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Tea 101: A Trip Down the Tea Rabbit Hole

January is a time of new starts. With the new year comes resolutions to change, hopefully for the better. One simple change that you can make is to drink more tea! Yes, tea! The lovely drink made from a leaf. The second most consumed liquid in the world (after water and before beer).

People have been drinking tea for nearly all of recorded history for the delicious flavor and aroma and the feelings of alertness that the minimal amount of caffeine found in tea can provide. Compared to the shot of caffeine in coffee, which can give you a quick burst but fade away just as quickly, tea tends to provide a longer lasting sense of sustained energy, making it perfect for afternoon grogginess.

Cup of TeaDid you know that all tea is derived from one single plant species, the Camellia sinensis? The leaves of this plant are grown, treated and processed throughout the world to provide all the varied styles and flavors of tea that we know about.

How does one single plant wind up tasting so distinctive depending on the style you purchase? Why does a green tea stay green while a Darjeeling is a dark brown, almost black? Many factors, such as the climate and altitude at which the tea is grown, and the amount of moisture, can contribute to the flavors of tea. But at the end of the day, it IS the same plant, so what causes such differences in colors and tastes?

What many people don’t know about tea is that a key ingredient is OXIDATION. This is process where oxygen is introduced to a compound, causing it to undergo changes in its molecular structure. For our purposes, oxidation is what causes new, green tea leaves to mature into darker, more flavorful teas over time. In a sense, oxidation is one of the most important elements of tea processing.

Green tea is generally the least oxidized. These teas are picked early in the growing season and the leaves are flash frozen to preserve the color and delicate flavor. Because the leaves are left almost untreated, green tea is known for its delicate flavor and refreshing taste. Green tea is also known to contain some of the highest levels of beneficial compounds found in tea. Try our Japanese sencha tea, which is lightly steamed to give it a rich, full flavor without too strong a body.

Oolong teais known for being lightly oxidized, although there are variations and some are more oxidized than others. These leaves are generally processed by rolling them into small balls to induce more oxidation quickly. Oolong teas have some of the most varied flavors and aromas in the tea world, and can range from an almost buttery richness to mellow and sweet. Our favorite right now is Wu Yi oolong from China, which has a rich flavor and aroma with a smooth finish.

Black teais the most highly oxidized of the teas, and is known for the dark color of the leaves. These are the kinds of teas that are the most well known in Great Britain, with its famous mid-afternoon tea time. As these teas are fully oxidized, they are known mostly for their full body and flavors, as well as a richness that fills your mouth completely when you have a cup. Popular examples include Darjeeling from India, known for its richness and full body, and the famous Earl Grey tea, flavored with a hint of bergamot.

White tea is a bit like green tea in that it is made up of the freshest tea leaves, although in the case of white tea it is the youngest tea stems and buds that are picked. This gives white tea a pleasingly fruity flavor and extremely light body that is quite delicious. Our most popular white tea is White Peony, a light tea with a bright, fruit like flavor that tastes like spring.

Tisanes are any kind of tea-like product derived from plants other than Camellia senensis, such as chamomile tea. While prepared and enjoyed the same as traditional tea, these are derived from other plants and are therefore classified as their own distinctive category of tea. Many people enjoy tisanes for their distinct flavors and calming effects. Red teas are similarly derived from rooibos, an African herb known for its health properties.

As you can tell, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the many varieties of tea available in the world. Fairway Market’s selection of the best packaged and loose leaf tea is a great place to begin your own journey into the fascinating world of tea! Check out the great teas we have available online, too.

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