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Forget the teabag, when thinking of loose leaf tea, we find it is helpful to think of it in a similar way to wine. The world of tea, just like wine, hosts thousands of exciting and diverse varieties to suit all palates. Traditional tea varieties, i.e. black, green and white teas are all derived from the Camellia sinensis plant. It may seem surprising that strong, malty breakfast tea comes from the same plant as delicate, floral white teas or fresh, vegetal greens; this diversity of flavour is the result of thousands of years of tea production, the skill, craftsmanship and love of the tea producers and in some cases, happy accidents made along the way.
The teabag certainly has its place, there will always be times where a comforting cup of builder’s tea can fix a thousand problems but we are really keen to introduce as many people as possible to real tea. After all, the teabag has only been around in Britain since the 1950s-60s, where it exploded into the market, completely transforming the type of tea we drink in the process, dramatically reducing the quality and array of flavours. See more about this in our article on tea grading.
Some of the most common flavour notes in tea are – floral, spicy, smoky, earthy or vegetal, but it doesn’t end here – there are too many more to mention! On the whole, these just do not come across in teabag blends. Some teas are enhanced with flavour, too – the most well known examples in the West are Earl Grey (bergamot), Chai (spices), Lapsang Souchong (smoked) and Jasmine teas.
When we speak of tea, we sometimes mean herbal or rooibos teas. Although these can be just as enjoyable they are not “tea” in the traditional sense, as they do not come from the Camellia sinensis plant. They are sometimes called tisanes or herbal infusions, but if you want to call them teas, we won’t stop you! We love these teas, however when we refer to tea in this particular article we are referring to Camellia sinensis tea.
So then, back to the variety in tea – it is the production process that has the biggest impact on the type and flavours of the tea. A simplified explanation is that black tea is left to oxidise the longest, green slightly less and white the least. For much more detail on this, please see our article on tea production and processes.
There are so many wonderful stories behind tea, too. We promise to share some of these tales with you soon and hope you will enjoy the variety of tea that goes way beyond the humble tea bag!