Tea is an aromatic infusion extracted from the dried leaves of Camellia sinensis, a member of the Theaceae family.
Tea is a beverage with very ancient origins, dating back to almost 4000 years ago, and it is one of the most consumed beverage worldwide, particularly in Asia, with an estimated per capita consumption of approximately 0.12 L/d.
Owing to its high consumption, even small effects on person’s health could have large effects on public health.
Cultivation of Camellia sinensis
Camellia sinensis is an evergreen plant, native to South, East, and Southeast Asia, which is currently cultivated in at least 30 countries, mainly in tropical or sub-tropical climates, even if some varieties grow in Cornwall, in Europe, and Washington State, in the USA.
In nature, if left undisturbed, Camellia sinensis can grow up to 15-20 meters (49-65 ft), while in plantations it is generally pruned to height less than a meter and a half, that is, like a small tree or bush, to facilitate cultivation and harvesting of the leaves.
It can also be cultivated in mountain, up to 1500-2000 meters (4900-6550 ft) above sea level. Many of the high-quality teas are produced from mountain crops, as the plant grows more slowly acquiring a better flavor.
Currently, the two most used varieties, of the four ones recognized, are:
- Camellia sinensis var. sinensis, native to China;
- Camellia sinensis var. assamica, native to India.
Processing of leaves
All the types of teas commercially available are produced from fresh leaves of the plant. During harvesting, young leaves are generally picked, as the older ones are considered to be inferior in quality.
The differences between the types of teas, e.g. green tea, oolong tea and black tea, depend on how Camellia sinensis leaves are processed after harvesting, since processing may cause a different degrees of oxidation of the substances present, in particular of catechins, a flavonoid subgroup, and the main responsibles of the benefits of green tea.
The organoleptic characteristics of the different types of tea are influenced, in addition to the processing of the leaves, even from the cultivar, the characteristics of the soil where the plant grown up, the methods of cultivation, the altitude, the climate, and the time of year in which the harvest of the leaves occurs.
How to prepare a perfect cup of tea
- Due to the sensitiveness of dried leaves, it is good to store the packaging in cool dry place, free of fragrances that may alter its aroma.
- Use fresh water and warm it to a temperature of 95-100°C for black tea, and about 90°C for green tea.
- In order not to alter flavor, it is advisable to use a ceramic or porcelain teapot, avoiding those of steel. For teapot washing, avoid detergents, preferring water plus baking soda.
- To prevent sudden changes in water temperature during the infusion, it is advisable to preheat the teapot pouring a bit of boiling water. Then, emptied the pot, add hot water (about 200-250 mL/filter)
- How many filters/g of leaves to use? Typically, a filter (about 1.5-2 g) per person, or a teaspoon of loose tea leaves per person.
If you prepare the beverage for some people, you add a filter/teaspoon more than the number of persons.
- The infusion time should not exceed 10 minutes in order to avoid the development of bitter flavors; it should be 3-4 minutes for black tea, and 2-3 minutes for green tea.
If you are using filters, you should remove them at the end of the infusion time.
Approximately 30% of the material present in the leaves is extracted in the water.
Now, it’s time to enjoy your tea.
Asil M.H., Rabiei B., Ansari R.H. Optimal fermentation time and temperature to improve biochemical composition and sensory characteristics of black tea. Aust J Crop Sci 2012;6(3):550-8.
Huang W-Y., Lin Y-R., Ho R-F., Liu H-Y., and Lin Y-S. Effects of water solutions on extracting green tea leaves. ScientificWorldJournal 2013;Article ID 368350 doi:10.1155/2013/368350
Kuhnert N. Unraveling the structure of the black tea thearubigins. Arch Biochem Biophys 2010;501(1):37-51 doi:10.1016/j.abb.2010.04.013
Li S., Lo C-Y., Pan M-H., Lai C-S. and Ho C-T. Black tea: chemical analysis and stability. Food Funct 2013;4:10-18 doi:10.1039/C2FO30093A
Menet M-C., Sang S., Yang C.S., Ho C-T., and Rosen R.T. Analysis of theaflavins and thearubigins from black tea extract by MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry. J Agric Food Chem 2004;52:2455-61 doi:10.1021/jf035427e