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Very popular in countries like Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, Mate teas are derived from the South American yerba mate plant. The caffeine content is the same as coffee so the drink is referred to as the 'feel good drink' At the plantations, the leaves and stems of yerba mate are harvested, dried, aged, and finally milled or cut. The result is placed in a gourd, water added and the infusion is drunk through a type of straw that filters out the leaves and debris, called a bombilla.
Pronounced roy-boss, and sometimes called ‘Red Bush Tea,” this plant grows only in Cederberg, South Africa. Though not a true tea, it has gained popularity for its nutty flavor, high amount of antioxidants, and its lack of caffeine. Rooibos flavors well, and is refreshing iced or hot. From the same region, Honeybush is a sister plant to rooibos and has a similar flavor, with a honey-like sweetness. Both lend themselves well to mixing with other herbals to create a wonderful brew.
Tea from Yunnan Province was often shipped north via sea and then along the Silk Road. While riding in boats, the humid air caused a chemical reaction in the dried tea leaves causing them to ferment. People found that the fermented leaves had a wonderfully aroma and began forming them into bricks for ease of travel. There are two types: Raw (green, sheng) and Ripe (red or black, shue). The teas improve with age and have a long shelf life, the older the cake, the more valuable it becomes.
Oolong, which means Black Dragon, is unique in that it combines green tea's finishing techniques and black tea’s oxidation. Most of this type of teas’ leaves is green in the middle and red near the edges. It is picked later in the season to ensure that the leaves are larger, which makes them durable enough for the rigors of processing. The later picking also allows the leaves to have more aromatic oils which are brought out by the processing techniques, especially oxidation.
Traditionally, only the buds are used to produce white tea. Silver Needles (or Yin Zen) tea is still produced that way and considered the best in the world. Other varieties come from the same bush – Great White Tea Bush – but may now include buds as well as top two leaves. The buds are covered in silver down and need to be prepared very carefully or the flavor may not be to your liking.
Sought by tea lovers around the world, this tea is virtually impossible to find outside of China. Harvested in Spring when the leaves are in bud form, the damp leaves and buds are dried in a slower drying phase and then are wrapped in special paper and placed in wooden boxes. Green tea has been passed off as yellow tea because of the demand, since it’s so rare.
Green tea is known to have been around since 2737 B.C. and has the largest number of varieties, each with its own unique flavor and aroma. When picking the tea, great importance is placed on the leaves chosen. The best tea leaves or leaves and buds are picked during the spring. It is quickly steamed, roasted or pan-fired to preserve the freshness in China, whereas in Japan, the leaves are steam-pressed, pan fired or sun dried. Green tea can become bitter if steeped too long or at too hot a temperature.
(red tea in China)
Black Tea (red tea in China)
A heavily oxidized tea, its name (red tea) derived from the reddish copper tint of its leaves and bright red coloring of its liquid. It is not known when the tea was first produced, but it has been found in records dating back to the Ming Dynasty. Originating in Fujian Province, it has grown to be the most widely produced and drunk tea in the world. Chinese teas and Western teas are very different in aroma and flavor; the most common of Western teas being Earl Grey which typically use tea leaves from India and English Breakfast which is a blend from Sri Lanka (Ceylon) and India; as well as China. London received its first shipment of black tea in 1645 after Queen Elizabeth I started the East India Shipping company in 1599.