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Archive-name: drink/tea/faq
Posting-Frequency: quarterly
Last-modified: 2001/06/11
Version: 1.7b1

See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
         FAQ Version 1.7

This document, with many others about tea, is accessible on the World
Wide Web at my website,

and at Kai Birger Nielsen's website,

Changes since version 1.6: ongoing

1. The basics
2. Preparing tea
3. Other ways to prepare and serve tea
4. Descriptions of popular and noteworthy teas
5. Miscellany

1. The basics
 1.1. What is tea?
 1.2. What are the different kinds of tea?
  1.2.1. What are some of the most popular varieties?
  1.2.2. What about herbal teas?
 1.3. Where does tea come from?
  1.3.1. Is any tea grown commercially in other regions?
  1.3.2. Where did the name 'tea' come from?
 1.4. How is tea produced?
 1.5. What are the best kinds of tea?
  1.5.1. How is tea graded?
  1.5.2. Why all the fuss about expensive brands?
  1.5.3. Is there something wrong with tea bags?
 1.6. Is fancy tea much more expensive than standard commercial tea?

1.1. What is tea?

Tea is a drink made by infusing leaves of the tea plant (_Camellia
sinensis_, or _Thea sinensis_) in hot water. The name 'tea' is also used
to refer to the leaves themselves; and it is also the name of a mid- to
late-afternoon meal in the British Isles and associated countries, at
which tea (the drink) is served along with various foods.

1.2. What are the different kinds of tea?

The three main categories are green, black, and oolong. All three
kinds are made from the same plant species. The major differences
between them are a result of the different processing methods they
undergo. Black teas undergo several hours of oxidation in their
preparation for market; oolongs receive less oxidation, and green teas
are not oxidized at all.

There are, of course, many different varieties within these three main

1.2.1. What are some of the most popular varieties?

Black, unblended:
Assam (India)
Ceylon (Sri Lanka)
Darjeeling (India)
Keemun (China)
Nilgiri (India)
Sikkim (India)
Yunnan (China)

Popular blends:
English Breakfast
Irish Breakfast
Russian Caravan

Scented/Flavored (both black and green):
Jasmine (China; green, scented with jasmine flowers)
Earl Grey (international; black, scented with oil of bergamot)
Lapsang Souchong (China and Taiwan; black, scented with smoke)
Many varieties of flavored teas

Ti Kuan Yin [Tai Guanyin] (Mainland China)
Formosa Oolong (Taiwan, many varieties)
Pu-erh (China)

Gyokuro (Japan)
Spider Leg (Japan)
Mattcha (Japan, used in the Tea Ceremony)
Sencha (Japan)
Hojicha (Japan)
Genmaicha (Japan) (blended with toasted rice)
Longjing [Lung Ching, Dragon Well] (China)
Baozhong (China)
Gunpowder (China)

Detailed descriptions of most of these teas follow in section 3.

1.2.2. What about herbal teas?

Hundreds of different herbs have been used in beverages. These are
sometimes called herbal teas. Tea professionals and connoisseurs usually
prefer to restrict the name 'tea' to real tea, so you may see the
following terms used as well:
 A) 'Herbal infusion', which simply means a drink made by steeping an
herb in hot water. (Tea itself is an infusion of tea leaves.)
 B) 'Tisane' [pronounced tee-ZAHN], which in French means any herbal

Some common herbs that are used as tisanes are peppermint, chamomile,
rose hips, lemon verbena, and fennel. A number of companies specialize
in producing herbal blends. Many tea companies also sell tisanes.

Some exaggerated claims have been made for the medicinal properties of
herbal infusions. Even so, some herbs do have generally recognized
benefits. For instance, rose hips contain vitamin C; chamomile helps many
people relax; and peppermint has a noticeable soothing effect on the
stomach. Herbs can also cause problems. Chamomile, for example, can cause
allergic reactions in people who are allergic to ragweed.

1.3. Where does tea come from?

Tea has been an item of trade and tribute for at least three thousand
years. It was first cultivated and brewed in China, and many of the best
varieties still come from China. Some of the finest oolongs in the world
are grown in Taiwan. Japan also produces a considerable amount of green
tea, most of which is consumed domestically.

After the British took up tea drinking, they began cultivating the
plants native to India in order to have more control over the trade.
India, Sri Lanka, and other South Asian countries produce a large
portion of the world harvest.

1.3.1. Is any tea grown commercially in other regions?

Indonesia produces a considerable harvest each year, primarily in Java
and Sumatra. Most of it is exported for use in blends.

Tea is also grown commercially in Turkey, Russia, Africa (notably Kenya), and
South America. Some of it is noteworthy, but not much. In addition to
good genetic "parentage," the right growing conditions are crucial. The
best tea, with few exceptions, is produced in cool, mountainous
regions. There are not many such areas outside Asia that have been
given over to tea production.

1.3.2. Where did the name 'tea' come from?

The word for tea in most of mainland China (and also in Japan) is
'cha'. (Hence its frequency in names of Japanese teas: Sencha,
Hojicha, etc.) But the word for tea in Fujian province is 'te'
(pronounced approximately 'tay'). As luck would have it, the first
mass marketers of tea in the West were the Dutch, whose contacts were
in Fujian. They adopted this name, and handed it on to most other
European countries. The two exceptions are Russia and Portugal, which
had independent trade links to China. The Portuguese call it 'cha',
the Russians 'chai'. Other areas (such as Turkey, South Asia and the
Arab countries) have some version of 'chai' or 'shai'.

'Tay' was the pronunciation when the word first entered English, and
it still is in Scotland and Ireland. For unknown reasons, at some time
in the early eighteenth century the English changed their
pronunciation to 'tee'. Virtually every other European language,
however, retains the original pronunciation of 'tay'.

1.4. How is tea produced?

The first step in tea production is the harvest. Most harvesting is
still done by hand, which (as you can imagine) is very
labor-intensive. Some growers have had success using a machine that
acts much like a vacuum cleaner, sucking the leaves off the branch.
The latter method is used for the cheaper varieties of tea, as it is
not capable of discriminating between the high-quality tip leaves and
the coarser leaves toward the bottom of the branch.

The harvested leaves can be processed in two ways: CTC or orthodox.

CTC, which stands for "crush, tear, curl," is used primarily for
lower-quality leaves. CTC processing is done by machine; its name is
actually fairly descriptive. The machines rapidly compress withered
tea leaves, forcing out most of their sap; they then tear the leaves
and curl them tightly into balls that look something like instant
coffee crystals. The leaves are then "fired," or dehydrated.

Most tea connoisseurs are not very interested in CTC tea, since this
process does not allow for the careful treatment that high-quality
leaves merit. But CTC has an important and legitimate role in the tea
industry: since it is a mechanized process, it allows for the rapid
processing of a high volume of leaves which otherwise would go to
waste. It is also good for producing a strong, robust flavor from
leaves of middling quality; in fact, for many varieties of leaf CTC is
the preferred processing method.

The orthodox method is a bit more complex, and is usually done mostly
by hand. The process differs for black, green, and oolong teas. The
basic steps in the production of black tea are withering, rolling,
oxidation, and firing.

First, the leaves are spread out in the open (preferably in the shade)
until they wither and become limp. This is so that they can be rolled
without breaking.

Rolling is the next step. This is rarely done by hand any more; it is
more often done by machine. Rolling helps mix together a variety of
chemicals found naturally within the leaves, enhancing oxidation.
After rolling, the clumped leaves are broken up and set to oxidize.

Oxidation, which starts during rolling, is allowed to proceed for an
amount of time that depends on the variety of leaf. Longer oxidation
usually produces a less flavorful but more pungent tea. Many texts
refer to the oxidation process by the misleading term "fermentation."
However traditional and evocative the term may be, I think it is best
avoided. Oxidation of tea leaves is a purely chemical process and has
nothing to do with the yeast-based fermentation that produces bread or

Finally, the leaves are heated, or "fired," to end the oxidation
process and dehydrate them so that they can be stored.

Oolong is produced just like black tea, except that the leaves are
oxidized for less time.

Green tea is not oxidized at all. Some varieties are not even
withered, but are simply harvested, fired, and shipped out.

1.5. What are the best kinds of tea?

1.5.1. How is tea graded?

The first thing to keep in mind is that these are descriptions of the
dry, cured leaf _only_. They have no necessary relation to the aroma,
color, or flavor of the end product. It is possible to get a delicious
cup from ugly, broken leaves; it is possible to get an awful cup from
well-handled, beautiful whole leaves. But since you may have little
information to work with other than the grade, let's look at the various

There are different grading schemes for black and green teas. Here are
the basic grades of black tea:

Flowery Orange Pekoe (peck-oh), Orange Pekoe

Broken Orange Pekoe
Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings
Broken Pekoe

'Pekoe' (pronounced 'PECK-oh') is derived from a Chinese word meaning
'white'; this referred to the white hair on the leaf bud. Early Western
merchants used the word to mean that the leaves so graded were
exclusively plucked from the tip of the branch: the leaf bud and the two
leaves below the bud. Its use in India and Sri Lanka broadened to mean
whole leaves of a uniform size, and this is what it generally means now.
This may include leaves picked from lower on the branch.

'Flowery Orange Pekoe' is often abbreviated 'FOP'. The term 'flowery'
apparently refers to the leaf bud, since actual tea flowers are not used
in the preparation of the drink.

'Orange' is variously described as a reference to the Dutch House of
Orange or as a reference to an old Chinese practice of including orange
blossoms as a flavoring agent. Whichever story is true, Orange Pekoe
leaves are higher quality than Pekoe leaves.

'Souchong' means large leaves, generally not from the tip of the branch.

Processed tea is sieved to insure that leaves of uniform size are
packaged together. Fannings and dust are bits and pieces of tea leaves
left over from the sievings that separate out whole leaves and large
pieces of leaf. Fannings are slightly larger than dust.

Loose tea is generally whole leaves. Bagged tea is usually Broken Orange
Pekoe and Broken Pekoe, fannings, and dust. The broken grades are
created by mechanized crushing of the leaves. Broken leaves infuse more
quickly, which is desirable in a tea bag. But because of their larger
surface area, broken leaves also become stale more quickly.

Since much of the bagged tea sold in the US is marked "Orange Pekoe,"
many people think that Orange Pekoe is a special kind of tea. But it is
not. It is a grading measurement that applies only to the size and
physical condition of the leaves, not their kind or quality. Most tea
that is labeled "Orange Pekoe" is blended black tea, typically from
India and/or Sri Lanka.

High-quality Darjeelings are often graded according to a complex (one is
tempted to say baroque) system including terms such as TGFOP and FTGFOP.
One r.f.d.t reader was under the impression that these abbreviations stood
for "Too Good For Ordinary People" and "Far Too Good For Ordinary People."
Not a bad guess, in my opinion. Here's what they actually stand for:

TGFOP: Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe. 'Tippy', 'Golden', and
'Flowery' are all references to the leaf bud at the tip of the branch.
(Buds have a lighter color than fully formed leaves, hence 'golden'.)

FTGFOP: Fancy [or Fine] Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe. 'Fancy' is a
term also used in the grading of oolongs.

SFTGFOP: Super-Fine [Fancy] Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe.
When dealing with Darjeelings, you may also see the following terms:

Estate: names the plantation where the leaves were grown.

Vintage: means that the leaves are the product of one harvest, and are
not blended with any others.

First Flush: the leaves were plucked in the first growth of the season.
It usually produces a very light, delicate drink.

Second Flush: second-growth harvest. More robust and complex than first

Autumnal Flush: harvest after the rainy season.

 Green tea:

There is no uniform grading terminology for green tea. Chinese greens
are graded differently depending on where they came from. Japan may have
a standardized grading scheme, but my information is incomplete on
this subject.

Some terms that you may find with regard to Chinese green teas are:

Gunpowder (pellets, tightly rolled from young leaves and buds)
Young Hyson (young leaves rolled long and thin)
Imperial (pellets loosely rolled from older leaves)
Twankay (unrolled leaves of poor quality)

Gunpowder is rolled very tightly; the leaves look like small pellets.
The Chinese term for this tea, Zhucha, means 'Pearl Tea'. It is grown in
Zhejiang province, near Shanghai.

Grading for oolongs goes from Fanciest or Extra Fancy (best) to Common
(worst). Unlike other grading systems, this one actually rates the
quality of the drink you can get from the leaves. The top grades are
Fanciest or Extra Fancy, Fancy, and Extra Choice (or Extra Fine).

1.5.2. I like the bagged tea I buy at the grocery store. Why all the
fuss about First Flush Vintage Super-Fine Fancy Golden Tippy Flowery
Orange Pekoe Estate tea?

The whole point of drinking tea is to enjoy yourself. If you like the
tea you're drinking right now, then that is all that you or anyone else
needs to know.

It can be fun, though, to try a fancy tea now and then. If you like tea
in general, why not? This may entail using a teapot and/or strainer (see
below, section 2.2.), since bagged tea does not come in as many
varieties as loose. Who knows? You may eventually find yourself becoming
a connoisseur, like many other readers of

If there's a good coffeehouse or specialty tea shop in your area, you
may be able to try a cup of an expensive tea without making a big
investment. Also, many tea retailers sell sample-size (one- or
two-ounce) containers.

1.5.3. Is there something wrong with tea bags?

Occasionally, tea connoisseurs will express contempt for tea bags, for
the following reasons: 1. Most of the tea that goes into bags is not
very high quality. As noted above, tea bags usually contain broken
grades so that they will infuse quickly. 2. Whole-leaf teas come in a
larger number of varieties; and the most interesting and enjoyable teas
are sometimes not available in bags. 3. Bags are semi-non-biodegradable
additions to the biodegradable tea leaves. 4. Connoisseurs like to have
something to sneer at.

Seriously, though, most tea drinkers use tea bags some of the time,
simply because it may not be convenient to brew loose leaves (at work,
for example). Use what works for you.

1.6. Is fancy tea much more expensive than standard commercial tea?

Most good tea is not very expensive; and it may be cheaper than you
think. When you buy tea in bags, most of what you pay for is the process
of putting the teas in the bags, and the brand name advertising. Fancy
tea is generally sold loose, and the price per cup is often lower than
for commercial tea.

Of course, as with most things, you can spend a lot for tea if you try.
But if price is a concern, start small. Some truly fine teas retail in
the United States for less than US$20 per pound, which means less than
10 cents per cup. (I'm told that tea prices outside the United
States are roughly comparable.) Unfortunately, high quality loose leaf
tea is typically not available in supermarkets; you will probably have
to seek out a specialty shop or a mail-order company.


2. Preparing tea
 2.1. Using a tea bag
 2.2. Using a teapot
  2.2.1. Why use cold tap water? Wouldn't hot tap water boil faster?
  2.2.2. Why bother pre-heating the teapot? Is it necessary?
  2.2.3. What kind of teapot should I use?
  2.2.4. Loose tea, tea bags, what's the difference?
  2.2.5. How much tea should I use?
  2.2.6. What about tea balls, strainers, etc.?
  2.2.7. How hot should the water be? What is a tea cozy, anyway?
  2.2.8. How seriously should I take the time limits?
  2.2.9. Should I put milk in my tea? Should the milk go in the cups before or after the tea?
 2.3. Other ways of preparing tea
  2.3.1. Iced tea
  2.3.2. Masala chai
  2.3.3. Thai tea
  2.3.4. Samovar

2.1. Using a tea bag

This is the most straightforward method. Place the bag in your cup and
pour boiling water over it. Remove the bag when it has steeped long

Oddly enough, most restaurants in the United States are incapable of
performing this simple procedure. As many readers of
will testify, asking for tea in a restaurant usually gets one a cup of
tepid water with a bargain-basement tea bag floating listlessly in it
like a dead fish.

2.2. Using a teapot

First, a general guide; details below.

A) Start with fresh, cold water. Tap water is often acceptable; if
your tap water has a noticeable taste, you may want to use filtered or
bottled water. Put the water in a kettle to boil.

B) Prepare a teapot: heat it by filling it (or rinsing it) with hot

C) Shortly before the water in the kettle boils, empty out the teapot
and add the tea leaves.

You may want to put the leaves loose in the pot, or use a strainer,
sock, or tea ball. You can, of course, also use tea bags in a pot. If
you do, place the bags on the bottom of the pot so that they will be
struck by the boiling water as it falls on them.

D) Bring the teapot to the kettle and add the water. For most black
and oolong teas, add the water just after it reaches a full boil. See
below for more detailed information.

E) Allow the tea to infuse for three to five minutes. Be careful not to
let the tea stand for too long. Different teas take different infusion
times. See below.

F) During the infusion, give the teapot a good shake or stir to let the
leaves circulate. After they settle, pour the tea. Some authorities
recommend using cups that have been pre-heated with hot water. This is
primarily important if you are using very thin porcelain that could be
cracked by the sudden addition of very hot tea.

G) Add whatever accessories you prefer: milk, sugar, honey, lemon, etc.
Most people find cream too heavy. Also, there is considerable
debate about whether to put milk in the cups before you add the tea or
afterward. See below.


2.2.1. Why use cold tap water? Wouldn't hot tap water boil faster?

Household water heaters heat water for washing, not for drinking.
Water out of the hot tap generally has health-threatening levels of
heavy metals (such as lead), as well as an off taste. You should
consider this water unfit for human consumption.

Incidentally, if you live in the United States in a house whose plumbing
system was constructed between the 1930s and the late 1970s, it's a
good idea to let the cold tap run at full for about a minute before
using it. This will help flush out heavy metals that may have collected
in the water as it sat in the plumbing system. This goes for all tap
water consumption, of course, not just for tea.

Some tea drinkers start with filtered water, particularly in areas with
unpleasant or unhealthy tap water. Although this can improve the quality
of the final product, some filtration systems have an annoying
disadvantage. Systems that filter the water and then store it in a
reservoir (such as the popular Brita system) often yield flat,
odd-tasting tea. This may be because these systems produce de-oxygenated
water. Some people recommend using filtered water immediately after it
has been filtered, or re-oxygenating the water by pouring it vigorously
between two glasses about five or six times.

Another problem with filtered water is that it is usually very "soft"
water, lacking the minerals normally found in well and spring water.
This can also affect the flavor of the brew. One way of increasing the
mineral content of filtered water is to add a pinch of salt, as
ancient tea sages did to rain water.

2.2.2. Why bother pre-heating the teapot? Is it necessary?

It's not absolutely necessary, but it does keep the infusion from
cooling off too quickly. Tea experts believe that this helps preserve
some of the more subtle components of a fine cup of tea. Some people
also like to place a tea cozy over the pot while the tea infuses, for
the same reason. Note that green and oolong teas often benefit from
slightly cooler water than black tea, so using a cozy during infusion
is not recommended for these varieties.

2.2.3. What kind of teapot should I use?

There are many different kinds of teapots, all with their own
particular good points and bad points. Ceramic pots are traditional
throughout most of Asia; most retain heat well (depending on the
thickness of the ceramic) and many are attractively decorated. But,
like all ceramics, they can chip and break.

Thick glass pots have all the advantages (and disadvantages) of
ceramics, with the important difference that you can watch the tea

Some people like metal pots. Their main disadvantage is that they
conduct heat away from the infusion more rapidly than do ceramics.
Some are also rumored to give an off taste to the drink.

2.2.4. Loose tea, tea bags, what's the difference?

High-quality tea is usually sold as loose tea. In addition, tea in bags
goes stale much more quickly because of its greater surface area (and
hence greater exposure to atmospheric oxygen); and it tends to pick up
odors and flavors from surrounding foods (or, I'm told, from the box
it's in).

Still, bags can be very convenient, especially if you are preparing
tea away from home. It may be a good idea to store bagged tea in a
tightly closed metal or opaque glass container to help keep it fresh

2.2.5. How much tea should I use?

There is no real consensus about this matter. A traditional bromide is
that one should add "one teaspoon for each person, plus one for the
pot." But this does not specify how much water each person gets, or
exactly how big a teaspoon is. I have seen recommendations ranging from
one teaspoon per 5.5 ounces of water to one teaspoon per 16 ounces of
water -- and these also do not explain how big a teaspoon is, or whether
they mean level teaspoons or heaping teaspoons.

Some tea drinkers weigh their tea on a kitchen scale. Those who do so
may find the figure of 15g of leaves per liter of water useful; this
produces a very strong cup and should be adjusted as desired.

I doubt that there is any reliable figure that applies to all tea
drinkers. The amount of tea you should use depends on many variables.
If you plan to add milk and sugar to your tea, you should probably add
more leaves. If you are brewing fresh, high-quality leaves, you can
use fewer. The ultimate guide is personal taste: it is advisable to
experiment and decide on the amount that suits you best.

2.2.6. What about tea balls, strainers, etc.?

There are many different options for dealing with loose leaves.

A) Leaves loose in the pot.
 Advantages: The leaves have maximum freedom to uncurl and circulate in
the water, which makes for stronger and more flavorful tea.
Disadvantages: You have to figure out some way to get the tea off the
leaves once it has infused. Also, you have to wash the leaves out of the
 If you use loose leaves and are brewing one cup, you can pour the tea
through a strainer, which will catch any leaves that escape the pot. If
you are brewing more than one cup, you can try any of the following:
 --Warm two pots and pour the brewed tea into the second pot. You may
want to place a tea cozy over the pot to keep the remaining tea hot.
 --Pour the brewed tea into a vacuum container.

B) The tea ball.
 Most tea balls are made of aluminum with small holes for water
circulation. Advantage: Easy to remove and clean. Very few leaves
escape. Disadvantages: often, there is insufficient space for the leaves
to expand. Also, the water cannot circulate properly around the leaves.

C) The stainless-steel mesh infuser.
 This is, as the name implies, made of stainless-steel mesh. Advantages:
better circulation than an aluminum ball. Easy to remove and clean.
Disadvantages: the leaves are still more restricted than they would be
 Infusers also come in plastic mesh and gold mesh. Some are sized to fit
into a teacup; some, to fit a pot.

D) The basket filter.
 This is a metal, plastic, or ceramic basket to hold the leaves. (Some
teapots are specially constructed to hold a filter.) Advantages:
easy to remove and clean. The leaves can circulate almost as freely as
if they were loose. Disadvantages: Slight additional expense. Not all
baskets fit all teapots. Specially constructed teapots are expensive.

E) The tea sock.
 A fabric enclosure for the leaves. Advantages: Easy to remove, fairly
unrestrictive of the expanding leaves. Disadvantages: Annoying to clean.
It may retain odors from previous batches.

F) The paper filter.
 This is like a coffee filter and fits into a plastic holder.
Advantages: easy to remove and discard. Disadvantages: The paper is
disposable, which may have unwanted environmental consequences.

G) The plunger pot.
 Similar to the melior pot used for brewing coffee, the plunger pushes
the leaves to the bottom of the pot and holds them there. Advantages:
completely free circulation of the leaves. Disadvantages: the leaves
have not actually been removed from the liquor, so they continue to
infuse. Also, you have to wash the leaves out of the pot just as with
loose leaves.

H) Brewing machines.
 One can also brew tea in a coffee maker, in much the same way that
one brews coffee. A machine expressly designed to brew tea automatically
has also recently been introduced to the marketplace. The biggest
worry most tea drinkers have about these methods is that they heat the
water somewhat short of the boiling point. While this is a good way to
brew coffee, it is less than ideal for most kinds of tea.
 But it's also true that some very discriminating tea drinkers have
reported good results with tea brewing machines. Some recent models
have been effusively praised for the sophistication of their brewing
procedures and the flavor of the tea they produce.

2.2.7. How hot should the water be?

Most black and oolong tea should be infused in water that has just
achieved a vigorous boil. You may want to place a tea cozy over the
teapot during infusion in order to avoid heat loss.

Green teas, however, are generally better suited to water that has
cooled off slightly from the boiling point. This holds especially if the
tea is high-quality (e.g. Japanese Gyokuro). The same is true for
Baozhong, lightly oxidized oolong such as Tung Ting, and first flush
Darjeeling. In general, the closer a tea is to green, the cooler the
water should be. Experiment and see how you prefer it.

If you are concerned about overheating these sorts of delicate leaves,
do not place a tea cozy on the pot during the infusion, as it keeps too
much heat in the pot. (Using the cozy to keep tea warm after it has
finished infusing is fine.) Some authorities even suggest leaving the
lid off the teapot when infusing green tea, to let some heat escape. What is a tea cozy, anyway?

A tea cozy is a fabric cover, much like an oven mitt, which is placed
over a teapot in order to prevent heat loss. Cozies come in a variety of
shapes and sizes. Most are designed simply to cover the entire pot, handle
and spout. Some, however, are made with openings and elastic so that they
cover only the body of the teapot, leaving the handle and spout exposed so
that you needn't remove the cozy in order to pour the tea.

A cozy is primarily useful if you make several cups at a time and want the
extra tea to remain hot in the pot until you're ready to drink it. Note
that ceramic handles tend to become very hot when the pot is kept warm in
this fashion. If you have never used a cozy, be careful!

2.2.8. How seriously should I take the time limits?

Pretty seriously. If you've ever tasted oversteeped tea, you know that
it is bitter and astringent--an all-around nasty experience. There is
probably a little margin for error, but if you put the tea on to
infuse and forget about it for half an hour, start over again.

Three to five minutes is fine for most varieties. Oolong, which is
always large leaves, can benefit from a long steeping time such as four
to six minutes. Darjeeling, interestingly enough, is often best with a
steeping time between 90 seconds and three minutes. (Since it tends
toward astringency, the short steeping time helps keep the balance of
flavors right. This is especially true of first flush Darjeeling.)

Some people like their tea best when steeped for ten to fifteen minutes.
This is often (but not always) because they drink their tea with large
amounts of milk and sugar and want to make sure that they will also
be able to taste the tea. If you prefer to drink tea without additional
flavorings, a two-to-four minute infusion time will probably give you
the best results. As always, you should experiment to see what suits
you best.

2.2.9. Should I put milk in my tea?
If you like.

The classic additions to tea are:

honey; milk; sugar; lemon;
milk and sugar; lemon and sugar; lemon and honey.

-- Cream is too heavy for most teas and should be avoided in favor of milk.

-- Like cream, whole homogenized milk is too heavy and strong tasting
for most people. Low-fat or skim milk seems to work best. As always,
though, this is just advice, not divine command. If you like cream or
whole milk in your tea, that's reason enough to use them.

-- Milk and honey don't seem to go very well together.

-- Do not add milk and lemon. The acidic lemon juice instantly curdles
the milk.

In any case, you should NOT add anything to green or oolong tea; they
are meant to be drunk straight. Should the milk go in the cups before or after the tea?

This question is a matter of great contention and bitter disagreement in
Great Britain. Some people seem to approach it more fervently than they
do matters of theology.

There is very little common ground in this debate. Perhaps the only thing
both camps agree on is the historical fact that the earliest porcelain cups
manufactured in England were likely to crack if very hot tea was poured
directly into them. Placing the milk in the cup before adding the tea helped
protect the cup. (Modern porcelain, however, does not need a milk buffer.)
There is also some talk of "scalding" the milk, but some people say that
milk-first scalds the milk; others, that tea-first scalds the milk. There is
also disagreement about whether scalding the milk is good or bad; some say
it improves the flavor, others that it ruins the milk.

Then there are those of us who consider the whole dispute somewhat akin
to Scholastic debates about angels dancing on pinheads. One way to avoid
the issue is to eschew milk completely. Still, I must admit that some
tea (especially long-steeped English or Irish Breakfast) takes very well
to a bit of milk.


3. Other ways to prepare and serve tea
 3.1. Asia
  3.1.1. The Japanese Tea Ceremony
  3.1.2. The _gongfu_ method
  3.1.3. Panyaro
  3.1.4. Thai tea
  3.1.5. The Guywan
  3.1.6. Masala chai
 3.2. Europe and the Americas
  3.2.1. Samovar
  3.2.2. English tea time
  3.2.3. Iced tea

3.1. Asia

3.1.1. The Japanese Tea Ceremony

_Cha-no-yu_, or "hot water for tea," is a ceremony of great antiquity
and depth. Like many of the ancient Japanese arts, it is viewed as a
potential means of Enlightenment; in other words, it is a central part
of _chado_, or the Way of Tea. It originated in China, where its
practice eventually died out; but combined with elements of Zen, it
remains a fascinating part of Japanese culture.

There are many different versions of the Tea Ceremony, varying according
to one's teacher and his or her training. The features common to most
versions are the following:

A) The ceremony always involves a host and several guests (but only a
few). It can be held in a screened-off alcove of a main room, but those
who can afford it build a teahouse and garden.

B) The guests wait in a special waiting room until summoned by the host.
They walk through the garden to the teahouse, which traditionally is
elevated and has a three-foot-tall door (so that guests must crawl to
enter the building).

C) The host ceremonially decorates the teahouse with screens and a
scroll or flowers.

D) Guests are served a small meal including a sweet.

E) The host brings in the tea utensils and begins preparing the tea. The
water is boiled and the tea bowl and whisk are heated. The powdered tea
is placed in a bowl and whisked to a thick consistency. After the guests
drink the bitter tea, the host cleans the utensils and the guests (more
or less ritually) examine and discuss the utensils.

The tea ceremony can last as long as four hours. The use of whisked
powdered tea indicates the antiquity of the ritual. This method of
preparing tea dates from the time of China's Sung dynasty, which lasted
from the 900s to the 1200s.

Some commentators complain that the contemporary emphasis is often on
ritual rather than on aesthetic or spiritual experience. Others find the
ceremony tedious beyond description, and the tea ghastly and barely
drinkable. At least one author also claims that most current students of
the tea ceremony are more interested in matrimony than Enlightenment.

But impressions differ. Other participants assert that if one
approaches the ceremony in the right frame of mind, it can be a very
impressive, even Enlightening, experience.

3.1.2. The _gongfu_ method

The Japanese tea ceremony is a metaphysical/religious ritual centered
around tea. There is nothing quite comparable in modern China (though,
as noted above, the Japanese ceremony originated in ancient China).

The Chinese do, however, have a special method for brewing tea, which
can produce remarkable results. It is called the _gongfu_ method.
_Gongfu_ means something like "skill and care." It is the root of the
term often used for Chinese black teas, "Congou." (As "Kung Fu," it is
also the term often used in the West for Chinese martial arts, which are
more properly known as _Wu shu_. But I digress...)

The _gongfu_ method is typically used for oolong and green teas. The
best results are with oolong. The typical method uses a very small
teapot, preferably a Yixing-style teapot, and small thimble-sized cups.
If you do not have a _gongfu_ tea set, you can approximate the method
with an ordinary teapot, though the result may not be quite as good.

Genuine Yixing teapots are made of a sandy clay found near the town of
Yixing in Jiangsu province. Most of the teapots sold in the West with
the label "Yixing" are not actually made from Yixing clay; still, they
seem to serve their purpose well enough. Yixing-style teapots are made
in a wide range of shapes, and are not glazed. The porous interior of an
unglazed pot is seasoned by repeated infusions of tea leaves, and does
not need to be cleaned.

The method is essentially a series of brief infusions. The tiny pot is
filled halfway (or more) with leaves. The host fills the pot with
boiling water and immediately drains it to rinse the leaves. Then, the
first infusion: the pot is filled with boiling water and the leaves
infuse for less than a minute. (One source says "four to five slow
breaths.") This infusion has the strongest aroma. Some methods use two
sets of cups: the tea is poured into the first cup and then poured from
that cup into the second cup. One then smells the aroma left behind in
the first cup, and drinks from the second cup.

The second infusion lasts slightly longer than the first; it has a weaker
aroma but more flavor. Subsequent infusions take progressively longer;
you may want to add a slow breath to each infusion. Some teas can take
four to five infusions, or more.

Since this method requires a large amount of tea and several small cups
(typically four), it is best done for a group of oolong lovers. It can
be a very convivial occasion!

3.1.3. Panyaro

Panyaro is a Korean tradition of tea preparation. It bears many
similarities to the Chinese _gongfu_ method, differing primarily in a
higher level of formality and a few additional implements (notably a
lipped cup used to cool the water before it is poured over the
leaves). The teapot and cups are slightly larger than the small
Chinese implements.

3.1.4. Thai tea

Thai restaurants often serve an orange drink called Thai tea, usually iced.
To make this drink properly, you need to find the red leaf tea grown in
Thailand, which produces a bright orange brew.

As you might imagine, red leaf Thai tea is difficult to find outside
Thailand. Some Asian grocery stores do carry it, though. You may in any
case be able to produce something like Thai iced tea simply by brewing
your favorite black tea and then adding, to taste, sweetened condensed

3.1.5. The Guywan

The Guywan (also spelled Gaiwan; also called "Chung") is a simple but
elegant system used in China to brew green and oolong teas. It consists
of a straight-sided porcelain cup (without a handle), a lid, and a
saucer. It can be used like a teapot to brew tea which is then decanted
to a cup; or one can infuse the tea and then drink directly from the
guywan. The lid is used to strain out the leaves and keep the tea warm.

3.1.6. Masala chai

Masala chai, or spiced tea, hails from the Indian subcontinent. There
are almost as many recipes for masala chai as there are drinkers of it.
The following recipe is not claimed to be definitive; it just happens
to be my favorite. Adjust to your own specifications.

Makes: 2 large cups

2.5 cups (570 ml) water
6-8 green cardamom pods
5-6 whole black peppercorns
1-2 slices fresh ginger, peeled and diced
1 stick cinnamon, 1-2 inches long
1-2 cloves
2/3 cup (175 ml) milk
4 tsp sugar
2-3 tsp loose black tea (preferably India or Ceylon)

Put the water in a saucepan, add the spices, and bring to a boil.
Turn down the heat and let simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Add milk
and sugar and bring to a boil (or heavy simmer). Add tea, turn
off the heat, and let infuse for two to three minutes. Strain into
two cups and serve hot.

3.2. Europe and the Americas

3.2.1. Samovar

The samovar is a Middle Eastern invention now most often associated with
the culture of Russia and its geographic and cultural neighbors. It is
well suited to the needs of a large community of voracious tea drinkers,
but unfortunately is not really practical as a means of producing an
afternoon cup for the solitary enthusiast.

The samovar was traditionally a large metal container with a metal pipe
running vertically through its center. To prepare tea, one filled the
container with water, then put charcoal in the pipe and lighted it.  When
the fire was hot, one would place a teapot on top of the pipe and brew a
strong concentrate of tea. The tea was served by pouring some of the
concentrate into a serving glass, then diluting it with hot water from the
main container. (I have provided the preceding instructions for
informational use only; if you get an antique samovar, you should rely on
the instructions that accompany it.)

Russians traditionally serve their tea in tall, straight-sided glasses,
flavored with lemon or jam. Drinking the tea through a sugar cube held
between the teeth is also common.

I am informed that modern Russians now use electric samovars which are
available in the west via mail order. (Keep in mind that European
appliances need special adapters to work on American electrical current.)
The brewing method is more or less the same as with the charcoal samovar.

3.2.2. English tea time

Tea time has been an important feature of British life for hundreds of
years. Traditionally, the upper classes serve a "low" or "afternoon"
tea around 4:00 PM, at which one might find crustless sandwiches,
biscuits, and cake. Middle and lower classes have a "high" tea later
in the day, at 5:00 or 6:00. It is a more substantial meal --
essentially, it's dinner -- which includes bread, meats, scones, and

Apparently, many Americans have the impression that "high tea" is the
meal served by "high-class" people. Actually, the names derive from
the height of the tables on which the meals are served. Low tea is
served on tables which in the United States would be called "coffee
tables." High tea is served on the dinner table.

3.2.3. Iced tea

Iced tea is a staple of American Southern life; it is very popular
throughout much of the United States, enough so that it is now being
marketed in cans and bottles.

Good iced tea uses a decent brand of black tea which is then cooled
(either in a refrigerator or by being poured over ice). Some people add
sugar; others would rather drink muddy water than sugared iced tea. The
sweetened vs. non-sweetened divide is probably the American South's
version of the milk-first vs. tea-first rift among Brits. Some people
also like to add lemon.

Iced tea is very easy to make. Infuse a strong concentrate of tea (i.e.
much less water than one would use for that amount of leaves) and add it
to cold water to the right proportions. The better the quality of the
tea, the better the iced tea will taste. It's probably a good idea to
use a strong-tasting tea that can stand up to the cold. Assam, for
example, makes terrific iced tea.

An alternative method is to make sun tea: fill a large glass jar with
water, put in tea bags or leaves, cover it, and put it in direct
sunlight for several hours.  When the tea is strong enough, pour over
ice and serve. Although this method is fairly popular, it may be
somewhat risky, as it involves using water that has not been boiled --
indeed, water that has been left out in the sun to reach ideal
bacterial-reproduction temperatures. I recommend avoiding this sort of
risk by always brewing tea with boiling or near-boiling water.


4. Descriptions of popular and noteworthy teas
 4.1. Black teas
  4.1.1. Assam (India)
  4.1.2. Ceylon (Sri Lanka)
  4.1.3. Darjeeling (India)
  4.1.4. Keemun (China)
  4.1.5. Lapsang Souchong (China)
  4.1.6. Nilgiri (India)
  4.1.7. Sikkim (India)
  4.1.8. Yunnan (China)
 4.2. Popular blends
  4.2.1. English Breakfast
  4.2.2. Irish Breakfast
  4.2.3. Russian Caravan
 4.3 Scented/Flavored tea
  4.3.1. Jasmine (China)
  4.3.2. Earl Grey
  4.3.3 Lapsang Souchong
  4.3.4. Tea blended with herbs
  4.3.5. Flavored teas
 4.4. Oolong
  4.4.1. Formosa Oolong (Taiwan)
  4.4.2. Ti Kuan Yin (or Tai Guan-Yin) (Mainland China)
4.5. Green tea
  4.5.1. Gyokuro (Japan)
  4.5.2. Spider Leg (Japan)
  4.5.3. Mattcha, Tencha (Japan)
  4.5.4. Sencha, Bancha, Hojicha (Japan)
  4.5.5. Genmaicha (Japan)
  4.5.6. Longjing (China)
  4.5.7. Gunpowder (China)
  4.5.8. Baozhong (China)
4.6. Pu-erh (China)
4.7. White tea (China)

There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of different teas. I only list
the better-known teas that are available in the West. I am sure that I
have left out your favorite tea, and I apologize in advance.

4.1. Black teas

Black tea is produced by allowing harvested leaf to wither and oxidize
for several hours before the process is halted by firing (i.e. heating
and drying out) the leaf.

4.1.1. Assam (India)

This variety has orange or red liquor and a distinctive, "malty" flavor.
It is a common component of high-quality blends, but is well worth
seeking out unblended. Assam is reliably strong, full-bodied tea; many
Irish Breakfast blends are entirely Assam.

4.1.2. Ceylon (Sri Lanka)

There are several varieties of Ceylon tea, but most of the Sri Lankan
harvest goes into blends. Commercial blends advertised as "Orange Pekoe"
are usually blends of India and Ceylon. This is probably closest to
what most Westerners think of when they think of tea: reddish-brown
liquor; brisk, full flavor.

4.1.3. Darjeeling (India)

This is the most expensive, sought-after black tea in the world. See
section 1.5.1 for information on the grading system applied to
Darjeelings. Unlike most other teas, many Darjeelings are sold under the
name of the plantation where they were grown.

Unfortunately, a great deal of tea labeled 'Darjeeling' consists
of blends containing only 50% Darjeeling. Worse, most of the
Darjeeling contained in these blends is harvested during the rainy
season and so is less flavorful. If you intend to buy real Darjeeling,
make sure you are buying 100% Darjeeling, preferably first or second
flush (see 1.5.1).

Fine Darjeelings usually have a lighter liquor than other black
teas, from a light reddish color to a bright gold. Astringency is
usually quite pronounced, and the aroma and flavor hint of almonds and

4.1.4. Keemun (China)

This is the foundation of many English Breakfast blends. (Some English
Breakfasts are all Keemun.) Keemuns come in a remarkably large number of
varieties. Most produce a red liquor with a subtle combination of
flavors; the aroma is often rich and fruity, sometimes with suggestions
of plum and apple. Some Keemuns have a delicate smoky flavor (though not
as smoky as Lapsang Souchong).

4.1.5. Lapsang Souchong (China)

This tea is fired over smoking pine needles, which produces a striking
smoky odor and flavor. The best varieties are not overwhelmed by the
smoke, but retain subtlety and a mix of other flavors. Lapsang Souchong
is found in many Russian Caravan blends.

4.1.6. Nilgiri (India)

Nilgiri, Darjeeling, and Assam are the three Indian teas which the
Indian Tea Board promotes as "self-drinkers," i.e. teas worth drinking
unblended. Unfortunately, Nilgiri is not as distinctive or interesting
as the other two. It is very much like Ceylon tea. Like Ceylon, much of
the Nilgiri harvest ends up in blends.

4.1.7. Sikkim (India)

This variety comes from a tea-growing area very near Darjeeling. It
combines Darjeeling's delicate flavor and light body with Assam's
maltiness. Although it is an excellent tea, it is not very well known
(yet) and thus not quite as expensive as Darjeeling.

4.1.8. Yunnan (China)

Yunnan's brown liquor has a subtle, earthy, peppery flavor. Inexpensive
Yunnan is not very exciting, but I am told that the higher quality
harvests are wonderful. Some Yunnan is used in Russian Caravan blends
(see 4.2.3).

4.2. Popular blends

There are more different blends of tea than can reasonably be
mentioned in the space available, so I will restrict myself to listing
the most well-known categories. The composition and proportions of a
particular blend vary from dealer to dealer, and are sometimes
well-guarded secrets. Blends may be restricted to teas from a
particular growing area, but in most cases are not. Blends most
commonly include tea grown in India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, or Africa.

4.2.1. English Breakfast

Some English Breakfasts are
blends of India and Ceylon teas; others, mostly or entirely Keemun.

4.2.2. Irish Breakfast

As mentioned earlier, this is usually mostly Assam--and very strong.

4.2.3. Russian Caravan

A popular blend, Russian Caravan harks back to the days when tea was
hauled to Russia from China on camelback. It often contains a bit of
smoky Lapsang Souchong, though its base is typically Keemun or Yunnan.
Many also contain oolong.

4.3. Scented/Flavored tea (includes both green and black teas)

4.3.1. Jasmine (China, green)

Logically enough, this tea is scented with jasmine flowers. Some is made
from Baozhong tea, but most is based on completely unoxidized green.
The highest quality is called Yin Hao. Jasmine tea ranges from abysmal
stuff, where the flowers are used to mask the poor quality of the tea,
to truly remarkable (and remarkably costly) delicacies.

4.3.2. Earl Grey (black)

This well-known British blend is scented with oil of bergamot. Bergamot is
an unpalatable citrus fruit shaped like a pear; the oil is pressed out of
its rind and sprayed on a blend of black teas. (There is also an herb
called 'bergamot' which smells like oil of bergamot. The herb is not used
in the production of Earl Grey.) There is no standard base for Earl Grey;
its distinctiveness derives from the oil of bergamot. Some Earl Greys are
quite good; others, unfortunately, are saturated with too much of the
aromatic oil, or contain low quality leaves, or both.

Oil of bergamot has two unusual properties that deserve brief mention.
One is that it can attack some kinds of transparent plastic, causing
them to become opaque. This may cause concerns for people who store
Earl Grey in transparent plastic containers. The other is that it
contains chemicals called psoralens, which can induce sensitivity to
sunlight in susceptible individuals. The sun sensitivity produces
unusual darkening of the skin, which is called psoralen-induced
photosensitive hyperpigmentation.

4.3.3. Lapsang Souchong

See above, section 4.1.5.

4.3.4. Tea blended with herbs

Many cultures blend tea with various herbs. One very popular
combination, originating in Morocco, is a blend of green tea and

4.3.5. Flavored teas

There are many different flavorings (too many to list) that can be added
to tea. The most popular combination is probably orange and cloves.

4.4. Oolong

Oolong is oxidized, but not for as long as black tea. It is in a sense
"intermediate" between green and black, but good oolong should be judged
on its own terms, and need not be compared to other kinds of tea. Most
good oolongs have an intense floral aroma and a remarkable peachy
flavor. Others have a vegetative quality like that of green tea. Liquor
color ranges all over the spectrum, from a pale jade green to pink to
deep gold.

4.4.1. Formosa Oolong (Taiwan)

Formosa oolongs, grown in Taiwan, have a long-standing reputation as the
finest oolongs available. They are called the "Champagne of Teas," and
rightly so in most cases. There are many varieties. Most that are
commercially available in
the West are not labeled with varietal or
place names; the label usually just informs you that it is Formosa
oolong and gives its grade. Note (see above, 1.5.1) that oolong is
graded according to quality, not just leaf size.

4.4.2. Ti Kuan Yin (or Tai Guanyin) (Mainland China)

If of good quality, this is a truly magnificent oolong, as good as many
Formosa Oolongs. Its color ranges from pinkish to gold, and its peachy
flavor is strong and rich. Retail price ranges from US$20/pound to a
jaw-dropping US$200/pound.

4.5. Green tea

There are many varieties of green tea, most of which are little-known
outside Asia. This list is only a tiny fraction of the varieties of
green tea drunk throughout China, Japan, and India.

Green tea is not oxidized at all; the freshly harvested leaves are
rolled and fired immediately. As a result, green tea usually has more of
a vegetative or herbaceous quality than blacks or oolongs. Most greens
produce a greenish-gold liquor. People who were raised on black tea
often find green an acquired taste, but it is worth acquiring.

4.5.1. Gyokuro (Japan)

The most highly valued Japanese tea. Also known as "Pearl Dew,"
it is a surprisingly rich, herbaceous tea.

4.5.2. Spider Leg (Japan)

This is a "basket-fired" variety of Gyokuro, meaning that it is fired
in bamboo baskets. The leaves turn out long and thin, hence the name
"Spider Leg."

4.5.3. Mattcha, Tencha (Japan)

Mattcha is the powdered tea used in the famed Tea Ceremony. It is also
called Tencha (before it is powdered).

4.5.4. Sencha, Bancha, Hojicha (Japan)

'Sencha' is a generic name for Japanese green tea, applying to most
high quality tea other than Gyokuro. Bancha refers to late-harvested
teas. Roasted tea is called Hojicha.

4.5.5. Genmaicha (Japan)

Genmaicha is sometimes called "popcorn tea" because of its unusual
taste. It is green tea blended with toasted rice.

4.5.6. Longjing (China)

This tea is named after a famous well which is said to be the home of a
dragon. The name (also sometimes spelled 'Lung Ching') means "Dragon
Well." Supposedly, one should brew this tea with water from that well.
Even with ordinary water, it produces a marvelous tea with a complex,
subtle, almost sweet flavor.

4.5.7. Gunpowder (China)

This is a strong, earthy green.

4.5.8. Baozhong (China)

Also called Bao Jong or Pouchong, it is allowed to wither before firing;
hence it is just shy of being oolong. It is sometimes regarded as a
fourth basic category of tea, since it is intermediate in oxidation
between green tea and oolong. Its flavor is intermediate between oolong
and green, and its aroma is strongly reminiscent of lilacs. Baozhong is
used as the base for some very good Jasmine tea.

4.6 Pu-erh (Mainland China, Yunnan Province)

Pu-erh is an unusual large-leafed tea with a characteristic earthy
flavor. (In some Chinese dialects, this tea's name is pronounced 'po
lay'.) Its color is very dark, almost red. It is marketed in bulk as
Pu-erh, shaped into cakes as Pu'er Cake Tea, or pressed into
hemispherical pieces called "Tuo Cha," or "Bird's Nest Tea."

Pu-erh differs from other teas because it is "refermented," or
oxidized a second time. This secondary oxidation sometimes is used to
develop a thin layer of mold on the leaves. (Although this is unusual
for most tea, skittish Western tea drinkers ought to keep in mind that
mold is also a key ingredient in widely consumed Western products such
as cheese.)

Pu-erh is renowned for its alleged medicinal effects on the digestive
tract. Some Chinese, in fact, drink it only as medicine. In any case,
it is an acquired taste. The term 'earthy' applies almost literally,
as some pu-erh tastes remarkably like dirt. This is not a criticism, but
novices should taste the tea before buying it.

4.7. White tea (China)

White tea is tea in which buds, rather than leaves, predominate. It is
plucked from special varieties of the tea plant known as Shui Hsien
and Dai Bai. The highest quality white tea is called Baihao Yinzhen,
which means "white down silver needles." Less fancy varieties are
called Baimudan (or Pai Mu Tan) and Show Mee (or Shoumei).

Also, in the bad old days, one might be offered a different sort of
"white tea" in very poor Chinese homes: namely, a cup of boiled water.


5. Miscellany
 5.1. How should I store tea?
 5.2. What is the best way to clean pots and cups?
 5.3. What is
 5.4. Can I grow tea plants myself?
 5.5. Tea and health
  5.5.1. Cancer protection
  5.5.2. Fluoride content
  5.5.3. Protection against dehydration
 5.6. Tea and caffeine
  5.6.1. What is caffeine?
  5.6.2. What are caffeine's effects?
  5.6.3. Should I worry about caffeine addiction? What are its
  5.6.4. Can I become addicted to tea?
  5.6.5. How much caffeine does tea contain? Does green tea have
  5.6.6. Can tea be decaffeinated?
  5.6.7. How can I get rid of a caffeine habit?
 5.7. Where can I get British tea in the United States?
 5.8. Professional tasters' lexicon

5.1. How should I store tea?

Tea should be stored in an airtight, opaque container in a cool, dry
place. Many tea retailers sell tea in metal tins that close tightly,
which seems optimal. Clear glass jars are acceptable only if you can
keep them in a closed cupboard away from light. If you reuse containers,
avoid using materials that retain odors, as the tea will pick them up.

The refrigerator is NOT a good place. The cold encourages water
condensation, which can ruin the tea. You can freeze tea for long-term
storage if you tightly seal your container and wrap it in plastic.
Before you open a container of frozen tea, let it warm to room
temperature in order to avoid contaminating the tea with condensation.
(You may also want to do this on a dry day.)

5.2. What is the best way to clean pots and cups?

Even if you rinse your pots and cups after every use, which is
advisable, they will eventually build up stains. Some people regard
these stains as desirable, analogous to seasoning a wok. This seasoning
is certainly desirable (and unavoidable) on unglazed equipment such as
Yixing-style pots (see 4.5.2.). Opinions differ on whether it is
desirable on china, porcelain, or glazed earthenware pots.

Those who do want to remove tea stains face some minor complications.
Most pots are not dishwasher safe. In addition, many people would rather
not use soap or detergent on tea equipment, since they find that the
drink picks up an off flavor. (As with most things about tea,
opinions differ on this subject.)

The simplest way to rid yourself of stains without using soap is to
brush the stains off with a soft kitchen brush or toothbrush. Baking
soda (sodium bicarbonate) works surprisingly well as a cleaning agent.
Just put some baking soda on the wet brush and scrub. Really tough
stains can be softened by putting two teaspoons of baking soda into the
pot and filling it with hot water. Let sit for an hour, empty, brush,
and rinse.

Some people have reported good results by using a drop of chlorine
bleach in a potful of water; but you must rinse the pot very carefully
after this method!

5.3. What is is a Usenet newsgroup devoted to the discussion of
tea and related beverages. It was inaugurated in 1995 with the
following charter:

  Discussion relating to tea, the world's second most consumed beverage
  (after water), made by infusing or boiling the leaves of the tea plant
  (C. sinensis or close relatives) in water.  Discussions of herbal teas
  (e.g. chamomile, sassafras, etc.) are also approved, but this
  newsgroup should NOT be used for advertising herbal tea products or
  discussing tea as anything other than a beverage.  Tea-as-medicine
  discussions should take place in

The FAQ was first written in 1995 and has gone through several
revisions since then.

5.4. Can I grow tea plants myself?

As its botanical name suggests, the tea plant is a variety of
camellia, and like other camellias it can be cultivated in a home
garden. It is not well suited to indoor cultivation, though. It grows
best outdoors in climates like its native ones: temperate, with warm
summers and cool (not cold) winters. In the United States, the best
climate is probably like that found in the Carolinas.

Large nurseries, particularly those that specialize in camellias, may
be able to provide interested gardeners with tea plants ready for home

5.5. Tea and health

The possible beneficial health effects of tea drinking have been
widely publicized lately (1998-1999). Research in this area is still
progressing, and I am not really qualified to explain the complex
biochemical factors that appear to underlie tea's effects on health.
So the following is no more than a brief, non-technical summary of
some of the effects on health that have been tentatively identified. I
encourage readers interested in further information to consult the
many sources available on the Web and in journals on health and life
extension. The following is presented for its informational value
only, and is not to be regarded as medical advice. For medical advice,
consult your doctor.

5.5.1. Cancer protection

Recent epidemiological studies suggest a lower tendency toward cancer
in tea-drinking populations. It is hypothesized that this may have
something to do with chemicals found in tea called polyphenols (or
catechins, or tannins). These are chemically related but not identical
to the tannins found in wine. Incidentally, tannic acid (used in
tanning leather) is a kind of polyphenol, but it is _not_ found in

All forms of tea seem to have some anti-cancer effect, though the most
pronounced effects have been reported for green tea. One or two cups a
day seems to be quite sufficient for good results.

It should be understood that tea drinking is not a "magic bullet" for
the prevention of cancer. At best, it can be one part of a healthy
lifestyle that includes the following: not smoking or using tobacco in
other forms; minimizing exposure to radiation, carcinogenic chemicals,
and direct sunlight; eating a varied diet based mostly on grains,
beans, and plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables; getting regular
aerobic exercise; practicing self-examination for lumps or unusual
areas on the skin; and getting regular medical checkups.

In any case, do not drink tea that is scalding hot. This practice
increases the likelihood of cancer of the mouth and throat.

5.5.2. Fluoride content

Tea is well known as a good source of fluoride, which helps strengthen
teeth. This is not a major concern for people whose municipal water is
fluoridated, but it may matter to people who drink from wells (or who
use water filters that filter out fluoride). As above, although this
may help protect teeth, it is no substitute for brushing, flossing,
and regular dental checkups.

5.5.3. Protection against dehydration

A perhaps unexpected benefit of tea drinking is the resulting increase
in water consumption, which protects against dehydration. Since
caffeine is a mild diuretic, the benefit is not quite as great as
drinking plain water; but it is real nonetheless. Two cups of tea are
approximately equivalent to one cup of plain water in their hydrating

5.6. Tea and caffeine

5.6.1. What is caffeine?

Caffeine is a stimulant drug found in tea as well as in many other
natural substances. Coffee is better known as a dietary source of
caffeine (and the source of the name 'caffeine'), but tea contains a
significant amount of the drug.

Other natural sources of caffeine are chocolate and yerba mate', which
is used as an herbal drink in parts of South America. Caffeine is also
added to many foods and drugs, including soft drinks and pain
relievers such as Excedrin.

5.6.2. What are caffeine's effects?

Since it is a stimulant, caffeine increases alertness and quickness of
response, and often briefly improves mood. It is a mild diuretic. In
large doses, it can produce jitters, anxiety, and insomnia. As with
any stimulant, the period of enhanced alertness and heightened mood is
generally followed by a period of depressed mood and ability.

Caffeine is also an addictive drug if taken regularly. Caffeine
addiction is probably the most common drug addiction in the world,
with nicotine addiction a close second.

5.6.3. Should I worry about caffeine addiction? What are its symptoms?

Caffeine addiction is not as serious as most drug addictions; it is
certainly less serious than nicotine addiction. It is also easier to
shake than most other addictions. Still, caffeine addiction can be
serious for some people. Since its effects are subtle and socially
accepted, caffeine addiction can be an unnoticed and difficult to
diagnose source of health problems.

One important side effect (and a frequent cause of medical advice to
limit or stop caffeine use) is sleep disruption. Many other unwanted
effects are associated not so much with use as with withdrawal.
Prominent among these effects is the withdrawal headache, caused by
dilation of blood vessels in the head that had been constricted by the
consumption of caffeine. Other side effects of withdrawal, usually
found in frequent and heavy users of caffeine, are lethargy,
irritability, and constipation.

5.6.4. Can I become addicted to tea?

Addiction to tea is less common than addiction to coffee, because tea
has less caffeine than coffee. But if you drink enough tea on a
regular basis, you can become addicted. The most reliable sign that
you are addicted to tea is a recurring headache that seems to have no
obvious cause and can be relieved by drinking tea or another
caffeinated beverage (or by taking Excedrin, which contains caffeine).

If you are worried about addiction, the best thing to do is to cut
down gradually on the amount of caffeine you consume. If you also
drink coffee and caffeinated soft drinks or take medication containing
caffeine, eliminating these from your diet will make it easier for you
to drink tea without fear of troublesome habituation.

5.6.5. How much caffeine does tea contain? Does green tea have

_All_ real tea contains caffeine unless the tea has been artificially
decaffeinated. (The only exception to this rule is Japanese kokicha,
made from stems of the tea plant. Its caffeine content is negligible.)
Tea also contains a related chemical called theobromine, which has
similar (slightly milder) effects on the body.

The amount of caffeine in a cup of tea varies tremendously, depending
on the variety of tea and the brewing time. (The most important factor
in caffeine content of leaves appears to be the climate in which the
plant is grown.) It has been widely claimed that green tea has less
caffeine than black, but various sources (including a professional tea
chemist) have informed me that this is not necessarily true. Although
green tea often contains less caffeine than black, in some cases it
may have just as much or more.

I can report that the most caffeinated tea I have ever had was green.
In 1995, I ordered a small pot of Yin Hao jasmine at a local
coffeehouse, unaware that this delightful, high-quality delicacy was
eye-popping, jaw-clenching rocket fuel. After two small cups, my hands
were trembling and I could barely sit still. In fact, that same
afternoon, I sat down and wrote this entire document in twenty-five

[The last sentence is a joke. But everything else in the preceding
paragraph is absolutely true.]

There is simply no reliable way, short of chemical analysis, of
knowing exactly how much caffeine is in your cup; and chemical
analysis is not terribly practical if you intend to drink the tea. My
advice is to be mindful of how much you drink, and pay attention to
how you react to a particular brand or sample of tea. There may be no
better way to decide how to regulate your intake.

5.6.6. Can tea be decaffeinated?

There are some brands of decaffeinated tea on the market, but
unfortunately their quality is rarely very high. It is very difficult
(perhaps impossible) to remove caffeine from tea without degrading its

On the other hand, it is possible to prepare ordinary tea so as to
remove most (not all) of the caffeine from the finished product.
Caffeine is very water-soluble, more so than many of the flavor
components in tea. So a very brief infusion can remove much of the
caffeine while preserving flavor.

Here's how to do it: boil enough water for twice as many cups as you
intend to drink. Pour the normal amount of water over the leaves, then
infuse for twenty to thirty seconds. Pour off the resulting brew and
discard, retaining the leaves. Bring the water to a boil again and
pour it over the same leaves, this time infusing for the normal three
to five minutes. This infusion is the one to drink.

This method can also be used to prepare a highly caffeinated drink
without many of the sedative components ordinarily found in the cup.
Don't bother with a second infusion; just drink the results of the
twenty- to thirty-second infusion. One of my philosophical colleagues
swears by it, saying it's the only source of caffeine that gives him a
"clean burn."  This method is, of course, not much use to those of us
who drink tea for the flavor.

5.6.7. How can I get rid of a caffeine habit?

If you have a clear case of addiction that is interfering with your
sense of well-being, you should try to quit. Breaking a caffeine
addiction is, mercifully, relatively easy to do. Andrew Weil (in
_Natural Health, Natural Medicine_) offers the following advice for
those who want to try to kick the habit "cold turkey":

"Do not attempt it unless you have three days with no responsibilities
and no demands on your time and energy. Arrange for ways to keep
yourself distracted and comfortable. Prepare to be without energy and
to have a headache for forty-eight to seventy-two hours. Take nothing
with caffeine."

Some people have lingering withdrawal symptoms for two or more weeks
after ceasing intake.

If you are reluctant to kick the habit all at once, you may want to
try gradually easing yourself off caffeinated drinks. This works well
for some people and poorly for others.

5.7. Where can I get British tea in the United States?

Homesick Brits can buy a few British household brands by mail order. The
Mark T. Wendell company sells Ty-Phoo and PG Tips.
Mark T. Wendell
P.O. Box 1312
West Concord, MA 01742

5.8. Professional tasters' lexicon

This is from James Norwood Pratt, _Tea Lover's Treasury_.

Dry Leaf:

Bloom: sheen or luster on black leaf
Bold: large leaf or sometimes pieces of leaf too big for a grade,
Chesty: resinous odor/taste imparted by uncured wood in tea chest
Common: poor quality
Dull: leaf without sheen, i.e., "bloom"
Flaky: poorly made leaf that's flat and easily broken; nonpejoratively,
small grades
Shotty: well-made Gunpowder; sometimes also applied to Souchong
Tippy: generous amounts of white or golden tip, i.e., budding leaf
Well-twisted: fully withered, tightly rolled leaf
Wiry: stylish, thin whole leaves; quite often OP grade


Agony of the leaves: unfolding of the leaves in boiling water

Tea Liquor:

Bakey: unpleasant taste caused by firing leaf at too high a temperature;
not as strong as "burnt"
Biscuity: pleasant characteristic often associated with Assam teas
Bite: not a taste but the astringent puckeriness that gives Black Tea
its refreshing quality
Body: viscosity, the strength of the liquor combined with its weight on
the tongue; body may be "full," "light," etc.
Brassy: unpleasant tang caused by under-withering
Bright: sparkling liquor characteristic of all fine teas; also describes
taste opposite of "dull"
Brisk: lively, not flat
Complex: the harmonious melange of various flavors characteristic of the
very finest teas
Dull: muddy looking liquor, the opposite of "bright"; "flat" tasting
Flat: soft, rather flabby-bodied tea lacking "bite" and "briskness"
Fruity: piquant quality characteristic of good Oolongs, some Keemuns,
Gone off: tea that's been spoiled by improper storage or packing or is
simply past its prime and stale
Malty: a subtle underlying flavor often characteristic of Assam
Peak: the high point of the tasting experience when, some instants after
the liquor enters the mouth, its body, flavor, and astringency make
themselves fully felt. Greens and Oolongs do not peak but stand
immediately and fully revealed.
Pointy: a liquor is said to "have point" if it shows some desirable
property--for example, briskness or fine fragrance
Pungent: astringent; what gives a tea its bite
Self-drinking: any tea with sufficient aroma, flavor, body, and color to
stand alone and in no need of blending for improvement
Stewed or stewy: poorly fired tea giving soft liquor without "point";
also used of tea that's brewed too long and has become bitter
Tarry: smoky flavor associated with Lapsang Souchong
Thin: lacking body and/or color
Weedy: may be applied to thin, cabbagy Black Teas; nonpejoratively, a
Green Tea may be called weedy if it has a not-unpleasant vegetative
aroma and flavor, varying from simple "herbaceousness" to scents of
new-mown hay
Winey: usually descriptive of a mellow quality fine Darjeelings or
Keemuns acquire with six months to a year or more of age; more rarely
used to describe overfermented tea


About the author: My name is Christopher Roberson. I have a Ph.D. in
philosophy from the University of Michigan. I have never been a tea
trader, chemist, or other kind of special authority on tea. My
knowledge of tea comes from reading about it and, of course, drinking

This text is NOT in the public domain. Copyright 2000, Christopher
Roberson. All rights reserved. Unauthorized publication is prohibited.


Thanks to the following people for help, information, suggestions, and

Rob Beauchamp, Cathy Berry, Blaize, Andreas Bogk, James Campbell, Noah
Coccaro, D.  Dalrymple, Stephen Darwall, Bruce De Vries, Michelle
Dick, R. N. Dominick, Robert Dunbar, Malcolm Dunn, G. S. Durocher,
Jakris Euahsunthornwattana, Tom Frenkel, John L. Luigi Giasi, Nagib Z.
Hakim, Matthew E. Harbowy, Duane Healing, Kris Heidenstrom, Jon
Hodapp, Charles Hoot, Matt Hucke, Lois-Anna Kaminski, Robert H. Klein,
Steven Leung, Marciana, Rick Mendosa, Vicki Jean Merriman, Marlene
Mills, Mike Newton (Fig), Jeremy Rule, Nobuo Sakakura, Roland
Saldanha, Howard Sinberg, Slacker, Doug Smith, Mr D.F. Steele, Stephan
Schulz,, Gene Wayne, Wembley, Laura Whaples,
Stephen Ray Williams. Thanks in particular to Kai Birger Nielsen, the
first person to put the FAQ in HTML; and to Gabriel Shahar, who
provided many helpful comments.

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