What is Tea? – The Beginning of a Journey

17 Jul 2020

Whether you enjoy sipping a hot cup of Earl Grey in the afternoon while it is raining cats and dogs outside, or chewing nervously on the straw of your “teh ais” as you watch the English Premier League Finals, or slurping piping hot tea while enjoying your dim sum, tea is the constant companion to billions of people around the world.


Tea soothes frayed nerves. It gives you an energy boost. It makes you feel good. Hence for these and many, many other reasons, tea is the second most consumed beverage. After water.


But what is tea?

Tea is an aromatic beverage resulting from pouring hot water over cured tea leaves. Depending on the type of tea, flavours include cooling, slightly bitter, astringent, sweet, nutty, floral or grassy notes.


All types of tea originate from a single plant called Camellia Sinensis. It is a tropical and sub-tropical, evergreen plant that traces its roots (pun not intended) to Asia. It grows best at high altitudes of tropical and sub-tropical climates and in soft, loose soil.


There are other beverages called teas, too, such as chamomile, chrysanthemum, rooibos and fruit teas. These are more accurately referred to herbal infusions or tisanes.



Tea plants take time to grow and takes up to three years before they can be harvested. The plants need at least 127 cm of annual rainfall and acidic soils. Most high-quality tea plants are cultivated at up to 1500 m elevation. Although they actually grow slower in this environment, they acquire better flavours. This is why Cameron Highlands in Malaysia is the perfect location for growing some of the world’s best tea.



If left undisturbed, a tea plant can grow to 16 m in height. As such they are pruned to waist height for easy harvesting. The plant compensates by growing more shoots on which there are more new and tender leaves to be harvested.


Tea pickers only choose the young leaves between 2.5 to 5 cm at the top of the plant. The young leaves and (leave) buds are called “flushes.” It takes some 2,000 flushes to produce 1 lb. (454 g) of finished tea.


Processing is what turns these fresh leaves into different the five types: Black, white, green, oolong, and pu’erh. Check back with us in the next edition as we delve into tea processing.

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