Learn Tea

  • What exactly is tea? Manish describes the differences and similarities between the two tea bushes, camellia sinensis and camelia sinensis assamica. He describes the characteristics of each, and tells which is used to make black tea, green tea, white tea, and oolong tea.

    Manish Shah describes the differences between loose-leaf tea and tea found in teabags. He details the benefits of loose-leaf tea: quality, portioning, and cost.

    To learn more about the the differences between loose leaf tea and teabags, check out our podcast on Steeping Around:

    Hanging Loose: Teabags vs. Loose Leaf Tea
  • The first thing to consider when preparing tea is water. Water makes up 99% of any cup of tea. Good water is essential to any decent cup of tea. Exceptional tea can’t compensate for poor quality water while superb water will produce a good cup of even the lowest of teas. Chlorinated, distilled, or pure water is not favorable for brewing tea. Ideally, water should have an attractive combination of total dissolved solids and minerals (calcium, sodium, magnesium, iron and others) which provide flavor and reactivity. NOTHING is more important than water for brewing great tea.

    Once you have quality water, brewing great tea is actually quite simple. There are only three things to manage: tea amount, steep time, and water temperature. When these three factors are properly managed, a superb brew is almost guaranteed. Below is a basic chart identifying some agreed upon averages for water temperature and steep times for different types of tea:

    Tea Type Water Temp. Steep Time Infusions
    White Tea 170 F – 180 F 1-2 minutes 2-3
    Green Tea 170 F – 180 F 1-2 minutes 3-4
    Oolong Tea 190 F – 200 F 2-3 minutes 3-4
    Black Tea 195 F – 210 F 3-4 minutes 1-2
    Pu-her Tea 195 F – 210 F Limitless 3-6
    Herbal Tea 200 F  210 F 2-3 minutes 1-2

    If the above chart seems confusing and complicated, that is because it is. No wonder people are scared to make loose leaf tea! The reality is that these are general guidelines and that of the three factors that need to be managed, you only need to be good at one – measuring the appropriate amount of dry leaves. Typically 1 -1 ½ teaspoons of loose leaf tea per cup is a good starting point. All of our teas have general preparation guidelines enclosed. Ultimately, you are in control with loose leaf tea and can make it as you like.

    In order to brew loose leaf tea, you will need a device to either steep or strain the tea. Disposable tea filters are one option. Another is a tea strainer or a teapot with a built-in infuser. Tea balls, cloth filters, and spoon infusers typically are not a great option as the tea is not given appropriate space to infuse.

    To learn more about brewing a perfect cup of loose leaf tea, check out our podcasts on Steeping Around:

    How to Make a Great Cup of Tea
    How to Make a Great Cup of Tea-Part 2

    • Learn how to brew an excellent cup of hot black tea.

    • Learn how to make an excellent cup of hot green tea.

    • Learn how to make an excellent cup of hot white tea.

    • Learn hot to brew an excellent cup of hot herbal tea.

    • Learn how to make excellent oolong tea. Manish explains the unique water temperature and steep times that an oolong tea requires.

  • There are several considerations to keep in mind when making iced tea, no matter the method you choose.  First, make sure you use good quality filtered water.  Your ice cubes should be of the same quality as the water itself, as they will melt and impart their flavors on your finished drink.  Second, moderate the amount of ice you use in your glass.  Using too much ice can have a numbing effect on taste buds.  Third, store your iced tea in a glass container, rather than plastic or metal.  Finally, if you are making a large amount, only keep your iced tea for two to three days for optimal flavor and clarity.

    Hot-Brew Methods

    One Glass at a Time.  Begin by heating your water to the appropriate temperature for the type of tea that you intend to use.  For variations on water temperature and steep times, refer to our chart on the Hot Tea tab, above.  Once the water has reached its optimal temperature, add your tea leaves.  This is where the recipe differs from the hot tea instructions: you will use twice the amount of tea leaves that you would typically use for a cup of hot tea.  Generally, this is about two to three tablespoons per eight ounces of water.  Allow these leaves to infuse with the hot water for the same amount of time that you would use for hot tea; meanwhile, grab a tall glass and fill it completely with ice.  It is important to brim your glass with ice—once your tea has steeped, you will strain it slowly over the ice, melting it little by little and diluting your tea to the proper concentration.

    Large-Batch.  If you’re preparing a large batch of iced tea for storage in your refrigerator and continued enjoyment, you will use the same techniques that you would employ in making a pot of hot tea over the stovetop.  In general, use about two and a half grams of tea for every six ounces of water.  For more specific variations on water temperatures and steep times, refer to our chart on the Hot Tea Preparation page.  Be sure to allow your tea to cool to room temperature before transferring it to your refrigerator, and only make enough tea to last for two to three days.

    The Mr. Coffee Method.  This is an easy, everyday way to make iced tea in a large batch.  Simply add your loose-leaf tea to a filter, place in your coffeepot, and brew as you would your morning coffee.  Once the brew cycle is complete,  pour your tea into a storage container and place in the refrigerator for cooling.  There are two potential problems with this method however: first, tea needs to remain in contact with hot water for a longer time than coffee grounds.  To lengthen the leaf exposure to water, simply use an additional filter or two for your brew—this will slow the water flow to its proper speed.  The second notable issue is in flavor-mixing: if your coffee pot is used as it is intended, for coffee, it will likely impart some of those roasty flavors into your tea.  The only sure way to avoid this is to invest in a second brew cone for your pot.  One would be used strictly for tea, and the other for coffee.  If you are able to tend to these issues, brewing in your coffeepot could be the perfect alternative for you.

    To learn more about hot-brew methods, check out our podcast on Steeping Around:
    Talking Iced Tea–Part 2: Hot Brewing

    Cold-Brew Methods

    During the hot summer months, when iced tea is most enjoyable, sometimes the last thing we want to do during the summertime is turn on the stove.  But you may not have to—here are three easy and delicious ways to brew iced tea without turning on the heat.  These cold-brew methods will generally produce a mellow flavor, softer tannins, and a smooth finish.

    Sun Tea.  *Note: it is easiest to use bags of tea for this method, for easy removal.  Place your loose-leaf tea into T-sacs, available in our Accessories section.*  Sun Tea is the most recognizable way to brew tea without equipment or electricity, harnessing the power of the sun to extract flavor and color from tea leaves.  Simply place a large glass container full of high quality water and tea in the sunniest area of your property and allow the flavors to mingle for three to six hours.  Once the liquid had reached your desired color and concentration, remove the tea leaves.  The result is a smooth, delectable iced tea that can be consumed immediately (just pour over ice) or stored in the refrigerator for use later.

    The Refrigerator Method.  This method resembles Sun Tea, with one distinction: it uses cool temperatures rather than the warmth of the sun.  Add about 16 grams of tea to two quarts of water and stir into a pitcher. Place it in your fridge, and go to sleep! This brewing method takes 8-12 hours to complete, so it is not for the impatient. When you wake in the morning, strain the tea leaves from the liquid and enjoy!

    The Ice-Brew.  Perhaps you only want one glass of iced tea. Here is another clever idea—it will take only a small investment of time, and the result is well worth it.  Fill a glass completely with ice, to the brim.  Add about two tablespoons of loose tea (teabags will notwork using this method) and wait. Once the ice has melted completely and on its own, strain the liquid and enjoy! It will be ice-cold and delicious.

    To learn more about cold-brew methods, check out our podcast on Steeping Around:
    Talking Iced Tea–Part 3: Cold Brewing

    • You don't have to make a whole pitcher of tea every time you want a glass of iced tea. You can make it one cup at a time! Learn how to brew a single cup of delicious iced tea.

    • Learn how to make a large quantity of iced tea to store in your fridge, for long-term enjoyment.

    • Learn how to make a large batch of iced tea, for continued enjoyment over 2-3 days. Manish shows you how to make a tea concentrate, and the appropriate amounts of tea and water to use to make a gallon of iced tea.

    • Black tea is the most consumed tea in the world and is grown in several countries around the globe. It is available in many varieties, which vary in color from light amber to deep red, and the flavor can range from light, fruity and refreshing to strong and malty. Because it is cultivated all over the world and in a variety of environments it has a wide range of quality, but it is not only the region that affects the tea. As with all teas, the season of harvest, leaf size, and method of production all affect the final product.

      After the tea is harvested, the leaves are allowed to wither for up to twenty-four hours before they are rolled. They are then rolled, twisted and broken up, releasing naturally occurring enzymes. This can be done one of two ways: by hand, called “orthodox”, or by mechanical means, which is called “CTC” (cut, tear, curl). The former method results in larger, fuller leaves, whereas the latter will produce a much stronger cup.

      Next, the leaves are placed in a cool, humid area to oxidize. The amount of time the tea oxidizes is dependent on the type of tea that is being produced. As a general rule, black teas are left in this state for longer than any other type of tea. When the leaves have reached the desired level of oxidation, they are fired in ovens where the oxidation is stopped and the flavor is sealed in. It is during this stage that the leaves gain their traditional dark, blackened hue.

      To learn more about black tea, check out our podcasts on Steeping Around:
      I'll Take My Black Tea With...
      Black Tea: A Lesson in Strength
      Storytime: The Sorted Beginnings of Black Tea
    • Green tea originated in China and is known as the first type of tea ever produced. It continues to be grown in every tea-producing province of China and in Japan. Each country and region has its own special method for harvesting and processing green tea, and as a result each variety has a unique flavor. In general, green tea offers a smooth, vegetal flavor and is very refreshing.

      During harvesting, only the buds and tips at the top of the plant are plucked. After harvesting the leaves are quickly dried and then lightly heated, which brings the oxidation process to a quick halt. The method of heating varies; in China, the leaves are pan-fried in a wok or a heated drum, but in Japan they are usually steamed. The next step in the process is rolling, and as with black tea it can be accomplished by either hand or by machine. The method of rolling determines the size and shape of the leaf—green tea leaves may be twisted, flat, or ball-shaped, and each style of rolling will alter the resulting flavor of the tea.

      To learn more about green tea, check out our podcasts on Steeping Around:
      Grateful for Green: The Colorful History of Green Tea
      The Many Benefits of Drinking Green Tea
      Judging Green Tea–From Harsh to Hip
    • White tea is traditionally grown only in the high mountains of the northern part of the Fujian Province of China and is quite rare. Many tea experts consider it to be one of the finest teas in the world. The Chinese consider white teas cooling, detoxifying, and refreshing. It is the least processed of all teas, and recent studies have shown white teas to contain less caffeine and a higher concentration of antioxidants than any other type of tea.

      White tea is harvested briefly each spring from a specific type of tea plant. The smallest and youngest buds of the tea plant are covered in a down of fine white hairs. These young buds are plucked and delicately processed. Authentic white tea is lightly steamed immediately after being picked, before the leaves begin to wilt and before too much oxidation can take place. The result is a delicate, pure tea with a fair color and gentle taste.

      To learn more about white tea, check out our podcasts on Steeping Around:
      The Story of White Tea: Origins & Explanations
      The Ultimate White Tea Guide
    • Many other plants that do not have their origins in either Camellia sinensis or assamica may be infused in hot water and enjoyed. Though they do not come from the tea plant, we call these infusions “tea” in reference to the cup of steaming liquid. More appropriately, these are herbal tisanes. An herbal tea or tisane is an herbal infusion that is made by pouring boiling water over fresh or dried flowers, leaves, seeds or roots, steeping and then straining. This is done with plants from all over the world, each boasting a unique color, flavor, and effect on the body. Many of the health benefits attributed to herbal teas have been passed down for generations, for example the calming effect of chamomile flowers. Others have been more recently researched and documented. Each of our herbal blends features a unique combination of herbs, and will contribute to your overall health in a specified way—please refer to each tea for its specific profile and characteristics.

      To learn more about herbal tea, check out our podcast on Steeping Around:
      Who’s Got the Herbal Tea?
    • Oolong tea is described as being neither green nor black, but somewhere in the middle. The ambiguity of this description is a due to the complex nature of oolongs, which offer more variation in regards to color, shape, and flavor than any other type of tea. Some oolongs are delicate and grassy, whereas others are thick and robust. Oolong teas can differ in tea plant variety, growing region, and the method of processing, but most importantly in their degree of oxidation. It is this factor that most heavily weighs in the final color and flavor of the tea.

      When harvesting oolongs, three to four leaves and a bud are usually picked and allowed to wither. After the leaves have wilted they are shaken in baskets until bruised and torn. The leaf is then exposed to air, where oxidation occurs. This is the point at which the one oolong begins to differ greatly from another. Oolongs can have anywhere from 10% to 70% oxidation, and depending on the level of oxidization permitted, an oolong can resemble either a light green tea or a rich black tea. After the desired amount of oxidation, the leaves are gently heated to stop the process.

      To learn more about oolong tea, check out our podcasts on Steeping Around:
      Crazy About Oolongs: A Few of My Favorite Things
      The Two “O”s: Oolongs and Oxidation
      Oolongs for Everyone
    • Chai refers to a style of preparation, rather than a classification, of tea. It has been consumed in India for centuries, but this rich tea has been steadily gaining popularity in the western hemisphere. Today, the “chai latté” is an essential figure on any coffeehouse menu, and is a favorite among tea and coffee drinkers alike.

      Chai is comprised of black tea and a unique combination of spices, called masala, and is typically served with milk and sugar. In India, the taste of chai can vary greatly based on the quality of the tea and the choice of masala. The recipe differs from home to home, but in general chai masala consists of a blend of ginger, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, vanilla, saffron, coriander, black pepper, and anise.

      To learn more about chai tea, check out our podcasts on Steeping Around:
      My Chai: From the Kitchen to the Air
      A Chat About Chai
    • Pu'er is a dark, fermented black tea with a unique, earthy taste. Originating very early in Chinese tea history and the process by which it is manufactured has always been a closely guarded secret. After the leaves are harvested they are completely fermented, perhaps twice. The tea is usually then compressed into brick and disc-like shapes, though in some cases it is left loose, like other tea varieties. Once it has been processed, Pu'er is stored for an indiscriminate amount of time—anywhere from a couple of months to over a century. It is usually within ceramic pots, which impart their flavor to the enclosed leaves.

      Much like wine, Pu'er is the only type of tea that improves in quality and increases in value with age. Not only is Pu'er immune to age, but to ill-preparation—there is little that one can do during the brewing process to negatively affect the flavor. Whereas most teas will grow bitter when they have been steeped for more than a few minutes or with too hot of water, Pu'er can be brewed with boiling water and there is virtually no amount of time that will make it sour. The color of the brewed tea is dark red or brown, the flavor rich and earthen.

      To learn more about pu'er tea, check out our podcasts on Steeping Around:
      Fermentation, Fungus, and Fabulous Puer Tea
      Talk Over Tea–The History and Health Benefits of Puer
    • Vana Spa Tea is an entirely organic, herbal line of infusions designed to promote health and wellness. Each tea is comprised of herbs to target and specific bodily systems and functions, of these: circulation, detoxification, adrenals, immunity, energy, relaxation, inflammation, pregnancy, and weight loss. Each ingredient was thoroughly researched and cupped individually for flavor, and every tea in the VanaSpa line was blended to maximize benefit as well as ensure a clean, smooth flavor. After all, whoever said that things that are good for you can’t taste good, too?

    • All tea leaves contain caffeine, and all decaffeinated teas have undergone a certain amount of processing to remove it. The method of removal can vary, however, and some methods are better than others. Some teas are decaffeinated using a chemical rinse, such as dichloromethane or ethyl acetate, which strips the leaves of their caffeine. Other teas are water processed, a more natural alternative, but often the water claims the flavor of the leaf as well as its caffeine content. Our decaffeinated teas are processed using carbon dioxide, as natural as our own breath. Carbon dioxide filters the caffeine from the tea, without compromising the flavor and integrity of the leaf.

  • For centuries, people have known and understood the health benefits of drinking tea. Today, researchers all over the globe are finding that many of the traditional uses of tea can be supported with scientific fact. Tea (Camilla Sinensis) is a complex plant full of compounds that are beneficial to the human body. Hundreds of studies have been done on the health benefits of tea and the research continues. For those who don’t need research to support what they already know, tea continues to promote health and well-being.

    To learn more about the benefits of drinking tea for your health, check out our podcasts on Steeping Around:

    The Historic History of Tea and Health
    EGCG and German Shepherds: Man’s Best Friends
    Theo-what? A Medical Perspective on Xanthines in Tea
    That Groovy Theanine
    Teeth and Tea: Old-Time Remedies
    Tea and the Big Four: Weight Loss, Cholesterol, Diabetes, and Cancer
    Tea for the Mind and Spirit
    Tea Cures for Cold Season
  • 5000 years of history and a significant effect on the course of world events is the legacy of a drink many take for granted today. Since its discovery by humans, tea has been at the center of multiple controversies, tragedies, and remarkable events. The following is a brief overview of the history of tea.

    Tea has a long and complex history. Enlightenment, art, war, oppression, and revolution are just a few aspects of human history that are closely linked with the most popular drink on earth.

    To learn more about the history of tea, check out our podcasts on Steeping Around:

    The Beginning – What is tea, anyway?
    Grateful for Green: The Colorful History of Green Tea
    Storytime: The Sorted Beginnings of Black Tea
    The Story of White Tea: Origins & Explanations
    Talk Over Tea–The History and Health Benefits of Puer