation. In other words, black tea is the most oxidised form of all teas. Withering, rolling, fermentation and drying is what these tea leaves are put through to bring out the strong flavour. Types of black tea in the market include Earl Grey Tea and English Breakfast Tea.
Besides tea leaves plucked from Camellia Sinensis, there are also other natural infusions such as flowers, seeds or fruits which are categorised as ‘herbal tea’.
Chamomile is a popular choice of herbal tea known for its soothing, calming effects as well as its ability to prevent complications caused by diabetes.
Peppermint tea is perfect for a hot day or to soothe dry throat while Echinacea is believed to help fight the common cold.
THE BENEFITS OF TEA
The medicinal properties and benefits of tea have been praised for centuries and have been widely researched. These benefits include:
(i) Calming effects
(ii) Reduction of blood sugar levels
(iii) Increased immunity
(iv) Prevention of heart diseases and cancer
(v) Heightened mental alertness
(vi) Fat burning properties
BREWING THE PERFECT CUPPA
For an eight ounce cup of tea (about 240ml), it is recommended that you use one or two teaspoons of tea leaves. Tea quality, water temperature and infusion time are the 3 essential secrets to a perfect cuppa.
Scientist from the University of Northrumbria recommend drinking the tea six minutes after brewing.
Green tea 3-4 minutes
Black tea 3 minutes
Oolong tea 3-6 minutes
White tea 7-9 minutes
Also, do not stir the tea while brewing and for the perfect taste, tea should be consumed without adding sugar or milk.