An introduction to the tea plant

What is tea?

Most people incorrectly think tea is any beverage made by steeping plant matter in water. But to be considered true tea, what’s being steeped must come from an evergreen plant called Camellia Sinensis - the tea plant. Any other plant material steeped in hot water (i.e., chamomile, peppermint, lemongrass, etc) is technically called a tisane or herbal tea. Simply put, if it isn’t from the Camellia Sinensis plant, it’s not tea. 

If all tea comes from one plant, you may wonder why there are so many different kinds of tea on the market today? The answer lies in how the tea is processed. Distinct types of tea such as white, green, oolong, black and puerh arise from how and where the plant is grown, which part of the leaf is harvested and in which season, and the processing steps after harvest. 

Let’s explore each one separately.

White Tea 

White tea is the least processed tea. The tea leaves are picked, withered for several days and then dried. During the withering process (tea left out to dry), the leaves oxidise slightly and the aroma and flavour volatiles develop. This gives white tea a more fragrant aroma than green tea. 

The style of white tea depends on what combination of leaves and buds are picked and the plant’s terroir (environment of the tea plant like altitude or soil variables). White teas are typically picked in the first few weeks of Spring and once picked they are not rolled or shaped so the dried structure remains natural.

One of the white teas we use is called Silver Needles. It’s an ensemble of fresh tea buds that are picked early Spring. To protect itself over winter, the tea has a soft silvery down covering it and this signature texture remains even after it is dried. The tea has a natural sweetness thanks to the natural sugars contained in the bud as it prepares to open itself a full bud set. The bud is also packed with antioxidants. It takes approx. 10,000 buds to make one kilogram of Silver Needles. To make this tea, the buds are withered in the shade for several days and then moved into the sun to dry if the weather permits. Otherwise they are oven baked until dry. We use white tea in our Silver Rose tea blend alongside other organic botanicals to accentuate its delicate, sweet, and floral qualities. 

white tea spoon

 

Green Tea

Green tea is made of freshly grown tea leaves that are plucked, immediately heated (steamed or pan fried) and dried. The goal of green tea production is to preserve the natural polyphenols in the leaves by preventing oxidation. Heat stops oxidation (i.e., the tea leaves from going brown) and different parts of the world have their own unique process when it comes to heat. China typically pan fries the green tea before drying and rolling it into shape. This gives their green tea a fresh, grassy, and vegetal aroma. Japan prefers to use steam giving their tea a more umami and marine flavour profile. 

We work with specific farms to source our green teas and have curated a selection to celebrate the varied and nuanced flavour profiles in green tea. Our Sencha is grown in Victoria, Australia, using traditional Japanese methods. That is, the fresh tea leaves are steamed, rolled, and dried resulting in dark green needle-shaped finished tea leaves with a vibrant vegetal liquor. Our Genmaicha is a blend of Sencha and roasted rice to give the tea a unique toasted profile.  

Our Gyokuro comes straight from a boutique tea farm in Uji, Japan where the tea leaves are shaded for three weeks before being harvested. This shading process increases the concentration of amino acids in the leaves. The health benefits of Gyokuro are well researched and the flavour is less astringent and more sweet-salty (due to a decrease in the concentration of polyphenols in the green tea leaves).

Our Jasmine Pearl Tea come from a boutique farm in China where the tea leaves are plucked and rolled into a perfect pearl by hand. To naturally scent the green tea with jasmine, the tea masters place freshly picked jasmine flowers over the green tea leaves overnight. The jasmine flowers slowly release their aroma and this is absorbed by the green tea. The next morning the jasmine flowers are carefully removed and the process is repeated 5 nights in a row producing the highest grade of Jasmine Pearls (also known as Buddha's Tears) available. 

Our Moroccan Mint Green Tea blend is a mix of pan fried Chinese green tea with peppermint and spearmint. This combines the freshness of mint with the vegetal sweetness of green tea to makes this tea a refreshing drink hot or iced. 

three types of green tea

 

Brewing green tea

When it comes to steeping green tea, lower temperatures must be used (between 70 - 80 degrees). Using boiling water can burn the tea leaf producing an astringent, bitter, and dry taste. The tea leaves must also be removed from the water after approximately 2 minutes to avoid over extraction and bitter tastes. If brewed correctly, the flavour of green tea should be pleasantly sweet and vegetal. 

Benefits of green tea. Is green tea healthy? 

In short, yes. For the research and reasoning see health section below. 

Oolong Tea

Oolong tea leaves are partially oxidised (that is; the browning of the tea leaves). The oxidation range varies from 15% - 80%. Oolongs close to the former range are lighter and greener in flavour with the latter producing a darker and full bodied flavour. 

While you may often hear oolong described as being ‘in between green and black tea’ it is more complicated than this. A key distinct step that separates oolong from other categories of tea is the bruising step (also called rattling or shaking). The leaves are shaken, lightly rolled, or tumbled until the tea leaf edges bruise. This bruising causes cellular damage and initiates the oxidation process. The process happens repeatedly until the desired level of oxidation is achieved. Then the leaves are heated to stop further oxidation, shaped, and dried. 

To make Oolong, the large mature tea leaves are plucked which is why oolongs can be steeped many times. The leaves are tightly rolled into balls, however, as hot water expands the tea leaves you notice that it begins to unfurl and it takes many steeps for the oolong to fully open up. 

Oolong tea tends to be a lot more full-bodied than green teas, and often carry light, floral aromas; sometimes not dissimilar to orchids. The liquor is usually pale yellow, green or golden in colour.

Our High Mountain Oolong is sourced from a high altitude boutique tea farm in the Dong Ding mountains of Taiwan. The half ball shaped Oolong is lightly oxidised and roasted to produce a flowery, aromatic, and velvety cup of tea. Traditionally used as a digestive tea (to be enjoyed after a heavy lunch or dinner), this tea is celebrated for its fresh and clear properties. 

oolong tea

Black Tea

The basic process for making black tea from fresh tea leaves is to wither, roll, oxidate, and dry the tea leaves. The goal of black tea production is to induce and control oxidation (the browning of the tea leaves) until the desired level of oxidation is achieved. 

Black tea is the most produced tea type in the world. Different countries have their own specific method of black tea production whether that be drying black tea in an oven, on perforated trays, or outdoors in the sun. 

For our black breakfast tea, we have chosen to source straight from a family run tea estate from the Kandy region of Sri Lanka. The high country where this tea is grown (tea grown above 1200m above sea level) makes this tea renowned for its exquisite flavour and aroma. The high altitude means the tea can be grown in a wild habitat with limited pesticides and chemicals. 

Alongside a 4th generation tea master, our team designed a breakfast tea suited to the Australian palette. Full bodied enough to work well with milk yet delicate and biscuity enough to allow for straight infusions. 

three types of black tea

Puerh Tea (or Fermented Tea) 

The fermented tea category known as Puerh Tea is perhaps the least understood tea in the West. The intentional breakdown of substances by bacteria, yeasts or other microorganisms is usually initiated by one or a combination of the following methods: 

  1. Indigenous microorganisms in the raw material initiate it
  2. A small amount of fermented tea leaves are mixed to the unfermented tea leaves
  3. Starter cultures are added to the raw material

To process Puerh, you typically use the same method for black or green tea and then stack the tea in mounds while it is still moist. The air is kept warm, and the enzymes and bacteria will begin the fermentation process. When this is complete the tea gains an earthy flavour and a sweet musky aroma. 

Puerh is a full-bodied tea that naturally improves with age, just as a good wine would. The Chinese believe that Puerh has powerful digestive properties and that it may also lower cholesterol and assist with healthy weight management. 

China is the largest producer of fermented teas in the world. Fermented teas can be aged for years or decades and can become a collectors item worth tens of thousands of dollars. 

We use Puerh in our Monk’s Garden blend. The earthy sweetness of the Puerh is blended with coconut flakes and cinnamon for a deliciously balanced tea blend.

puerh tea

Physical health benefits of tea

While most of us know that ‘tea is good for us’ the details rest in the complex and amazing chemistry of the tea leaf. Tea leaves contain hundreds of chemicals which change as the leaf is dried and exposed to oxygen. 

The main catechin researched when it comes to Green Tea being ‘healthy’ is Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). Studies show that EGCG can have potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and neuroprotective properties. 

Tea also contains enzymes, pigments, carbohydrates and minerals. Enzymes make tea leaves go black, like a cut apple, once plucked and can be switched “off” by heating the leaf as we do to produce green tea. Pigments are responsible for the colour of the leaves, the primary one is the green pigment in plants called chlorophylls and carotenoids. There are tiny amounts of carbohydrates and up to 28 minerals, mainly fluoride, manganese, arsenic, nickel, selenium, iodine, aluminium and potassium. 

A 2021 study published in the journal Ageing found that the polyphenols found in green tea are ‘pro-oxidants’. The research shows that while pro-oxidants initially increase a person’s oxidative stress, it actually improves the body’s defensive capabilities leading to improved fitness and longevity. 

(For the research papers see the bottom of this article). 

Psychological health benefits of tea

Teas grown in the shade and in lower-sunlight areas have higher amino acids. There are many types of amino acids but the most abundant one in tea is called L-Theanine that boosts alpha brain wave activity creating a sense of calm and relaxation. It boosts serotonin and dopamine in your brain which help to regulate mood, focus, energy, appetite and cognitive skills. 

Furthermore, tea has been shown to be good for your mind. The process of slowing down and making a cup of tea can be a mindful experience that allows you to purposely focus attention on the present moment. Mindfulness practice has been found to be a key element in stress reduction, overall joy, and happiness. 

Research References

Anticancer effects and molecular mechanisms of epigallocatechin-3-gallate. By Kyoung-jin Min⁎ and Taeg Kyu Kwon

Cancer preventive and therapeutic effects of EGCG, the major polyphenol in green tea. By Islam Radyab, Hadir Mohameda, Mohamad RadybImtiaz, A.Siddiquia Hasan Mukhtara

Epigallocatechin-gallate (EGCG) is an antioxidant that accumulates within the mitochondria of neurons and decreases apoptosis of neurons undergoing oxidative stress.83. From: Integrative Medicine (Fourth Edition), 2018

200 mg of Zen L-Theanine Boosts Alpha Waves, Promotes Alert Relaxation by Russ Mason M.S.

What You Need to Know About L-theanine by Michael J Breus Ph.D.

Yong-Su Zhen, “Tea: Bioactivity and Therapeutic Potential,” (London: Taylor & Francis, 2002).

‘A great mind can attend to little things, but a little mind cannot attend to great things'

Lydia Maria Child