Most people have a very vague idea about what tea is. We tend to think of it as pretty much any brewed botanical beverage that isn’t coffee. However, the classical and more historic definition of tea is more specific. Purists see tea as any caffeinated beverage made using the leaves of the plant known as Camellia sinensis, or the tea plant.
The tea plant, which can be a tree or bush, comes in three varieties. The first is the sinensis variant, known as the Chinese tea plant. Next is the assamica variant, or the Indian tea plant. The third variant is the cambodiensis variant, the less visually appealing cousin of the first two often used in hybridization to create new cultivars, sub-varieties which have their own individual characteristics. Each of these cultivars will have unique properties which will come to bear in the final product when the leaves are harvested and processed. The same cultivar grown in different places can still produce different flavour profiles, however due to a phenomenon known as terroir which we’ll cover another week.
The types of drinks we serve that fall into these categories are (from lightest to darkest) white, green, oolong, black, and pu-erh teas (also topics of discussion for later weeks.) Generally speaking, the darker the tea, the more caffeine and less antioxidants it has. That being said, even the darkest of teas (generally pu-erh teas) are packed with antioxidants so they’re still great for the body.
Noncaffeinated beverages brewed with herbs are classified as tisanes and can produce amazing, delicious, refreshing beverages. They just aren’t considered teas. Yerba maté, by contrast, is caffeinated but not tea.
We hope this was informative and please feel free to comment or ask us questions below.