The second most consumed beverage in the world after water, tea is made by steeping the processed leaves of the tea bush (Camellia sinensis) in hot water. Served hot or iced, the slightly bitter and astringent beverage is sometimes flavored with sugar, lemon, milk, honey or jam. It's a favorite for breakfast and quite elegant in the afternoon served with cucumber sandwiches, madeleines and scones with Devonshire cream.
Originally from China, legend has it that tea was first discovered by
3rd-century BC emperor (and herbalist) Shen Nung. While pruning his
camellia shrubs one day, he saw a leaf fall into a nearby pot of hot water.
It quickly turned the water brown, releasing a most pleasant aroma.
VarietiesThere are more than 3,000 varieties of tea, each with its own special characteristics. Like wine, many are named for the region where they are grown, with the climate and soil conditions determining the leaves' unique flavors. After harvesting, teas are processed into one of four main types:
This tea is made by allowing the leaves to wither, ferment and dry. The result is a reddish-brown brew that is generally more assertive than green, oolong and white teas. The flavors of black tea vary, but some of the more popular include English Breakfast (a fine black tea blend often served with lemon or milk) and Darjeeling (an Indian tea reserved for the afternoon).
Green tea is produced from leaves that are steamed and dried, but not fermented. The more delicate greenish-yellow has a slightly bitter taste that's closer to the fresh leaf. Well-known green teas include Matcha (traditionally used for tea ceremonies in Japan) and Gunpowder (tiny balls with a pungent, smoky flavor).
This tea is withered, partially fermented and dried. Its aroma, color and flavor are described as a cross between black and green teas. Sometimes referred to as "the champagne of tea," the highest grade oolong (Formosa Oolong) is grown in Taiwan. This tea has such clarity and fruity taste, it is not served with lemon, milk or sugar.
Very lightly fermented, this is the least processed of all the teas. Quite rare and expensive, this Chinese tea has a faint silvery color and a mellow, sweet taste that's most appreciated by connoisseurs.
Note: Herb teas are not true teas, as they are not made from tea-shrub leaves, but an infusion of various herbs, flowers and spices (known as a tisane). Some common ingredients are chamomile, hibiscus and mint.