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What is Tea?

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February 24, 2010

Though the subtle pleasures of tea are in the moment, its history dates back across the centuries. According to legend, Emperor Shen Nung, the father of agriculture and traditional medicine in China, made the fortuitous discovery in 2737 B.C. He was sleeping under a tea plant when leaves from the plant drifted into the water he was boiling. Infused in hot water, the tea leaves released their intriguing colors and flavors. As the ever-curious Emperor sipped the fortifying beverage, it cleared his mind and focused his thoughts. Tea Mind was discovered.

Today, tea is grown far and wide, between Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. But the truly great teas of the world come mainly from China, Formosa (Taiwan), Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Japan and India. Globally, tea is second only to water as the most consumed beverage.

While the teas of the world reveal endless complexities and variations, all tea springs from just one plant species: Camellia sinensis. The five varieties of tea include: black, green, white, oolong and pu-erh. What sets these types of tea apart from one another is the human touch—the many ways in which they are processed. Nature’s will—the whims of weather, the soil, elevation and time of harvest also greatly influence the alchemy of the final tea as it steeps in the pot.

Strictly speaking, “Herb teas,” including rooibos (known as Red Tea) are not actually teas. Rather, they are naturally caffeine-free single or blended infusions of leaves, fruits, bark roots or flowers of almost any edible non-tea plant.

Each tea has its own unique character. Each will soothe, energize and delight you with its individuality.