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The Wonderful World of Tea: The Basics

Published: December 12, 2009

I used to think that tea was only for people who eat crumpets all day and speak with silly British accents and/or those who enjoy the company of six-year olds, teddy bears, and imaginary friends. Seeing as I am not even sure what a crumpet is, and am not anywhere close to six-years old, I figured that tea was not for me. However, as time progressed, I realized that I was very wrong. It is tasty, it warms me up like nothing else on a cold day, provides a multitude of health benefits, and it gives me caffeine without any jitters. I am writing this four part series so Post readers might gain the same love for tea that I have found. Lets start with the basics-

Camellia Sinensis is the tea plant.

There are two major types of the Camellia plant, Chinese and Indian. Tea native to China grows at higher elevations, yields smaller leaves, has less caffeine, and is often used to make green tea. Indian tea is grown at lower elevations, produces larger leaves, has more caffeine, and is often used for black tea. Chinese and Indian teas are sometimes crossbred into hybrids.

The Processing of Camellia determines what type of tea it will become. First, the plant leaves are harvested. They are then withered, or laid out to dry. Then, the leaves are rolled. The rolling method crushes the plant cells and releases enzymes. Cutting and crushing is sometimes used as an alternative to rolling. Afterwards, enzymes released from the plant cells react with air in a  process called fermentation or, more accurately, oxidation. This fermentation process is halted by the final step of tea processing-firing. Depending on what type of tea, the firing process is done by steaming, roasting, or pan-frying.

Herbal Teas (or Tisanes) are beverages that are prepared in a manner similar to tea but do not come from Camellia sinensis. We use the word “tea” for anything that is steeped in hot water and consumed  as a beverage, but, if it does not come from the tea plant, it should really be called a tisane. “Herbal tea,” less accurate term, is more commonly used to classify this “other” category. Tisanes can be made from virtually anything.

Marta, a Post employee, offered to share her own tasty herbal tea recipe. This beverage, which uses ground cinnamon sticks, rosemary, and honey, has traditionally been used in Hispanic culture to  fight the common cold.

Cinnamon Rosemary Tisane (Herbal Tea) Recipe

“You drink this everyday, you never get sick,” says Marta.

Ingredients:

  • Roughly 1-1/2 Cinnamon Sticks
  • 1 Tbsp. Rosemary
  • 48 Oz. filtered water
  • Honey (Optional)

Crack the cinnamon sticks by hand, and put in water (more or less cinnamon can be used to your liking). Cover the water and bring to a boil. Continue to boil for about 15 minutes; the water should become a dark reddish brown color. Add rosemary and turn stove off. Let it sit for about 10 minutes, and then strain it into teacup(s). Add honey to taste. Yields 4 12 oz. cups.

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  • Don Bowen

    Being born in England and growing up there until migrating to Australia I am thrilled that someone is in love with tea drinking as much as I am. In recent years I have drunk less Indian and more Green Tea (often with Jasmine). In Sydney we have lots of Japanese and Chinese shops specialising in a whole range of teas including the Tisanes (such as drunk by Marta).
    I’m looking forward to the rest of the articles on this topic.