Tea Facts

Green Tea, Black Tea. What’s The Difference?

All varieties of tea come from the plant Camellia sinensis - an Asian relative of the common garden camellia. The difference in flavour and appearance is due to the way the leaves are processed. Black tea is made by first withering the freshly-picked leaves, reducing the moisture content over 12-14 hours. Next, the leaves are rolled and slightly crushed by machines to start the fermentation process. The leaves are then left to ferment for up to four hours, which is when they turn from green to coppery red - and the aroma is intoxicating! Finally the leaves are fired at 100 degrees celsius to halt the fermentation process. It’s at this point that the tea leaves turn black and acquire their recognisable tea smell - ready to be packed to seal in the flavour.

Green tea instead goes through a three-step process in a single day. First the newly-picked leaves are pan-fired or steamed, which makes them soft and destroys the enzymes that would otherwise lead to oxidation. The leaves are then carefully rolled on heated trays to reduce their moisture content before being dried or “fired” in mechanical driers.

So Is Green Tea Healthier Than Black Tea?

Not necessarily - they both offer health benefits.

All tea leaves are rich in theanine, an amino acid that is otherwise rare in nature. A raft of scientific research has shown theanine to be a potent ally to human health. It works swiftly to promote relaxation (without drowsiness) by stimulating alpha brain waves, reduces anxiety, increases dopamine levels (the hormone responsible for feelings of well-being), may increase the brain's serotonin production, enhances learning and concentration, promotes sound sleep and, in combination with caffeine (found naturally in tea), boosts the activity of brain neurons even in small amounts. Studies have even found theanine has measurable benefits for cancer patients, assisting medication to target cancer cells.

Tea also contains antioxidants in the form of flavonoids and has been shown to reduce heart attack and stroke risk. It can even boost the immune system's power to fight off infection. Black tea is particularly rich in flavonoids. Research conducted at Italy's University of L'Aquila found that drinking as little as one cup of black tea per day can help maintain heart and cardiovascular health by simultaneously increasing blood vessel reactivity, reducing blood pressure and reducing arterial stiffness - all key components that keep the cardiovascular system humming.

Green tea has a higher ratio of polyphenols and catechins than black tea and these bioactive components bring their own subset of health benefits. Green tea has even been shown to play a useful role in weight loss by naturally decreasing appetite: the catechins and polyphenols increase feelings of satiety to suppress hunger - particularly when consumed in combination with capsaicin, which occurs naturally in capsicums and chillies.

What About The Caffeine in Tea?

Tea contains moderate levels of caffeine, which is quite a current topic of interest for health researchers - recent studies have shown caffeine can, among other things, help athletes run for longer by assisting with the release of calcium and reducing muscle soreness and pain after exercise. Tea contains much less caffeine than your average cup of coffee. If you wish to avoid caffeine, it’s also very simple to decaffeinate your tea. Pour your boiling water over the tea or teabag, let it sit for 30 seconds, then tip out that water. Then just refill the pot or cup with more boiling water to brew your tea as normal. Tea releases its caffeine much quicker than its other compounds, so by “flushing” the tea you’ve got rid of the caffeine without losing the flavour. If you’re brewing green tea, you want to use water that’s a little below boiling point, because green tea’s more delicate. Clever huh?

What’s Oolong Tea?

Along with black tea and green tea, oolong is the other major style of tea. In Chinese the name means "black dragon", which gives you a clue to its strength and, some say, hint of smokiness. The production process for Oolong combines elements of both the traditional fermented and unfermented processes. Withering and a brief fermentation are combined by exposing the leaves to sunlight for up to five hours. The leaves are then spread in large bamboo baskets and shaken frequently to bruise the leaf edges, making them oxidise faster than the centres. When the characteristic fragrance is achieved, baskets full of leaves are moved in and out of the flames of a charcoal fire. This firing halts the fermentation when it is about half-complete.

Why Do We Drink Tea With Milk?

The British custom of drinking tea with milk has its roots not in taste, but in economics. The long journey from the Orient once made tea prohibitively expensive. Milk, on the other hand, was cheap and plentiful among the lower classes. The amount of milk added to tea became a telltale of one's social standing. The wealthy took their tea undiluted. The middle class poured the expensive tea and then diluted it with milk. The lower class filled the cup with cheap milk and added a splash of the costly tea. Some tea styles work better with milk than others - for example, Assam and English Breakfast teas marry nicely with milk, while many people prefer scented Earl Grey or delicate Darjeeling on its own. Green tea is definitely best on its own, which is why you want a pleasant, non-astringent taste like Chanui’s Organic Green - there are a lot of poor quality, astringent green teas around, so beware.

What’s Orange Pekoe?

Pekoe is a corruption of Bai Hao, the Chinese words for white tip - in reference to the unfurled leaf bud covered with white down, an infallible sign of the leaf's infancy and thus superior delicacy. The first teas of this quality brought to Holland must have been presented to the royal family - the House of Orange, and by a stroke of marketing genius tea of the Bai Hao type was promoted to the Dutch public as Orange Pekoe, to suggest a royal warrant. So, Orange Pekoe has nothing to do with flavour or colour, but simply leaf size – something to remember when some manufacturers try to sell it as a type of tea!

What’s White Tea?

We get many requests from people asking us what white tea is as it has a high profile at the moment because of its reputed superior health qualities. White tea is produced, on a very limited scale, in China (originally in the Fujian province) and Sri Lanka. The new buds are plucked before they have opened, withered to allow the moisture to evaporate naturally and then dried. The curled-up buds have a silvery appearance and are sometimes referred to as Silver Tip. They give a very pale, straw-coloured liquor. Chanui doesn’t sell this type of tea as we’ve found it prohibitively expensive and its health properties are not noticeably superior to our black and green teas. Also we don’t really like the taste!

What’s Assam Tea?

The Camellia sinensis species has two main varieties, China and Assam, plus a number of hybrids. In the wild, the hardy Chinese plant stands six to nine feet high and lives for over a hundred years. Assam plants can reach up to sixty feet, but have a life span of under fifty years.

In 1823, Robert Bruce and his brother Charles came across Indians drinking tea made from a different variety of the plant to the one already known in China. The Bruce brothers worked to establish Assam plantations in India and in 1838 their first consignment of eight chests of tea arrived in London. The Assam Tea Company was established in 1840 and soon expanded to other regions of India, with production growing from 183 tons in 1853 to 6,700 tones in 1870. Today, India is one of the world’s largest producers of tea with over 13,000 gardens, and a total workforce of over 2 million people.

How Do I Make Iced Tea?

In 1904, an English tea dealer named Richard Blechynden set up a stand at the Saint Louis World's fair in order to acquaint Americans with black tea from India. In the sweltering summer heat, nobody was lining up to sample the scalding drink so he put some ice cubes in a glass and poured his tea over them. Iced tea was born and went on to win over the United States and then the world. Most of the Chanui range is great iced - cool the pot, transfer the tea into a water pitcher and try adding fresh slices of lemon, mint leaves or even thinly-sliced summer fruits.

Does The Finest Tea Come From Sri Lanka?

Different variants of the Camilla sinensis plant thrive in different climates, soils and altitudes, so it all depends exactly what you’re after. The quality of your tea also has a great, great deal to do with the care taken in processing - that’s key, and that’s why Chanui sources much of its tea from proven, premium quality growers and processors in Sri Lanka. Some teas are regional - the classic example being Darjeeling, hailing from renowned Indian estates in the mountain area from which it got ts name.

How Does Chanui Source The Best Teas?

Tea tasting is an essential part of the process that ensures Chanui supplies only the best quality tea for Kiwis! We visit the suppliers in Sri Lanka where dry leaves are laid out in containers on a tasting bench. A weight is then placed in a special, lidded brewing mug, boiling water added and then the tea left to brew for five minutes. The brew is then poured into tasting bowls and the infused leaf tipped onto the lid of the brewing mug for inspection. For our English Breakfast brews, we also add a small amount of milk. We then go through and taste all the teas in much the same way as a wine taster, sipping the tea sharply to hit the taste buds and then rolling the liquid around to determine its full flavour. As you can imagine, this is a most pleasurable job when we’re taste-testing teas for the Chanui range, but it can become a little tedious when you have to test what our competitors are offering!

Are Teabags Inferior to Leaf Teas?

The question to ask here is what’s in that teabag? Many commercial teabags in New Zealand are filled with the lowest grades of tea you can imagine - basically, all the dusty broken bits that are left over from making better grades of tea. The problem with gathering them all up and putting them in a teabag is that, because they’re so smashed up, they release their tannins and caffeine too quickly, leading to a bitter, less enjoyable taste. So we go the extra mile at Chanui to make sure our teabags contain good quality tea, and that the paper we use in the teabag doesn’t leave a papery aftertaste. Purists still love watching the leaves unfold at the bottom of a teapot, but our teabags are the next best thing to leaf tea.

Tea Trivia

  • Experienced tea pickers collect up to 30kgs of tea a day by hand.
  • One tea bush will produce tea for at least 50 years.
  • The biggest tea drinkers in the world are the Irish (3kg per capita consumption annually), the British (2.5kg), the Kuwaitis (2.2kg) and the Turkish (2.1kg). New Zealanders love their tea as well and consume an average 1.3kg each per year - far greater than the Aussies (0.9kg) and Americans (0.3kgs).
  • According to Chinese legend, tea was discovered in 2,737 BC by Emperor Shen Nung when a leaf of wild tea tree fell into his cup of boiling water. Until the third century BC, tea was prepared as a medicine using leaves from wild tea trees. Eventually farmers cultivated the crop and a system for growing and processing tea was developed. Until the sixth century, tea was consumed primarily as a remedy for headaches, kidney trouble, poor digestion, ulcers and to guard against "the noxious gasses of the body and lethargy". The Dutch or Portuguese are thought to have finally introduced tea to Europe in the 17th century.
  • All people who love good tea (i.e. people who drink Chanui) should thank English botanist Robert Fortune, who solved the secrets of tea-making that had been zealously guarded by the Chinese. Having spent 1833 to 1845 researching rare tea plants in China, Fortune was enlisted by the British Tea Committee to return on an undercover mission to Shanghai in 1848, disguised as a Chinese merchant and accompanied by Chinese co-conspirators. At the end of his journey he travelled to Calcutta, then a part of British India, where his expertise proved invaluable in setting up Britain's tea industry. So the moral of the story is when all else fails, copy – and that’s why you see other tea brands in New Zealand now introducing new teas to try and match the Chanui flavour!
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