• Second Opinion Magazine

A Brief History of Tea

by Amber Erickson Gabbey

All tea, shockingly, comes from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. But from that one plant come thousands of varieties to choose from. Tea is the second most common drink worldwide, only behind water, but if you don’t know what you’re looking at, tea shopping can be a stressful experience.

All varieties of tea boil down to five basic categories: black, white, green, and oolong. The fifth, not really a tea at all, is herbal. Making different teas from the same plant is the result of production, including the part of the leaf used and how the leaves are heated and cooled. This production process turns one single plant into teas that, when steeped, vary greatly in flavor, color, caffeine, aroma, and benefits.

From the medicinal perspective, tea has long been considered beneficial (with the science to back it up) for weight loss, preventing cancer, and preventing heart disease. The main benefit in tea comes from the antioxidants, which work to find and destroy cancer cells. Green tea, specifically, is considered a natural solution to reduce blood pressure, improve oral health, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Now, let’s break down these five kinds of tea to further explain. Note, the market these days includes a lot of blends—either different types of tea, or tea leaves with flowers, other plants, or fruits.

Black tea has a characteristic dark color and when steeped, a high caffeine count compared to other teas. Black teas can have a quite strong and pronounced flavor. Black teas are best steeped under boiling water for several minutes. These teas are often served with milk and sugar. Here are a few common kinds of black tea:

• English Breakfast • arl Grey (black tea with bergamot oil) • Chai Tea • Pekoe • Darjeeling • Irish Breakfast

White tea has a characteristic softness, from production to flavor. White teas are made from minimally processed young shoots from the tea plant and steep to a light color. White teas are commonly mixed with fruit and flowers, like jasmine, peach, melon, or lavender.

Green tea has a characteristic yellow-green hue and a soft, earthy flavor. But don’t let that fool you; green teas can be intensely flavorful. To steep green teas, pour hot (but not boiling) water over the leaves and let sit for up to three minutes. Be careful not to over-steep green teas. Here are a few common kinds of green tea:

• Gyokuro • Longjing • Bi Luo Chun • Sencha • Matcha

Oolong tea is most known for being less strong than a black tea but more robust than a green. This is the tea you are drinking in Chinese restaurants that you may think is black tea. The characteristic flavor and scent profile of oolong is flowers or fruits, and many other styles, like Darjeeling, Earl Grey, and Assam, can be made into an oolong style. Steep oolong in hot (not boiling) water for up to ten minutes.

Herbal tea is not really a tea after all. This type isn’t made from the leaves of the tea leaf and contains no caffeine. Herbal tea is made with naturally caffeine-free plants, flowers, and fruits. Some common herbal tea (also called herbal infusion) flavors include chamomile, peppermint, echinacea, ginseng, hibiscus, lemon, ginger, raspberry, nettles, rosehips, tulsi, etc.

If you love tea but find yourself going back to the same kinds, use this opportunity to try something new. If you like green tea, try white or herbal. If you like black teas, try an oolong, or try something totally outside your comfort zone. There are thousands of tea varieties and blends on store shelves right now. Have fun with it.

Some of Our Favorite Tea …


Mighty Leaf Tea supports the fostering of long-term prosperity for artisans and their communities locally, regionally and globally in tea-growing regions through monetary program support. We also promote and encourage sustainable farming and production methods for tea-growing regions around the world through corporate partnerships and sourcing practices. More at Mightyleaf.com

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Herbal tea works with the body in an all-natural way to promote balance and good health. Almost any herbal leaves and roots can be made into tea.

Every blend of Urbal Tea is designed to assist in the healing, nourishing and preserving of the entire human body. All of the herbs contain numerous vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and each blend targets a different ailment or need. Meant to be enjoyed every day, Urbal Teas provide a bounty of nourishing herbal infusions to benefit the entire body and soul. A local Milwaukee, Wisconsin company – much more at urbalhealth.com

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Numi’s SAVORY TEA combines real organic vegetables, wild herbs, decaf tea and aromatic spices for a satisfying experience. Inspired by recipes from around the world, these satiating veggie-spice-tea blends are rich in flavor, yet light enough to enjoy any time of day. It’s not quite a soup, but more than a tea. Enjoy a comforting cup of garden goodness one savory sip at a time!

Numi inspires well-being of mind, body and spirit through the simple art of tea. Our company is rooted in the principle of creating a healthful product that nurtures people and honors the planet. In all of our company initiatives, we strive to foster a healthy, thriving global community while bringing you the purest, best-tasting organic tea. Much more at numitea.com

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It is not only the Harney mission to deliver quality tea products to their customers, but also to educate the world of tea history and taste. Whether through their dedicated customer service team, their published guides to tea drinking, or their two tea tasting shops, the Harney & Sons team works to pass on their passion of tea to a wide audience. From lugging heavy tea filled chests down their basement stairs, to stocking shelves at Targets nationwide, Harney & Sons remains committed to delivering their customers a superior tea drinking experience. More at harney.com

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Rishi Tea has imported premium organic tea under strict European Union Organic standards since 1999. We were among the first to earn organic certification and at the forefront in the advancement of Fair Trade Certified tea, becoming one of the highest payers of social premiums from the sale of fair trade tea. The fair trade projects we have established, as well as those we partner with, directly support a better life for the tea-farming families and their communities.  Much more at rishi-tea.com

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