what exactly is tea?
It’s common knowledge that tea is a globally celebrated beverage created by infusing leaves into hot water. It’s the second most consumed beverage in the world, just behind water. But, what is it?
Tea leaves are deliberately plucked leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant. All of the thousands of variations of tea derive from this one plant. Think about wine - all wine comes from grapes. Tea is just the same - all tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant. Pure, whole leaf, handcrafted tea fluctuates with the seasons (again, like wine). Therefore, the same tea from the same location can taste different year to year depending on many factors, such as the weather and rainfall. The Camellia sinensis plant is native to Asia but has been introduced into numerous countries across the globe for the cultivation of tea. Since its origin, the Camellia sinensis plant has evolved into two main varieties: the Camellia Sinensis Sinensis variety, found mostly in China and other regions of Asia; and the Camellia sinensis assamica variety, located on the Indian Subcontinent.
There is some debate on how to categorize tea, with different names and classifications used across different tea cultures. Since at OneTea we are crossing many cultural boundaries, we’ve decided to break tea down into these six main categories: Green, White, Oolong (Wu Long), Black (Red), Pu'Er (Fermented), and Herbal. Although herbal teas do not contain any Camellia sinensis leaves, we use it as a category since many cultures have tea made from dried fruits, herbs or flowers. So, even though these are not ‘true’ teas by a connoisseur's standard - they are considered tea in many cultures.
What Makes Tea Different?
Each category of tea has its unique qualities, from liquor color to leaf appearance to taste. Theoretically, we can take any tea leaf and make it into any category of tea - but, the three main pillars make all of the differences:
Varietal: Different varieties of tea have different characteristics. Similar to the difference between a Pinot Noir and a Merlot; or a Gala apple and a Granny Smith apple. Today there are over 3,000 cultivars of tea in the world, each producing its characteristics.
Terroir: Where tea grows has a significant impact on the final product. Taste and aroma changes depending on a variety of terroir specific factors, such as elevation, soil, climate, rainfall, and surrounding vegetation. It’s the same concept that we see in other industries like coffee and wine. Terroir also has much cultural significance in many countries. Specific locations hold a higher value than other because of historical importance.
Craftsmanship: Processing is a significant indicator of the flavor and aroma: from the decisions of when the harvest is plucked, to techniques used and a crafter’s ability all play a role. Each country, and even more specifically, each region has a history of crafting style and specialties that make each tea unique.