Tea: The Basics

Tea is the world's most consumed beverage after water. All types of tea come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. The differences in tea depend on the geographical location where it is grown, growing conditions, and how it is harvested and processed. There are over 3,000 varieties of tea. These varieties can be classified into five main types of tea: black, green, oolong, white, and pu-erh. There are other teas, such as herbal and rooibos that are not made from the tea plant, Camellia Sinensis. Herbal teas, also called tisanes, are made from herbs, spices, dried fruits, and other plants. Rooibos is made from the South African red-bush, Aspalathus linearis. Rooibos and herbal teas are naturally caffeine free.


When the tea leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant are harvested, they are taken to the factory where the process of withering, rolling, oxidation, drying and sorting take place. It is this process that determines the different types of teas that are developed.

Black tea is developed by allowing the leaves to fully oxidize. This produces a stronger flavor and higher caffeine content. Black tea is the most popular tea on the Amercan market.

Green tea is a mild flavored tea that is steamed or pan-fired to stop the oxidation process. Green tea is a favorite in China and Japan but has become increasingly popular on the American market due to its many health benefits.

Oolong tea falls between green tea and black tea in the amount of time the tea leaves are allowed to oxidize. Because it is not fully oxidized, it imparts a lighter flavor than black teas. When steeped, beautiful, large leaves are unfurled and may be enjoyed for multiple infusions.

White tea is produced from the young, delicate buds of the tea plant. The leaves do not go through oxidation at all. This lack of oxidation produces a lighter, naturally sweet infusion.

Pu-erh tea is the most oxidized type of tea. It is aged and allowed to ferment like fine wine and can be very expensive.

How to Make the Perfect Cup of Tea

Brewing the perfect cup of tea requires fresh water heated to the proper temperature, the right amount of tea, and accurate steeping time. Follow these simple steps for a flavorful cup of tea.

1. Start with fresh water. Filtered or bottled water is best. Poor quality tap water can negatively impact the flavor of tea. Heat the water to the appropriate temperature for the type of tea.

2. Use one teaspoon of loose tea per cup.

3. Pour heated water over tea and let it steep for the correct amount of time depending on the type of tea.

4. Remove the tea to prevent over-steeping.

5. Add sugar and/or milk as desired.

The following chart offers suggested water temperature and steeping time for various types of tea. Steeping times may vary according to personal taste preference. If tea is too strong, shorten the steeping time. Be sure to remove the tea once it has finished steeping. Over-steeping tea may cause it to become bitter.

 

Tea Nomenclature

Orange Pekoe

Although Pekoe (pronounced pee-koh), is a high quality black tea from Sri Lanka, India, and Java, the term "orange pekoe" refers to tea leaf grading and has nothing to do with the citrus flavor of orange. In the tea world, acronyms are used to indicate tea leaf size and quality and can become quite complicated. Orange Pekoe is a tea leaf grading system which categorizes tea according to tea leaf size and which part of the leaf the tea contains. We have listed a few of the basic acronyms and their definitions that may be used to classify black tea.

OP - Orange Pekoe

FOP - Flowery Orange Pekoe

FOP1 - Flowery Orange Pekoe of highest quality

GFOP - Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe

TGFOP - Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe

FTGFOP - Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe

SFTGFOP - Supreme Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe

BOP - Broken Orange Pekoe

PF - Pekoe Fannings

PD - Pekoe Dust

 

The Brown Betty Teapot

 

The origin of the Brown Betty teapot dates back to 1695. When tea became popular in England, no household was without a teapot. While the upper-class enjoyed their tea in expensive china, the lower class used simple clay pots.

 

A special red clay was discovered in Stoke-on-Trent in 1695. This clay retained heat better than other clays and began to be used to make teapots. These early pots were tall and thin until the early nineteenth century when they began to take on the familiar rounded shape. A special glaze made from iron and manganese was developed by the Marques of Rockingham. The teapots were brushed with the glaze, and the excess was allowed to run down the sides. When fired, the glaze turned into a beautiful streaky finish. Today, the warm brown glaze on the Brown Betty is still known as “Rockingham glaze.” 

 

Where did “Brown Betty” get its name? 

 

Of course, “Brown” refers to the color of the Brown Betty. Although no one knows for sure why “Betty” was used to refer to this special pot, one story is that most affluent families had a servant named Elizabeth, shortened to Betty. The servant, Betty, would have served the tea from the “Brown” teapot--thus, the name “Brown Betty.”

 

Tea connoisseurs believe the Brown Betty produces the most flavorful cup of tea due to its unique shape and design. The rounded shape allows the tea leaves to swirl around freely when boiling water is poured over them. The clay’s ability to keep the water hot during brewing makes the optimal infusion. The Brown Betty became the most popular teapot of the Victorian age. Even Queen Victoria favored tea made in the Brown Betty. It is still a favorite among collectors.

 

Today, the Brown Betty is still handmade from the same red clay in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England. If you wish to purchase a Brown Betty teapot, don’t be fooled by imitations. An authentic Brown Betty will be manufactured by Cauldon Ceramics, which holds the exclusive rights to the Brown Betty teapot. It will have a small removable Union Jack sticker on it, carry a swing card with the history of the Brown Betty, and the bottom will be stamped “Made in England.” If it is a newer model, it may also be stamped “Original Betty.”