In this guide we will discuss the differences between the four main types of tea, explain the benefits of tea drinking and provide valuable information that will help you keep your tea drinking caffeine consumption under control.
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How Is Tea Made?
While many people believe that there are different strains of tea that determine the type of tea you purchase, this is not true. As noted, the four major popular teas all come from the Camellia Sinensis plant.
The methods used to prepare the tea determine whether it will be white, green, Oolong or black.
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Here are the steps that go into the processing of tea leaves:
- Withering: As soon as the tea leaves are picked, they are dried. This is a process that may be performed naturally in warm, dry climates or sped up with heated air in cooler, damper climes.
- Rolling: When the tea leaves are sufficiently withered, they are rolled, twisted and sometimes shaken to break up the cells in the leaves. This releases the oils in the leaves as well as the aroma.
- Oxidation: As the treated tea leaves take in oxygen, oxidation occurs. This causes a change in color in the leaves. It is at this point that the determination of the type of tea to be produced (white, green, Oolong or black) is made.
- Firing/Drying: The oxidation process is stopped by this final step which dries the leaves evenly without burning them.
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The Four Main Types Of Tea
The type of tea produced is dependent upon the extent of processing. Less processing results in a lighter colored tea while more intensive processing results in a darker tea.
White tea is made using very young leaves that are processed minimally. The immature buds and leaves used for this type of tea are distinguished by very fine silver/white hairs – hence the name.
White tea is not rolled or fired; therefore, it is not oxidized. The processing is very minimal in that the leaves are simply spread out in a controlled environment to wither and to dry on their own. The result is a lighter tea with a very delicate flavor.
The processing of green tea is very brief. Withering is done quickly if at all, and leaves are not initially rolled so there is no oxidation.
Following withering (if performed) the leaves are fired or pan fried to stop any incidental oxidation.
At this point, the leaves are rolled and dried again. They do not change color during this process, hence the name “green tea”.
Oolong tea is a slightly darker tea that goes through a full processing consisting of withering and rolling (or shaking). The oxidation process is not as lengthy as that which is used for black tea.
When the leaves turn to a reddish-brown around the edges with green remaining in the center, the process is stopped and the leaves are fired.
The temperature used for the heating processes for producing Oolong tea are quite high. This results in a very low water content and a stronger flavor than you will find in white or green tea.
Black tea is the most processed. After picking, the leaves are withered for a number of hours and then they are rolled to bring the oils to the surface of the leaves.
Following the rolling, is a lengthy oxidation process of several hours at a temperature of 200F.
After fully 80% of the moisture has been removed from the leaves they are thoroughly dried over a wood fire. The end result is a dark brown or black tea.
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Loose Leaf Tea vs Tea Bags
After processing, tea leaves are sorted and graded by size.
- Larger, whole leaves are termed “leaf grade”. These are packaged and sold as loose tea.
- Smaller and broken leaves are termed “broken grade”. These are used for teabags.
Although the quality of the tea sold as loose and bagged is the same, the process of brewing makes quite a bit of difference in the flavor of the resulting tea. Generally speaking, brewing with loose tea results in a fuller and richer flavor.
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Is Tea Good for You?
Although excessive amounts of caffeine can be bad for you, tea has many redeeming features in terms of helping you attain and maintain good health. In addition to caffeine, tea contains:
- Antioxidants that help fight free radicals and inflammation which are thought to lead to heart disease, cancer, arthritis and premature aging.
- Flavonoids which help fight against cholesterol buildup and improve the functioning of blood vessels. This helps guard against hypertension.
- Polyphenols promote healthy teeth, gums and digestive system by reducing plaque on the teeth and increasing production of digestive juices. They are also quite effective in boosting the immune system by increasing the production of white blood cells.
- Fluoride helps protect your teeth against decay and helps maintain strong bones.
- Catechins are a strong sterilizing agent which can fight against bacteria and germs and may help prevent intestinal illness.
How Much Caffeine Does Tea Contain?
A cup of tea usually has quite a bit less caffeine than a cup of coffee. Eight ounces of coffee can contain between 80 and 135 mg of caffeine depending upon the strength of the brew. Caffeine levels for tea generally range between 30 mg and 60 mg per cup.
Determining the amount of caffeine in tea is not an exact science because no comprehensive studies have been conducted. The studies that have been conducted tend to vary quite wildly in their results.
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One thing that has been determined is that darker teas do not generally contain more caffeine than lighter teas. In fact, one study published in the Journal Of Food and Science indicated that of the teas tested, white tea contains the most caffeine.
This may be explained by the fact that caffeine in plants is actually a natural insect repellent. It is more concentrated in the younger, more tender leaves of the plant.
Remember that white tea is made of the immature buds and leaves of the plant; therefore, it is very likely to contain high concentrations of caffeine.
Another reason that light teas may actually contain more caffeine than dark teas is that roasting can have a minimizing effect upon caffeine. For this reason, darker teas that are more intensively processed and roasted at higher temperatures may actually contain less caffeine than lighter teas.
You should also be aware that tea contains a component called L-theanine which interacts with caffeine. This component allows small doses of caffeine to produce strong effects in boosting your alertness and sense of concentration.
For this reason, some types of tea that contain relatively small amounts of caffeine may have a very strong caffeine-like effect.
Although all tea comes from the Camellia Sinensis plant, there are a number of different horticultural varieties of this plant. The cultivar of the type of tea can affect the amount of caffeine present.
Caffeine From Brewing
Your brewing method and the amount of water you use can also affect the amount of caffeine in your tea.
If you brew at higher temperatures for longer periods of time, you will extract more caffeine from the leaves.
If you brew using more water and less tea, for a shorter period of time your tea will naturally contain less caffeine.
The History Of Tea
Next to water, tea is the world’s most popular beverage. It may surprise you to know that all true teas are derived from the Camellia Sinensis plant which hails from Africa and Asia.
Tea was first enjoyed in China as long ago as ten centuries BC. From there, it spread throughout Asia where it was “discovered” by the Portuguese in the 16th century.
Tea became a major trade good, and spread quickly throughout the Western world. Legend has it that it was introduced to the United Kingdom by King Charles II’s Portuguese consort, Catherine of Braganza. By the 1800s, tea drinking was all the rage with the British upper classes.
It didn’t take long for this delightful pastime to spread throughout all levels of English society to become an important aspect of British culture. Today, tea is thought of as the “national beverage” of Britain.
In addition to the benefits of tea, drinking tea is a good way to consume more liquids. Good hydration is absolutely essential to overall good health, and adding tea to your daily diet is an enjoyable way to help stay well hydrated.