Distribution of Tea Consumption in the 20th Century

At the end of the 19th century some significant changes were taking place in tea drinking habits. In England there was a dramatic shift from buying tea of Chinese origin to buying tea from British owned plantations in India, Ceylon and Africa. This also led to an increase in tea drinking at the source, in India, and the birth of Masala Chai. Meanwhile in America the drive for convenience which characterised the 20th century created many new innovations such as iced tea and the tea bag which have today become the main modes of preparing tea. In America over 80% of all tea drunk is iced while almost 96% of British tea consumed is in tea bag form.

In Britain tea was ubiquitously consumed by all levels of society at breakfast and an occasion in fashionable circles of high society in the afternoon. As the industrial revolution progressed it became part of the main meal of the day which shifted from midday to the evening as the long factory shifts or the new school day made it less convenient to have a hot meal at lunch time. It was even suggested that tea facilitated the industrial revolution since the stimulants in tea combined with sugary snacks that were served in the afternoon tea breaks gave workers the energy they needed to complete the working day. As the tea in Britain changed from being 90% purchased from China in 1870 to 10% in 1900 with the rest coming from British owned colonies in India (50%) and Ceylon (33%) so did the traits of the English industrial revolution travel to India. Despite being an indigenous plant, tea consumption in India remained relatively low until the British owned Indian Tea Association begun an aggressive promotional campaign in the early 20th century encouraging tea breaks for factory, mine and textile mill workers. Being a British campaign it promoted tea in the English way, with small amounts of milk and sugar. Independent vendors then started to improvise, greatly increasing the proportions of milk and sugar and adding other spices to create an entirely new form of tea known as masala chai. This form of tea was initially frowned upon by the Indian Tea Association who were upset that the extra ingredients meant they were using less tea leaves per liquid volume but its unique taste has established itself not just as a popular beverage in India but spreading throughout South Asia and across the world.

Meanwhile in America some new and important innovations were taking place. The first of these would dramatically change the tea drinking habits of America. During the hot summer of 1904 Richard Blechynden, the Indian Tea Commissioner and Director of the East India Pavilion at the World Fair in St. Louis found customers were shunning his product because of the heat. It is said that in desperation he iced the tea and fair-goers suddenly welcomed the cool brew. Iced tea was certainly known of in America before this time, being made into alcoholic tea punches since the mid 19th century, and Blechynden probably heard of it from previous years at the fair where it was served on most restaurants menus, but he was the first to commercialise the product when he later took his equipment to New York City and offered free iced tea to shoppers at Bloomingdale Brothers Department Store. This set the trend for America’s tea drinking habits as almost all tea drunk in America today is now in iced form. Since it can take a long time to create requiring either cooling the hot tea or up to an hour infusing at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator, iced tea is often served ready made in bottles like a soft drink or occasionally from concentrate. Since its popularisation in America iced tea has spread around the world taking on many local styles, especially in hot countries.

The second development from America that would revolutionise the tea industry was the invention of the tea bag. Although designs were patented since 1903 the first recorded use of tea bags comes from New York tea importer Thomas Sullivan. His invention was accidental as he only intended to send small samples to potential customers in hand sewn silk muslin bags to be removed and brewed. Many of his customers did not realise this and brewed the tea in the bags. When they placed larger orders they were disappointed that the tea did not come in the small sacks. He heard their complaints and quickly invented some gauze sacks that could be machine sewn in larger numbers and begun the first tea bag industry. These immediately took hold in the convenience orientated culture of America but the English were more reserved about changing their tea habits. There were often horror stories from America about being served a cup of tepid water accompanied by a tea bag on the side for dipping and tea was a far too important affair for the British to risk their time tested traditions with new inventions. In fact tea was so important to the British that in both World Wars the government took control of stocks and protected reserves in case they were destroyed by military action. Even so tea had to be rationed during World War II and the tea bag only really took hold in the 1950s when tea rationing finally ended.

Tetley drove the first tea bags into the UK market in 1953. At first cautious, the convenience of the tea bag has slowly taken hold of English consumers. In the 1960s only 3% of the English tea market was tea bags, by 2007 almost 96% of all tea sold in Britain was in bagged form. This is in part due to some impressive marketing drives and innovations on the design of tea bags in the last few decades including the pyramid shape introduced by Lipton and PG Tips in 1996. This overcame the concerns of many tea aficionados that regular flat tea bags did not give enough room for the tea to expand and the water to circulate. The use of tea bags also enabled modern processing equipment such as the “cut, tear, curl” or CTC machines to be used to produce bag grade tea quickly. Designed in 1930 by W. McKertcher, these machines spread in popularity throughout African and Indian tea plantations in the 1950s to 1970s as tea bags rose in popularity. Even some high quality teas would be processed this way and put into bags as the drive for convenience over tradition influenced even connoisseurs of fine tea. Today 80% of all tea from India is processed in the CTC method including some from the Darjeeling region, often considered to be the champagne of teas.

It is thanks to the advancements in technology of the 20th century that tea has become an ubiquitous aspect of almost every culture around the world. From its origins as a drink mainly enjoyed by the Chinese, Japanese and British it has spread to the Americas in the form of iced tea, across the Indian subcontinent in the form of chai and caught on around the world. As the modern age demanded more convenience, innovations like the tea bag caught on to ensure that even in a busy office a cup of tea is easily available. Today, as we enter the 21st century a new trend is emerging: a revival of fine teas in both Europe and America. People are becoming more interested in the origins of their drink and of the different varieties available. Even traditional serving methods are being explored where time and cost permits and other tea-like infusions such as rooibos and mate are being investigated by people who would never have heard of these 20 years ago. Tea might have reached every corner of the globe and every strata of society but people are still finding new ways to enjoy this ancient beverage.

History of Tea Cultivation and Processing

Tea is an evergreen plant, camellia sinensis, that grows wild in tropical climates and is indigenous to both China and India. It needs heavy rainfall of at least 100cm per year but deep, light, acidic, well drained soil. Providing these conditions are met it can grow up to 2100ft above sea level. Although there is reference to drinking tea far back into China’s history, these are vague and not differentiated from other leaves boiled in water until 350CE when it acquires it own character. The first people to drink tea are mentioned as hillmen in south west China who would pick the leaves from the wild and boil them fresh to make a bitter, medicinal brew. It was around this time that the first plants were most likely cultivated and since then the methods of cultivation and preparation have changed dramatically to produce the drink we know today.

The first thorough description we have of early Chinese tea cultivation methods come from the Ch’a Ching, the Classic of Tea, written by Lu Yu around 760 CE during the Tang dynasty. By this time tea had already become a significant plant in Chinese culture, having been processed into blocks and traded with Turkish merchants along the Mongolian border for around 200 years, but the methods used are unknown or inferred to be prototype versions of those outlined by the Ch’a Ching. Lu Yu was an orphan who was raised in a temple where tea was grown and probably spent many hours in tea fields. He turned against his spiritual upbringing and left the temple to become an entertainer, then a government official before returning to his roots, becoming a scholar on tea and making implicit suggestions that tea was more than just a beverage but a spiritual practice as well.

Lu Yu’s early descriptions of tea production list the 8 tea producing regions of Tang dynasty China together with their gradings and quality comparisons from each. He also lists the ancient tools and techniques used for picking, firing and storing tea that give us our first insights into methods of tea processing. The first of these is the “ying” (籯), a simple bamboo basket, between 2-6 litres in capacity for collecting freshly picked tea leaves on a sunny day. It had to have have good ventilation to keep the leaves cool and prevent the oxidation process. Next was the “zao” (灶), a stove for burning logs, without a smokestack on which would be placed on a “fu” (釜), a kind of cauldron or kettle made of iron, copper or clay with a lip to prevent smoke from getting into the leaves from the stove. The leaves would be placed on top of this in a wood or clay steamer with a bamboo slat called a “zeng” (甑). A little water would be added to the zengto provide continuous steam and the leaves spread out using a three pronged fork allowing them to cool and keep the juices from escaping.

After steaming the leaves were crushed in a pestle, called a “wu jiu” (忤臼) or a “dui” (碓), that should be well seasoned by frequent use, and then pressed into cakes using a mould known as a “gui” (规), “mo” (模) or “juan” (桊) that could be square, circular or in fancy geometric shapes. The pressing would be done on a table called a “cheng” (承) made of stone or wood and covered with a “chan” (檐), a tablecloth to collect dropped leaves. Stone cheng were preferred for stability although wooden tables were acceptable if they had their legs half buried in the soil to ensure a steady work surface.

Once the cake was made it had to be dried in a sieve called a “bi li” (芘莉) around a meter wide. When it was partially dry a “qi” (棨), a small cutter with a wooden handle, was used to poke holes in the compressed cakes and bamboo strips called “pu” (扑) or “bian” (鞭) were threaded through the holes and used to suspend several tea cakes like a string. Finally came the firing process, where the cakes were transferred onto skewers called “guan” (贯) and mounted on wooden shelves or “peng” (棚) over over an underground fire pit called a “pei” (焙) where the leaves were fired. The peng had two shelves and the tea would start on the lower one before being moved up higher for final drying.

The last tools mentioned by Lu Yu were for the buyer and seller, a “chuan” (穿), a string like material for measuring quantity whose actual measure varied from region to region, and a “yu” (育) meaning cultivator that was a wooden warming cupboard with bamboo shelving and a small flame at the bottom used for people living in the wet regions to keep their tea dry during rainy seasons. It would then be boiled up in salted spring water, sometimes with additional flavouring from orange peel, jujube berries, onions, ginger or peppermint but never with milk or sugar and served in glazed cups or bowls.

In the Song dynasty (960 – 1279CE) every aspect of tea was further refined. Harvests became carefully regulated affairs with specific days chosen to harvest the leaves at their peak by young girls who had to keep their fingernails at a length where they could pick the leaves without them touching the skin. They worked to the rhythm of a cymbal or drum: picking, sorting into grades and pressing into cakes. The highest grades would be sent to the emperor as tribute and could be priceless while the grades immediately underneath would be worth several pieces of gold. During this time a new style of preparing “whipped” tea came into fashion causing the equipment and methods to change accordingly. In this second school of tea the leaves were ground into fine powder in a small stone mill and hot water poured onto the powder, left to brew and then whipped until it formed a frothy head. This method is still popular in Japan, as it was during this period that tea was reintroduced to Japan by a Zen Buddhist monk that had been studying in China, and the Japanese tea ceremony was born. Salt and all other traditional additives were done away with completely as the Song emperors wanted to taste the natural delicacy of the tea. The only remaining additive was some flowers such as jasmine creating the first flower teas and the first practices of ageing.

After the Songs, the Mongol Yuan dynasty took over and tea fell out of favour with the new court but it enjoyed a revival with the return of the Chinese Ming dynasty (1368-1644) who sought to revive all things Chinese, including tea. It was during this period that the fermentation techniques used to make black and oolong teas were developed. This is achieved by leaving the leaves out to oxidise before drying and is thought to have been discovered by accident although it is also possible that they were deliberately created through experimentation by the emperors tea gardens. These enabled tea to be subdivided into six different groups: green, oolong, black, white, compress and flower scent tea depending on its colour or processing procedure.

Another significant change in the production of tea during this time was the popularisation of loose leaf tea after compressed cakes fell out of fashion. In 1391 Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang issued a decree that loose leaf tea should paid as tribute instead of cakes in order to combat corruption in the tea trade. Tea cakes were frequently used as currency in China and the emperor wanted to make it less currency ready so it was not so easy to counterfeit. This would both protect the economy and preserve the taste of tea from being mixed with other leaves and spices in order to extend its value. With it came a change in the methods of picking and brewing tea. Now only tender leaves from flushing buds were used and infused into heated spring water. It was considered to be a simpler, more natural technique and bring out the true flavour of the tea. Along with these new methods a new age of innovation in tea culture was born. One of these innovations was the teapot, made of zisha, or purple clay, which slowly evolved out of the bowls used for drinking powdered tea and into the forms we are familiar with.

The Qing dynasty (1636-1911) sees tea production settle down to the form most like we know today. By now tea has nine major stages that vary only slightly for each type. First the leaves are picked during early spring and early summer or late spring before being left to wilt and oxidise under the sun or in a breezy room until they reach the correct moisture level. Next they may be bruised by tumbling in baskets or being kneaded or rolled over by heavy wheels to aid further oxidation before being left in a climate controlled room until they reach the desired level of darkness. This happens as the chlorophyll in the leaves is enzymatically broken down and the tannins are released or transformed. The level of oxidation varies according to the type of tea being made, from 5-40% in lighter oolongs, 60-70% in darker oolongs and 100% in black tea. White and green teas are not oxidised at all and skip the bruising and oxidation stages. Next the tea is fixated through a method called “shaqing” (殺青) that literally translates to kill-green. This is accomplished by moderately heating the tea leaves, traditionally panned in a wok or steamed but also more recently by baking in a rolling drum, in order to deactivate the oxidative enzymes without destroying the flavour of the tea. Some white teas and modern black teas combine this process with drying. Yellow teas then undergo a sweltering phase where the warm and damp leaves from the kill-green process are lightly heated in a closed container causing them to turn yellow. Then they are rolled into wrinkled strips and may be turned into spirals, balls, cones or other elaborate shapes before finally being dried, usually by baking, but also panning, sunning or air drying. Now it is ready to be sold. Some speciality teas such as puerh or flavoured and scented tea are aged further, with secondary fermentation, baking, or being sprayed with aromas or flavourings before being dried again. All these processes have to be carefully controlled to prevent fungus growing on the warm, damp tea which will render it unfit for consumption.

It is around this time that tea first becomes available in Europe and soon British pioneers begin to search for ways to cultivate the crop in Empire controlled countries. Initially tea was almost exclusively bought from China. The East India Company’s monopoly on goods from the east made this a lucrative deal for both sides, providing the Chinese with a stable export and the East India Company with a guaranteed quality product but it was a bad deal for the British consumers at home and they soon realised this when they compared London’s tea prices to America and Australia which were enjoying free trade relations with China. It was partially due to this merciless fleecing of the English public that the East India Company’s trading functions were abolished in 1834 and the commanders of the British colonies in India were quick to look for alternative cheaper sources of tea without having the depend on the Chinese.

India proved to be a fertile ground which already had its own indigenous wild variety of camellia sinensis rumoured to be growing in the jungles of Assam. A man named Charles Bruce found some of these plants, had them identified as a species of camellia sinensis, but different from the Chinese variety. He returned to the jungle and found some of these plants growing wild, cleared the area around them and allowed them to grow. By 1838 he had harvested his first crop and shipped 12 chests of Assam tea to London. The novelty proved a success and the Assam Company was formed recruiting planters to immigrate to India and begin plantations. This was no easy journey with a 6 month voyage to Calcutta, followed by a twenty to thirty day trip up the Brahmaputra river and then a elephant ride through the jungle to the plantation where accommodation was just simple huts with little or no furniture, but the promise of easy success ensured plenty of volunteers.

Unfortunately the secrets of producing a truly great tea was still in the hands of the Chinese. The task of uncovering these secrets fell to Robert Fortune, a Scottish botanist, who disguised himself as a Chinese merchant and travelled around the empire with Chinese friends in 1848, visiting factories and plantations, buying seeds forbidden to be sold to outsiders by the Chinese government and sometimes even making notes from his sedan chair as he passed by. He brought these seeds and seedlings back to India using Wardian cases, small portable greenhouses, and introduced them to a new plantation of camellia sinensis founded by a Dr. Campbell in Darjeeling. Darjeeling proved to be a much better ground for breeding Chinese tea which did not fare well in the lowland jungles of Assam. This region has produced some of the finest Indian teas and is often considered to be for tea what the champagne region of France is for wine.

The British drive to find new lands to grow tea continued into Ceylon, modern day Sri Lanka. Coffee had been grown on this island since 1830 and was firmly established as the worlds finest but in the late 1860s a disease called “coffee rust” struck the plantations and decimated them. Thus when a Scotsman called James Taylor cleared and planted 21 acres of tea on Loolecondra Estate no one could have guessed how important his actions were. Tea quickly supplanted the ailing coffee crop and became the largest export of Ceylon upon which the country has relied upon through several changes in state and one change in name.

Another element that the west introduced to tea cultivation and processing was the use of industrial machinery, modern scientific techniques and technological innovations to the preparation and sale of tea. One of the most significant of these was the tea bag and accompanying the tea bag came a new method of processing called “crush, tear, curl”, also known as “cut, tear, curl” or CTC for short. This method was invented by W. McKertcher in 1930 and involves passing the leaves through a series of cylindrical rollers with hundreds of sharp teeth that crush, tear and curl the tea instead of the traditional rolling. This technique gives a quick and colourful brew that is well suited to tea bags and spread throughout India and Africa in the 1950s through 1970s. Today this makes up 80% of the Indian domestic market, especially in the export markets to major brands of tea bag manufacturers and for use in masala chai where the rich red-brown colour will come through the white of the milk.

The convenience of tea bags has continued to keep tea as the number one drink in the world and now even high grade teas are processed using the modern CTC method as people want quality and convenience combined, but there has also been a resurgence in traditional tea manufacturing methods including the ancient styles of bricks and powdered tea as well as the familiar loose leaf forms. This is probably due to the effects of globalisation and the information revolution of the internet. Today people are becoming more aware of the different styles of drinking tea that have happened around the world and throughout time. They are interested to find new and exciting ways to enjoy their favourite drink. Internet shops allow them to purchase varieties of tea that they may not find in their local supermarket and as the culture grows the major brands are forced to respond. Increasingly we are seeing some of the popular brands sell loose leaf versions and specialist shops appearing on our streets offering teas of all grades and processing styles to meet the demand.

History of the Tea Industry in the World

Tea has been cultivated in China since at least the 10th Century BC with legends going back even further but despite being so important to the economy that it was even used as currency, it was not until it started to gain worldwide appreciation that it could truly be said to become an industry. Traditionally it was a laborious process and often in poorly accessible regions but as technology changed and interest grew it begun to be cultivated more intensively and shipped abroad. As world politics changed, partly driven by the demand for tea, it was in the interests of colonial powers to cultivate their own crops instead of relying on the Chinese. This caused plantations to emerge in India and Sri Lanka until by the 20th century India supplanted China as the largest exporter of tea in the world.

Tea has had an important economic place in Chinese history. The first recorded evidence of tea having any a commercial value is in the writing of Wang Bo in 59 BC, who wrote instructions on how to buy and prepare tea, implying that it was on sale by this time. Before then it had a long history of medicinal use which had gradually evolved into an important part of the Chinese diet but was probably largely cultivated on personal plots of land or picked in the wild. By 760, when the Book of Tea was written by Lu Yu, it was evidently an organised industry with specific cultivation, processing and preparation methods which varied according to regions and styles. Around this time it was so important to the Chinese economy that leaves were pressed into bricks and used as currency in areas far away from the centre of the empire where coins lost their value. During the 13th century the modern process of roasting and crumbling tea leaves was developed instead of the traditional method of steaming, allowing for the production of most modern types of loose leaf tea. But just as tea was enjoying a golden age the Chinese empire fell to the control of the Mongols who did not appreciate the drink and it fell into steep decline until the emergence of the Ming dynasty in 1368. From here tea enjoyed a renaissance and the familiar forms of green, black and oolong tea were developed. With the technology for tea cultivation and processing now firmly in place it just needed a larger audience to turn into an international industry. The opportunity for this came with European traders who introduced tea to Europe during the 17th century.

Although Portuguese settlers at a trading port in Macau described drinking “cha” none of them seemed to have brought any home until 1606 when the Dutch East India Company sent a shipment to Holland where it quickly spread throughout Europe. By 1636 it was known in France and appeared in German apothecaries by 1657. England was actually of the last countries to be introduced to tea, with the first adverts appearing in coffee houses in 1658, and may have remained a small market if not for the marriage of King Charles II to Catherine of Braganza. Catherine was a Portuguese princess and a great lover of tea. When she arrived in England in 1662 it is said that she asked for a cup of tea but there was none anywhere in the royal court. Instead she was given a glass of ale but did not find this so refreshing and requested some tea be ordered for her. A case of 2lbs 2oz was sent as part of her dowry which arrived in 1664 and she soon set about changing the attitudes of the English nobility, convincing them to order 100lbs more in the same year. From here tea becomes such a popular product for the English that the government begins to tax it heavily. In 1689 it reached 25p in the pound and almost stopped sales, so in 1692 it is reduced to 5p in the pound which allows the tea trade to flourish in its new market. Tea taxation was finally abolished completely as late as 1964 in the UK.

In 1679 the first London Tea Auction was held by the East India Company, who held a monopoly on goods from India and China, starting a tradition that would last over 300 years. They were held quarterly with tea being sold “by the candle”, meaning that the auction would last the duration of a candle and when the flame went out the sale was ended. At first tea was sold as part of a much larger auction on all goods from the East but by the early 18th century tea had become so popular in England that tea auctions were held on their own. Stable trade relations had been reached with the Chinese at Canton and tea was being regularly imported to Britain increasing the frequency of the tea auctions until by the mid-19th century they were being held weekly and were by all accounts something of a riotous affair. This tradition would continue up to the end of the 20th century with the last London tea auction being held in 1998.

When the East India Company finally had its trading functions abolished in 1834, tea became a free trade commodity and this generated an interest in finding cheaper ways to cultivate tea. This same year the first proposal to grow tea in India was submitted by the Governor-General of India Lord William Bentinck who appointed a commission to research its feasibility. They issued a circular which was responded to by Major F. Jenkins, Commissioner of Assam, who made a strong case for the use of his district for the cultivation of tea. Included in his response were specimens of local plants growing wild in the area which were forwarded to the Government Botanical Gardens in Calcutta and identified as a variety of tea. In the following year the first Indian garden crop is cultivated and two years after that a locally grown sample shipment acquires its first market in India. In 1839, just five years after the initial proposal, the Assam Company is organised in London and sells 10,000 shares at £50 each. It is enough to buy two thirds of the experimental gardens in Assam and appoint local management from Carr, Tagore & Co., the first biracial enterprise in India. After Assam other areas of India were to follow suit. Chinese Yunnan and Keemun teas were introduced to Darjeeling in 1856 where some of the worlds finest teas were developed. In 1859 the Assam gardens expanded to cover the adjoining Brahmaputra River Valley, employing vast numbers of coolies for their work and necessitating legal intervention to enforce regularised lengths of contracts, determined rates of pay and health measures to protect the labour force from exploitation.

In addition to these new plantations transport was also getting quicker and easier with the invention of the clipper. The clipper was a fast and slender ship with up to 35 sails on 6 tiers that earned their name by the way they ‘clipped off’ the miles. The first true tea clipper was the Rainbow, designed by John W. Griffiths and launched in 1845, which managed to travel from New York to Canton in 102 days, more than 2 weeks faster than the previous record! When British Navigation Laws were repealed allowing American ships to carry tea from China to Britain for the first time, the British merchants were horrified to find out that the first American ship, the Oriental, to arrive at West India Dock in London on 3rd December 1850 had completed its journey from Hong Kong in just 97 days, three times faster than the British ships. They resolved to build their own clippers to rival the Americans and the first British clipper, the Stornaway, was built in Aberdeen in 1850. Initially the British ships were still not as fast and powerful as the Americans until the British ship owner Richard Green built the Challenger, with the stated intention of beating the Americans. She left Canton in 1852, fully laden with tea, at the same time as an older but greatly admired American ship amid much excitement. Large sums of money were bet on who would arrive in London first and the Challenger assured herself a place in history when she beat her American rival by two days.

These races came to be hotly anticipated affairs with the crews awarded a bonus if they came first. Markers were set up around the route to watch out for the ships and telegram news of their arrival to London. When they would arrive at the docks there would be cheering crowds waiting to greet them. The greatest of these events happened in 1866 when 10 clippers left Fouchow on 28th May. Of the ten, four were serious competitors for the first prize: the Taeping, the Fiery Cross, the Serica and the Ariel. They were so closely matched that they were often in sight of each other throughout the journey. In London the nation was watching and betting huge sums of money on the outcome while on the ships the crews of the Fiery Cross and Serica had wagered a month’s pay against each other. On 29th August the four were dead level at the Azores, but as they entered the Channel the Taeping and the Ariel pulled away. The two reached the Thames estuary neck and neck and it was only by virtue of choosing a faster tug to pull it up the Thames that the Taeping came in 20 minutes faster. In the English tradition of fair play it was declared a draw and the prize was split between the two vessels. The Serica docked a few hours after and the Fiery Cross two days later. For a race that lasted 99 days this is an amazingly close finish.

Another important development around this time was the cultivation of tea in Sri Lanka, called Ceylon at the time. The first plantations were set up by James Taylor in 1867 where it quickly became the main export of the country after its former export, coffee, was wiped out in a fungal epidemic during 1869. Ceylon is still known today as a unique brand of tea around the world and Sri Lanka still relies heavily on its exports.

From here tea just continued to grow in popularity in the west with exports from India exceeding those from China for the first time in 1888. In 1901 the average consumption of tea was 6lbs per head per year, 3x what it had been 50 years ago when most tea came from China. In 1903 the first tea plants were grown experimentally in Kenya after successful trials in Malawi 20 years earlier. Kenya is now one of the worlds major tea producing nations making up 28% of Kenya’s total export earnings today.

As it moves into the 20th century with the main growers and exporters set the story of the tea industry opens a new chapter. This time it would be innovations in the way tea was prepared and drunk that would drive it into new markets around the world and America begins to play an important role as they develop more convenient ways to brew tea. Tea bags and iced tea start to make it less of a ritual causing people to have tea at times when it would have been too much effort to brew some loose leaf tea. All these only cause the main growing areas of China, India and some countries in Africa to expand in size as their experience dominates the cultivation industry to today.

How to Make Tea

All tea is produced from a plant called Camellia sinensis. The thousands of different varieties of teas available in the world only vary by the region it was grown, the time of year picked, and the processing method.

Our premium teas come from all over the world and many of our Chinese and Japanese teas fit into one of these main categories of tea: white, green, oolong, and black tea. We also carry herbal infusions or tisanes, sometimes called herbal tea, which do not actually contain the Camellia sinensis plant.

Each type of tea has its own characteristics including a different taste, differing health benefits, and even different levels of caffeine. One of the best ways to find out which teas are for you is to walk into a Teavana store and sample some of our delicious, premium loose tea.  You can also learn about different tea types by reading the following tea descriptions or about the health benefits of tea and browsing our full selection of loose leaf teas.

White Tea

White Tea

White tea is made from the buds and young leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant and sun dried or dried by steaming with no fermentation. As a result it has the least amount of caffeine of all the teas, about 1% that of a cup of coffee, and the most subtle flavours. They are appreciated by tea connoisseurs all over the world for their natural sweetness and delicacy. It is a speciality of the Fujian province, China.

History of White Tea

White tea is supposed to be the first form of tea drunk in China as it is the least processed. As new techniques were developed new varieties of tea were developed. It is first known to be drunk during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) where it was pressed into cakes and then boiled in a kettle, until it became revered during China’s Song Dynasty (960-1279) where it was the choice of the royal court. It was the particular favourite of the tea loving emperor Hui Tsung who declared it to be the culmination of all that was elegant. During this time the preparation techniques changed, the leaves and buds would be ground into a fine silvery powder and then whisked in bowls during a complex ceremony. It is this ceremony that inspired the famous Japanese tea ceremony. It was also during this time that loose leaf forms of white tea became available but it wasn’t until 1391 that the Ming court issued a decree that loose leaf tea would accepted as tribute and the production of loose leaf white tea became widespread.

White tea’s reputation as a commodity for the elite was sustained by the extremely intensive labour required to produce it. First it would have to picked from selected breeds of cultivated bushes or wild tea trees in early spring. Then it was immediately steamed and the buds selected and stripped of their outer, unopened leaves. The delicate interior bud that was left was rinsed with spring water and dried to create white teas that were paper thin and very small.

Modern white tea production begun in the Qing Dynasty in 1796 where they were processed and distributed as loose tea and steeped in hot water. They were picked from a mixed varietal bush called Chaicha during this time and differed from other teas in that they weren’t de-enzymed by pan-firing or steaming and the leaves were often shaped. These created small, thin leaves with not much of the silvery-white down that can identify many of the white teas we know today. In 1885 the specific bushes called Da Bai (great white), Xiao Bai (small white) and Narcissus were selected to make particular white teas. By 1891 this careful section led to the familiar white haired leaves known as Silver Needle tea being exported from China and in 1922 the variety known as White Peony was created.

White Tea Health Benefits

White tea has the highest levels of anti-oxidants of all types of tea. It also has the highest concentration of theanine, an amino acid that has relaxing and mood enhancing properties, due to being made form younger leaves. In 2009 a study by Kingston university found it had high anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-collegenase and anti-elastase properties which could potentially reduce the risks of developing rheumatoid arthritis, some cancers, heart disease and slow the development of wrinkles or sagging associated with the aging process. This is true despite white tea having similar levels of catechins, thought responsible for these properties, as other teas but may be due to the lack of processing involved in white tea. In 2004 Pace university found it had more anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties than green tea.

White Tea Varieties

White tea comes in a number of grades and can be made from most tea bushes. Many black, green and oolong tea plantations produce a form of white tea from their early spring buds but a few plantations exist that produce almost exclusively white tea. Some of the most famous kinds are:

Yinzhen (Silver Needle tea) is the most expensive and highly prized variety of white tea. It is produced almost exclusively from the Da Bai (Large White) tea tree bush in the Fujian province. They are picked only between March 15th and April 10th, only on days when it is not raining and only unopened buds are selected. It has the mildest and most delicate flavour of any white tea.

Bai Mu Dan (White Peony) is a stronger tasting white tea made with the new leaves as well as the centre bud. It is also picked exclusively between March 15th and April 10th when it is not raining and there is no frost on the ground. No purple buds are allowed and partially opened leaves or damaged leaves are rejected and put into a lower grade.

Shou Mei (Longevity Eyebrow tea) is a by-product made from Yinzhen tea and is darker and stronger than most other white teas with fruity flavours similar to lighter oolong teas. It is made from the withered upper leaves and tips from the Da Bai bushes picked after the Yinzhen season.

White Tea Preparation

White tea should be prepared with cooler water to prevent bitterness from overwhelming the fine flavours. 80°C (180°F) is the recommended temperature for most white teas and steeped for 2-3 minutes, although with certain varieties this may be considerably different. Refer the instructions on the packaging for any white tea you buy for specific instructions.

Rooibos Teas


Rooibos is made from the plant Aspalathus linearis and not from the Camellia family at all despite often being called bush tea or redbush tea. This is because its name means “Red Bush” in Afrikaans and is often drunk as an alternative to tea. It is naturally caffeine free and low in tannins with numerous health benefits. It has enjoyed several periods of popularity in Africa and is recently reaching a wider international market with all people.

History of Rooibos

Rooibos has been collected and drunk for centuries by the Khoisan tribe of the Cederberg region of South Africa who used it as a herbal medicine. They would climb the mountains and cut the fine needle-like leaves from the wild plants, take them home rolled into hessian bags, and have them chopped up with axes and bruised with hammers before being left to dry in the sun. In 1772 the Swedish botanist Carl Thunberg noted that the country people made a tea from a red bush plant and it begun to be used by Dutch settlers as an alternative to the expensive black tea that had to be imported from Ceylon.

In 1904 Benjamin Ginsberg, a Russian Jewish immigrant with a long family history in the tea market, begun to trade with the people of the mountains and opened rooibos to a wider market under the name “mountain tea”. He experimented extensively on the new bush to perfect the curing method, eventually settling on a method similar to that of making very fine keemun tea, by fermenting it in barrels, covered in wet, hessian sacks that replicates the effects of bamboo baskets. Then, in the 1930s, he persuaded a local doctor, Dr. le Fras Nortier, to experiment with cultivation methods at which he eventually succeeded against numerous difficulties, allowing the crop to be cultivated commercially.

During World War II imports of black tea from Ceylon were again expensive and rooibos had a surge in popularity but after the war the tea market in South Africa collapsed and the producers allied themselves into the Clanwilliam Tea Cooperative in order to save their industry in 1948. They requested a Rooibos Tea Control Board to be set up by the Minister of Agriculture in 1954 with the aims of regulating marketing, stabilizing prices and improving and standardizing quality. This board has enabled rooibos to be enjoyed around the world while refining its production methods.

Today it is enjoyed in any number of ways, as a standard tea, or in concentrated “espresso” forms, iced or mixed with milk to make “red lattes” or “red cappuccinos” and even uses as diverse as a meat tenderizer and marinade or base for soups in cooking, anti-allergic soaps and skin creams or as a bath infusion.

Health Benefits of Rooibos Tea

Rooibos is traditionally used for alleviative infantile cholic, allergies, asthma and dermatological problems. It has also been suggested to help with tension, headaches, insomnia and digestive problems. It is naturally caffeine free and has half the tannins of regular tea that are suggested to prevent absorption of iron in the body. It is very rich in antioxidants that give it an anti-spasmodic, anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal actions, especially quercetin, which has been shown in trials to relieve the symptoms of prostatitis and cystitis.

By applying the tea directly to the skin, adding to the bath or rinsing the hair, rooibos has been found to be excellent for treating eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis, nappy rash, sunburn and acne. Hospitals in South Africa regularly add rooibos to the baths of children as well as giving it in food and drink.

Types of Rooibos

Rooibos does not have the thousands of varieties that tea from the Camellia senensis plant has and all cultivation is done in just one small area of the Western Cape province of South Africa. There are only two significant varieties, the regular “red” variety and an unoxidized “green” rooibos. Due to the more demanding production methods required for green rooibos it is more expensive and less commercially available than the traditional variety and has a malty, grassy flavour rather different from the sweet taste of the red kind. There is also another bush used for making tisanes in South Africa that is similar to rooibos called Honeybush which fans of rooibos looking for an alternative beverage could try.

Preparation of Rooibos

Rooibos is most usually prepared the same way as black tea but is less delicate than normal tea and can be reheated many times, kept in a thermos flask for hours or cooled and kept in the fridge for up to two weeks without impairing the flavour. It is already sweet but can be sweetened further with lemon or honey or flavoured with spices and fruits.

Oolong Tea

Oolong Tea

Oolong tea (also sometimes called Wu Long tea meaning “black dragon”) is a variety of Camellia sinensis that has been partially fermented to give it a colour between green and black tea. It is commonly served in Chinese restaurants or sold as “weight loss tea” due to its high caffeine content which encourages fat metabolism. Each cup has around 10-15% of the caffeine in cup of coffee. Oolong tea can be processed in two main ways, either as long curly leaves or rolled into tight balls similar to gunpowder tea, sometimes called dragon pearl tea. The Chinese often call these partially fermented teas as “red tea” although it should not be confused with Rooibos, the African “Red Bush” tea that is a completely different plant.

History of Oolong Tea

There are three accepted theories of where oolong tea originates.

According to the “tribute tea” theory during the 10th century the best teas were pressed into blocks and offered to the emperor as tributes. The emperors set up a tea garden in Beiyuan that was famous for its production of “dragon-phoenix tea cake” made of the two types of tea produced here, Dragon (Long) and Phoenix (Fong). When the tea cake fell out of fashion and loose tea was preferred, the Beiyuan gardens begun to produce a dark glossy tea which they named Black Dragon (Wu Long).

The “Wuyi” theory says that oolong tea originated from the Wuyi mountain in Fujian province in the 16th century. The earliest literary records of oolong tea both come from this place and time: the Wuyi Chage (Wuyi Tea Song) by Yi Chaoqun and the Chashuo (Tea Tale) by Wang Chaotang who both mention the unique baking process used in their province to produce an unusual reddish coloured tea.

The final “Anxi” theory says that it was first discovered by a man called Sulong whose name became corrupted to Wulong by local dialects. Another version of this tale attributes the discovery of oolong tea to a hunter who forgot his tea was in his bag while chasing after a deer. When he realized, the tea had already been bruised allowing for fermentation to occur and noticed it had become very fragrant. Various sources say his name was “WuLiang” which became corrupted to oolong or that he was called “Dragon” and had very dark skin and so nicknamed Black Dragon or Wu Long. The tea kept his name in honour of his accidental discovery.

Oolong Tea Health Benefits

Since oolong tea is somewhere between black and green tea it is unsurprising to see it has health benefits somewhere between those two varieties. It is estimated to have some of the anti-oxidant properties of green tea which help to combat many signs of aging and prevent age related diseases. It is known to reduce stress, boost the immune system, lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels and speed up the metabolism leading to fat burning and increased endurance to exercise while blocking fat absorption from food in our diet. These fat burning properties has led to oolong tea having a reputation as slimming tea. There is a lot of controversy on this subject with many vendors making near miraculous claims. Tea can help with weight loss through a number of the factors mentioned above, and oolong tea maybe more than others due to its similarity to green tea but with a higher caffeine content that will increase some of the metabolic effects but it will only help if used consistently over time and as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle.

Types of Oolong Tea

As with all types of tea there are many varieties from all over China. There are two that are especially worthy of note:

Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe Tea) is a famous Chinese tea from the Wuyi cliffs in Fujian province. Legend says that the mother of a Ming dynasty emperor was cured of illness by a certain tea and the emperor sent great red robes to clothe the four bushes from which the tea was picked. These four bushes are said to survive today and be highly venerated with its cuttings being retained by the Chinese government or auctioned for millions of dollars per kg. Recent interest in tea has caused some of these original plants to be cloned and sold commercially for more reasonable prices, sometimes called Xiao Hong Pao (Small Red Robe) or just Hong Pao (Red Robe) tea.

Tie Guan Yin (Iron Goddess Tea) is another famous oolong tea from Anxi in the Fujian province but also grown in Taiwan with some success. This is fermented for relatively little time compared to other oolong varieties and so maintains the delicate, flowery aroma of a green tea but without the astringency. Many myths and legends are associated with this tea, including one that the Buddhist monks used to train monkeys to pick the tea, hence one of its nicknames “Monkey Picked Tea”.

Dongfang Meiren (Eastern Beauty Tea) is an oolong tea from Taiwan that easily recognised by its white or golden tips on dark purple or brown leaves. It has a pleasant fruity aroma and makes a bright reddish-orange tea with sweet flavour and little bitterness.

Pouchong (Wrapped Tea) is the most common oolong variety from Taiwan. Its name comes from the traditional practice of wrapping the tea in paper while it dries. It has a rich mild taste and a floral or melon fragrance. Most scented oolong teas are of this variety with rose pouchong being a particular favourite.


Generally around 2.25g per 170ml of water should be used and prepared with water at 180 to 190°F (82 to 88°C) for three to five minutes. In China and Taiwan a tea ceremony called gongfucha is performed using oolong tea where the tea is steeped multiple times for intervals of 20 seconds to 1 minute in a clay tea pot.

Mate Teas


Mate, also known as Chimarrão or Cimarrón, is a traditional South American beverage made from steeping the dried leaves of yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis) in hot water. It is traditionally served in a calabash gourd and drunk through a metal straw called a bombilla. This straw has a flared end with small holes in that act like a sieve to filter out the chunky dried sticks and leaves from the water. It has many cultural associations with the people of South America and is often drunk as part of a social ritual or with cultural associations in mind. Mate is also available in convenient tea bags called Mate cocido but it is considered a completely different drink, with none of the cultural associations and never drunk in the same fashion.

History of Mate

Mate has been drunk in South America since pre-Columbian times by the Guarani people in the forests of Paraguay. Its origins are lost in legend but two main stories tell about it being given to the Guarani in return for favours given to the gods.

In the first of these the moon goddess Yari, with the goddess of the pink dusk clouds Arai, were walking on earth in human guise when they were threatened by a Jaguar. An old Guarani hermit saw the young women about to be attacked and saved them with an arrow. He then invited them to stay at his house with his family as it was Guarani custom to offer hospitality to visitors. During their stay there he told Yari that he lived in isolation because of fear and anxiety about his daughter losing her virtue and innocence. When the moon goddess returned to heaven she wondered what to offer the man for a prize and guided the old man, his wife and daughter into a dream where she showed them where the mate plant was growing. They went to the spot and found it whereupon the goddess descended once more and told them it was a symbol of friendship. She then bestowed immortality and an incorruptible heart upon the man’s daughter, making her the owner of the yerba. She also taught them how to prepare, toast and drink the mate and then left the earth again. In time the old couple passed on and their daughter, upon fulfilling her ritual obligations also left the earth to become the patron saint of the yerba crop.

A second legend tells how the Guarani tribe used to clear the forest to grow crops until the soil was no longer fertile, when they would have to move on. One old man was tired of moving and refused to go, preferring to stay where he was. His youngest daughter’s heart was split with the decision of whether to go with the tribe or stay with her father, but she decided to stay with her father. One day a shaman came to visit them and asked her what she wanted to feel happy. She did not answer but the old man asked that she be taken to the tribe that went away. The shaman gave him the yerba plant and taught him how to plant, pick and prepare the mate. He told them, “In this beverage, you will find an healthy company, even in the sad hours of the cruellest solitude,” and then went on his way. Sipping the herb the old man regained his strength and was able to resume the journey to catch up with the tribe, whereupon the drink that enabled this reunion was adopted by the whole tribe as a symbol of friendship and a comfort in solitude.

Whatever the true origins of mate it has been a staple ingredient of the Guarani household since pre-Columbian times and was first discovered by Spanish explorers who had sailed up the Parana river searching for the fabled El Dorado but become disillusioned and decided to settle. They met natives here who shared their traditional beverage with the explorers and revived their mind and bodies, and their instinct for fortune. Soon Mate was being exported across the world. It became so popular and had such powerful effects upon the health and vitality of the drinker that some Jesuits feared it was a pagan magic and tried to forbid its use but ended up only isolating themselves and losing all their faithful. Instead they realized their mistake and sanitized the herb by assigning Saint Thomas as its patron saint and allowed the creation of a huge industry across much of South America and Europe.

Health Benefits of Mate

Mate is has been documented as being anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antispasmodic, aiding weight loss by increasing fat burning and helping in mental clarity. It contains a wide array of vitamins and minerals and has been suggested to have significant oral cancer fighting activities if not drunk too hot. Its primary stimulant, mateine, is thought by many to be a stereoisomer of caffeine, meaning it has the same formula and sequence of atoms but differs in its three dimensional arrangement making it a completely different substance altogether. This may give it the same stimulant and smooth muscle relaxant properties as caffeine but without many of its side effects.

As well as its nutritional value mate is also considered good for the soul. Drinking it is often a form of meditation or reflection when on your own or as a form of social bonding when shared with friends. The idea is to allow the goodness to infuse into your body while stimulating and resting the mind. Engaging in mate drinking in this manner may be psychologically beneficial as are other kinds of meditation and social activities that help to develop stronger bonds between individuals.

Preparation of Mate

Mate has many cultural traditions and etiquette associated with it in South American culture. It is nearly always prepared in the same gourd that is almost completely filled to the top with yerba and then topped up with hot water around 70-80°C (160-180°F). Never use boiling water as this will make the mate bitter. It is possible to make mate in a coffee maker, french press or other device but it is best when made following the traditional method using a gourd and bombilla straw.

The most common method is to fill the gourd half to two-thirds of the way with yerba and cover the top of the gourd with the hand and turn upside down to allow the smaller particles to settle at the top. It is then tilted to a near sideways angle and shaken very gently with a sideways motion causing the yerba to settle further inside the gourd with the finest particles towards the opening and the larger pieces layered along one side. It is then carefully tilted back onto its base to minimize further disturbances and a little cold water added to moisten the mix. The straw is then inserted at an angle perpendicular to the slope so it reaches the furthest end of the gourd. The aim of all this is to get the smoothest, most consistent mate possible with the smallest particles at the top furthest from the straw’s filter and the sloped arrangement catching as much of the rest as possible as the liquid goes down.

In addition to preparing the drink the gourd is also traditionally “cured” before being used for the first time. To cure the gourd the inside is wetted and scraped with the tip of a teaspoon to remove a few particles from the inside. Mate and hot water is added next and left to sit overnight, with fresh water added over the next 24 hours as the gourd absorbs the mixture. Finally it is scraped out and emptied and then put in sunlight until completely dry. In Argentina it is often put next to a Parilla (barbecue grill) to add a smokey flavour. Sometimes a black mould will grow inside the gourd when it is stored wet, so it should be kept in a dry, well ventilated place and cleaned out periodically, although some people consider it an enhancement to the flavour.

Mate Culture and Customs

Mate is more than just a alternative to tea to the people of South America and is steeped in ritual and customs. It is traditionally drunk in social gatherings of family or friends where a single gourd is prepared and shared around a circle called a “roda de chimarrão”. When drunk in this ritual manner it has many elements similar to the North American rite of the calumet, the pipe of peace. One person called the cebador takes the role of the server who prepares the brew. The cebador makes the first batch and drinks it completely to ensure that it is free of particles and of good quality. This is considered an act of kindness and in some places it is even bad manners to pass the first brew as it may be too strong, too hot, too cold or excessively dusty and so this first batch is often called mate del zonzo (mate of the fool). Once the cebador has ensured the brew is correct it is refilled and passed to the person on the right who likewise drinks the entire gourd without thanking the server. This continues around the circle until the mate becomes lavado (“washed out” or “flat”) after around the tenth or more refill. When one has had enough mate then the cebador is politely thanked and the gourd passed back. It is considered rude to complain about the temperature of the water or to take too long to finish drinking, but making a sucking noise with the straw is completely acceptable. If sugar or honey are added then a separate gourd should be used to the sugarless one as it is considered bad for the gourd to be used for making both.

Variations of Mate

A popular variation of Mate in Paraguay, Northeastern Argentina and Western Brazil is Tereré. This is mate but prepared with cold water and served in a slightly larger vessel. In some parts of Argentina it is seen as a lesser form of Mate, but in Paraguay is considered superior to any other drink, especially on a hot day. It is often mixed with remedial herbs such as mint or lemongrass and sometimes made with fruit juices like lime and orange or pineapple juice. With fruit juice it is often called tereré ruso (Russian Tereré) due to the fact that it is more common with Slavic immigrants than with Spanish- and Guarani-speaking Paraguayans.

Herbal Tea

Herbal Teas

Herbal infusions, often called tisanes or herbal teas, despite the fact that they do not have any actual leaves from the tea bush (Camellia sinensis), are caffeine free alternatives to tea or coffee for a hot drink. Rooibos and Mate are two examples of tisanes but herbal infusions can also cover a wide range of other beverages. They usually contain fruits, flowers, leaves and roots from various plants and are often drunk for their health benefits as well as for the flavour. Most are high in Vitamin C and some have very particular active ingredients with very specific effects.

Types of Herbal Tea

Herbal teas come in many different blends or as individual ingredients which can be blended together as desired. Due to the many different possible blends it is better to describe the separate ingredients and look for the actions of each ingredient when dealing with a blend. If using herbal infusions to treat a specific medical condition make sure you consult your doctor or a professional herbalist first. The information here is intended only as a guide.


Apples are relatively low in vitamin C but are a rich source of other antioxidants with a high fibre content. These may help with regulate bowel movements and so aid with weight loss and cholesterol control. It is often combined with chamomile and cinnamon to enhance these effects.


Beetroot is occasionally added to herbal teas to provide a rich purple colour but also has many health benefits. It is rich in betaine which is important for cardiovascular health, lowering blood pressure and increasing vasodilation. It is also thought to protect against liver disease and helps increase stomach acidity with people with abnormally low levels.


Chamomile is a common name for several daisy like plants. Its name means “ground apple” due to the apple like aroma it has. It is commonly used as a relaxant and sleep aid and to calm the stomach and bowels due to the presence of an anxiolitic flavinoid called chrysin. The most common variety is German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) but sometimes Roman Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) is available whose properties focus more on the digestive system and less on general relaxation. The chamomile flower is culturally significant to many nations being the national flower of Russia and is used in the royal gardens of Buckingham Palace in England instead of grass.


Cherries are used in herbal tisanes for their deep red colouring and rich flavour. This red colour comes from anthocyanins that are potent antioxidants that have been shown to reduce pain and inflammation. They have also been connected to reduced fat uptake and lower blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels which indicate they may prevent heart disease and diabetes.


Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) or cassia (Cinnamomum aromaticum) bark is often used as a spice to add to other teas such as chamomile or apple. Like chamomile it aids digestion and these two may be combined together to enhance the effect of both. It also helps to regulate sugar levels in the blood and may help to fight the common cold.

Citrus Peel

The dried peel from various citrus fruits such as orange and lemon are often used in herbal teas for their high vitamin C content and sharp flavours.


Echinacea refers to any of 9 species of purple coneflower from the daisy family. The most common form of echinacea used in herbal teas is Echinacea purpurea which is renowned for its use in aiding the body’s immune system to fight off infections. A related species, Echinacea angustifolia, has been used for centuries by native Americans to treat specific symptoms of the common cold such as coughs, sore throats, headaches and as an analgesic, and became popular as a herbal supplement in the 1930s in both Europe and America. In order to be effective it should be taken at the first sign of a cold and taken again every two to four hours until the cold symptoms have disappeared.


The berries of Sambucus nigra are often used to make teas and cordials. The juice has been found to have a positive effect on relieving flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough and aching limbs. The flowers are often made into teas, cordials and wines too. Traditionally these flowers have been used for the same purpose as the berries.


Foeniculum vulgare is an aromatic, flavourful herb that has been used extensively in cooking, medicine and as a drinks flavouring, most notably in ansinthe. The bruised seeds can be steeped in boiling water to make a tea that is used as a carmative, to prevent flatulence, and has a long history in India and ancient Rome to improve eyesight.

Ginger root

Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a tuber with a warm spicy taste that has been used as a flavouring and medicine for many centuries across Asia. Its main actions are to calm the digestive tract and is especially good for an upset stomach. It can also be used for treating the common cold and is often combined with citrus fruits such as orange or lemon for their high vitamin C content and sharp flavours which complement each other well. It may have blood thinning properties too but is known to interact with the anticoagulant warfarin, so should not be used if on this medication.


Panax Ginseng root has a long history in Asia to improve vitality, being used in traditional medicine to strengthen the body, increase longevity and combat male sexual dysfunction. Some of these properties have been supported by modern research which has shown it to have anti-carcinogenic and antioxidant properties that may improve quality and length of life, as well as ginsenoside compounds that have shown improvement in libido and copulatory performance of laboratory animals. While it was once a highly prized herb that only the wealthiest sections of society could afford, today it is farmed and commonly available in teas or energy drinks available from Asia but can also be bought in raw root form.


Hibiscus tea is an infusion made from the Hibiscus sabdariffa calyces and drunk hot and cold all around the world. It is sometimes called roselle, flor de Jamaica in Latin America, karkadé in Egypt and Sudan, bissap in West Africa, sorrel in Jamaica or red sorrel in the wider Caribbean. It is generally drunk for its sharp berry like flavour but is also used as a mild medicine for its properties of lowering blood pressure.


Cyclopia is called honeybush because the flowers smell of honey. It grows in a few small areas of South Africa and is used as sweeter variety of rooibos. There are around 24 species in the wild and up to 5 are in widespread commercial use, known by the location where they grow, such as ‘mountain tea’, ‘coastal tea’, ‘marshland tea’ or ‘valley tea’. Some can be cultivated but others have resisted all methods of domestication and must still be harvested from the wild.


The kiwi fruit is an edible berry of the woody vine Actinidia deliciosa that is extremely high in vitamin C and potassium. The skin is also a good source of flavinoid antioxidants and the seeds contain on average 62% alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid. This makes it a highly nutritious fruit with a sharp taste that can be blended with other fruits in a tea. It is also reported to have blood thinning properties which will help prevent clotting and maintain a healthy cardiovascular system.


Lemongrass (Cymbopogon) is a citrus flavoured grass that is often used in cooking. It is also known to have antibacterial and anti-fungal properties that have earned it another nickname of fever grass. People in Asia frequently drink this as a tea to aid digestion by killing any infectious microbes in the stomach and it has an extensive history in Ayurvedic medicine for relieving cough and nasal congestion. Brazilian folk medicine also prescribes lemongrass tea for anxiety and its oil is often used in relaxing perfumes and scents.

Liquorice Root

Liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is a sweet anise flavoured root that is often added to teas to sweeten a bitter selection of herbs. For this reason Chinese liquorice (Glycurrhiza uralensis) has been used in many Chinese herbal formulas to harmonize the other ingredients while having its own action of relieving spasmodic cough and helping to expectorate phlegm in the chest. It is also an effective remedy for mouth and stomach ulcers and spasmodic conditions of the bowels.


Calendula officinalis is an annual plant that has considerable anti-inflammatory properties. In a tisane it can help with any kind of inflammation of the upper digestive tract such as mouth or stomach ulcers and also used as a wash for all kinds of skin conditions. This is due to it having anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral properties in addition to anti-inflammatory properties, helping to kill any infection as well as sooth the skin.


Althaea officinalis is a perennial herb native to Africa that has medicinal properties in its roots, leaves and flowers. The root has soothing properties on the intestinal tract and can be used for a variety of inflammatory conditions such as ulcers and sore throats. The leaf has expectorant properties and is indicated for bronchitis and respiratory catarrh, especially when associated with digestive weakness.


Mint is a highly aromatic refreshing herb that is used all over the world for its taste and various medicinal properties. It can be used to alleviate stomach and chest pains, as a mild decongestant for blocked nose and to soothe the throat. The most common species for tea are the strong flavoured peppermint (Mentha x piperita) and the milder spearmint (Mentha spicata).


The common stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) has been used in folk remedies since at least the 10th century. The poison in the nettles that produces rashes when brushed against the skin has many medicinal properties when used in the right way. In infusions it has anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic properties and is commonly used against hayfever, arthritis, eczema, asthma and urinary tract problems. Fresh nettle may be used to stop bleeding due to its high vitamin K content but is almost absent in dry nettle which may then be used as a blood thinning agent.


The peach is a fruit from the rose family of plants. The flesh can be dried and added to tea as a sweet flavouring whose delicacy can blend well with the lightness of green or white tea. They have been known in China since the 10th century BCE and have a traditional association as symbols of long life and are often seen being eaten by the immortals in Taoist mythology.


Pineapple is added to herbal infusions as a sweetner and is a good source of manganese and vitamin C. It is also believed to digestion through the action of bromelain, a proteolytic enzyme that helps break down proteins and reduce inflammation.


Plums are often added as flavouring to herbal tea and also have considerable antioxidants. Medicinally they are also known for their mild laxative effect due to the compounds sorbitol and isatin that they contain. This means they can be used to help regulate the digestive system too.


Raspberry (Rubus idaeus) fruits and leaves have been used in herbal infusions for their sweet flavour, high nutrient content and medicinal properties. The fruits contain significant amounts of polyphenol antioxidants linked to prevention of several human diseases and are near the top of all fruits for antioxidant strength. They are also a rich source of vitamin C, manganese and dietary fibre. There is evidence to suggest that regular consumption of raspberries can prevent against inflammation, pain, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, allergies and age related cognitive and eyesight decline. The leaves have an astringent property aiding in soothing inflammation and preventing water loss in the intestine. They can be used to treat diarrhoea and irritated skin or used as a mouth wash against mouth and throat irritations. Raspberry is often mixed with echinacea in tisanes to create a powerful cold prevention remedy.

Rose hip

Rose hips are the pomaceious fruit of the rose plant. They have a particularly high vitamin C content, around 1700-2000mg per 100g when dried, which is one of the richest plant sources, and a very good remedy for colds and influenza, a preventative of heart disease and with possible benefits for rheumatoid arthritis. They are often blended together with hibiscus to complement each others flavour.

Rose petals

Rose petals are often added to herbal tisanes or to some tea blends to add aroma.


Carthamus tinctorius is a thistle like annual herb with yellow flowers that can be added to teas for colour and health benefits. In Chinese medicine it is one of the main 50 fundamental herbs and used for stimulating the circulatory system, moving stagnant blood in cases of angina and menstrual irregularities and relieving abdominal pain.


Sunflower petals are often added to herbal teas to add colour and as a delicate flavouring.

St. John’s Wort

Hypericum Perforatum, also known as St. John’s Wort, Tipton’s Weed, Chase-devil and Klamath weed, is a flowering perennial herb indigenous to Europe commonly known for its antidepressant qualities. It has been shown to have some considerable effectiveness in treating several kinds depression, including major depression, dysthymia (a less severe, chronic mood disorder resulting in mild depression over many years) and premenstrual syndrome but has also been found to adverse reactions to several drugs, including prescription antidepressants such as MAOIs and SSRIs, as well as several popular street drugs, with possible life-threatening results. Therefore it is very important that if you are taking prescription medication, especially prescription antidepressants and intend you use St. John’s Wort, that you consult your doctor first. It is also known to inhibit the effectiveness of several other drugs including the oral contraceptive so should not be taken while on these without your doctor’s approval.


Strawberry fruits are often added to tea for their red colour and sweet flavour. They are very high in vitamin C and flavinoids as well as many other vitamins and minerals.


Valeriana officinalis has been used as a remedy for insomnia since ancient Greece. Its sedative properties were first described by Hippocrates and later Galen prescribed it to aid difficult sleep. Its active ingredient is thought to be valeric acid that is suspected to act on the neurotransmitter GABA, in a way that benzodiazepines such as Valium are known to act but its exact mechanisms are unknown. It is often extracted into an oil and sold in caspules as herbal remedies for anxiety and insomnia but the dried root can be prepared as a tea. If making a tea, boiling water should not be used as this may destroy or evaporate some of the lighter oils. It may also have some calming effect on headaches, convulsive disorders and mood stabilization although constant chronic use may result in sedation and mild depression. It also has an attractive quality on cats similar to catnip and can be used to scent cat toys.


Vanilla is an aromatic sweet flavoured flowering orchid from Mexico often used in cooking and aromatherapy where its complex floral scent is used to relieve stress. In ancient Mexico it was used for ritual offerings, as an aphrodisiac and a cure for fevers but is most often used today to sweeten food without extra sugar.


Verbana officinalis is a flowering plant with a long history in folk herbalism. In ancient Egypt it was known as “tears of Isis” and later in Rome as “Juno’s tears”. Christian folklore claimed that vervain was used to staunch the wounds from Jesus’ crucifixion and it became known as a amulet to ward off vampires when mixed in a tea or an oil or used in many magical charms and potions. In modern herbalism it is known to relax the nervous system and provide a mild sedative effect. It is often used to balance the mood from either depression, anxiety or mania.


Most herbs can be infused into boiling water in exactly the same way as tea, steeped in water just off the boil for around 3 to 5 minutes. Some herbs may have active ingredients that are destroyed by high temperatures or which are best extracted if boiled in a pan for longer, so if using a tisane as a herbal remedy the packaging should be referred to for correct instructions and dosage.

Green Tea

Green Tea

Green tea is a type of Camellia sinensis that has undergone minimal fermentation. It originates from China and is associated with many areas of Asia such as China, Japan and the Middle East although it has recently become popular in the west where black tea is more traditionally consumed. Part of this revival is due to the numerous health benefits that have recently been discovered in green tea ranging from lowering cholesterol, blood sugar levels and managing obesity to being a possible preventative of high blood pressure, certain cancers and neurological disorders.

History of Green Tea

Green tea has been consumed in China for over 4000 years and its true origins are lost in antiquity. According to legend it was invented in 2737 BC by the emperor Shen Nung (the Divine Farmer) who taught the Chinese how to grow grains and personally tested many medicines on himself. One day he was boiling water when some tea leaves blown by the wind landed in his pot and he described the refreshing elixir to his people.

In fact the first reference to tea in China is in a manuscript dated 340 CE. From there it begins its journey around the world through Turkish traders along the Mongolian border in 479 and then into Japan by Buddhist priests as an Elixir of Immortality in 593. Around this time tea cultivation in China had become so important that bricks of compressed tea leaves were often used as currency.

In 780 the Classic of Tea was written by scholar Lu Yu detailing all the methods of cultivation, preparation and medicinal uses that are still practised today. It was due to his writing and the subsequent legends surrounding his perfectionism that tea became a highly refined art form and important cultural icon China and the Orient in general.

Between 960 and 1280 green tea begun to lose its elitist status and become a common crop for all people, with tea making competitions and tea tasting contests are held by the Emperor Hui Tsung, who also wrote a classic treatise on tea, the Ta Kuan Ch’a Lun, and is said to be so obsessed with tea that he doesn’t notice his empire being overthrown!

In 1400 Zen Buddhist priests in Japan refined the “tea making ceremony” into its modern day form taking on an elegant, even religious, aspect in the culture of feudal Japan. This ritual is still an important element of the Japanese cultural identity.

Finally Europe learns of tea through the Jesuit missionary Father Jasper de Cruz in 1560 and from there tea makes its way around the world through Portuguese trade routes. Black tea has always been traditionally preferred in Europe and the Americas but in recent times green tea has been making an impression in Western markets as Asian culture spreads throughout the world and the West hears about its impressive health benefits.

Green Tea Health Benefits

Green tea has been used as a health tonic for centuries in China where it was known to quench thirst, lessen the desire to sleep and sooth the heart. These uses gradually expanded to be a treatment for almost everything but especially for regulating blood sugar, aiding digestion and benefiting the heart, in both the physiological and emotional sense. In recent times these claims have gained more credibility to the modern medical community as active ingredients have been found and isolated that explain these effects.

Green tea contains abundant catechins which help to protect the brain from neurological conditions such as Alzheimers and Parkinsons disease as well as preventing strokes and assisting the brain recover from damage caused by strokes. It also has plenty of vitamin C, certain essential minerals and is a powerful anti-oxidant. These all play an important role in preventing the development of heart disease and studies show that 4 cups of green tea a day for 14 days has a significant effect on blood pressure, cholesterol and body fat. Green tea has also been shown to increase fat metabolism during moderate exercise and improve sugar tolerance in healthy adults, which should prevent late onset diabetes. Further studies show it helps reduce stress, may prevent depression and boost the immune system.

Green Tea Varieties

Green teas are usually identified by the province where they are grown and prepared or by a specific name that reflects the origin of the tea. The two main categories are Chinese and Japanese green tea.

Chinese Green Tea

There are many teas produced in China but a few are considered to be “famous teas”. These include:

Junshan Yinzhen (Silver Needle Tea) is a type of yellow tea, a subcategory of green tea, grown on the Junshan Island in Yueyang city in Hunan province.

Longjing (Dragon Well Tea) is the most famous tea from Hangzhou in Zhejiang province. It is pan fired and has a distinctive flat appearance.

Zhuchá (Gunpowder Tea) is hand-rolled into balls to resemble small black powder pellets. It also originates in Zheijiang province in the Tang Dynasty (618-907) but is now produced all over China.

Pi Luo Chun (Green Snail Spring Tea) is so called because it is rolled into tight spirals that resemble snails and it is harvested in early spring. It is cultivated in Dong Ting in Jiangshu province.

Xin Yang Mao Jian (Green Tip tea) is produced in Xinyang, Henan province where the climate is mild and local mountains help create a humid atmosphere ideal for growing tea. It has been considered one of the greatest throughout 2000 years of Chinese history.

Mao Feng (Fur Peak Tea) is named after the small white hairs that cover the leaves and the shape of the processed leaves that resemble the peak of a mountain. It is produced in the Anhui province.

Hou Kui (Monkey Tea) is modern tea first produced at the beginning of the 20th century around the small village of Hou Keng, Anhui province and is known for its distinctive “two knives and one pole” appearance: two straight leaves clasping an enormous bud with white hairs. These shoots can be as long as 15cm.

Japanese Green Tea

Green tea is so common in Japan that it is often just referred to as tea (ocha) or even Japanese tea (Nihoncha). They also have a many speciality variations but the main types are:

Gyokuro (Jade Dew Tea) is the highest grade of Japanese tea grown from a specialized variety of bush that is cultivated in the shade for around 20 days before harvesting. It has a pale green colour and is recommended to be brewed in water well below boiling point with a larger quantity of leaves and longer steeping time than normal tea.

Sencha (Decocted Tea) is the most common type of tea in Japan. It is often flavoured or scented with fruits or flowers such as jasmine or cherry or brown rice grains to produce unique tastes and aromas.

Matcha (Powdered Tea) is also cultivated in the shade like gyokuro but is then ground into powder. It is primarily used in the elaborate tea ceremony but also sometimes used as flavourings in ice cream or sweets.

Green Tea Preparation

Steeping time and temperature varies with individual types. Temperature is generally between 140°F and 190°F (61°C to 87°C) and steeping time is between 30 seconds and 3 minutes. In general the lower the quality of green tea the hotter and longer it must be steeped while the highest qualities are steeped at low temperatures for shorter times. Excessive heat results in the release of tannins which can produce a bitter taste regardless of initial quality so be careful to allow the water to be off the boil before steeping. The highest quality green teas are often steeped 2 to 3 times to give a strong but not overcooked taste. Sometimes the leaves are left in the pot and water added until the flavour degrades. It is also recommended to warm the pot so the leaves do not cool down before steeping. For best results refer to individual packaging for the proper instructions to make your particular type of green tea.