Simply defined, tea is a brewed beverage made from the leaves of Camellia sinensis plant, a warm-weather evergreen shrub native to both China and India.
Tea has too much history to be simple
Tea has been cultivated for at least 1500 years, and in that time has spread throughout the world. Hundreds of different cultures have taken their own approaches to picking, preserving, and serving tea. For millions of people around the world, tea is a cultural touchstone, a daily devotion to relaxation and community. It has launched a million ships, encouraged global trade, and fueled revolutions both intellectual and political.
The humble tea plant
When left alone in the wild, the Camellia sinensis can grow quite tall – up to 30 feet or more. But for the cultivation of tea leaves, the bushes are kept trimmed for easier harvesting. A typical tea bush produces around 3,000 tea leaves per year.
Tea varieties and flavors
Tea, like wine, always comes from the same species. It is in the way in which the tea is harvested and processed which makes it a black, green, or white tea, for example. “Red” teas and herbal teas, meanwhile, are actually not tea at all. Rather they are simply herbs, fruits or spices – often called “tisanes” or “infusions”. (Mind blown, right?)
Tea can be dried, aged, fermented, powdered, baked, and smoked. It can be flavored with essences that run from fruit to fungus, and with herbs, spices, and the petals of flowers. Tea and its herbal cousins are considered healthful tonics and remedies the world over, in ancient agrarian villages and in modern medical laboratories.