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What is tea?
What are the types of tea?
What are the grades of tea?
What are the major tea growing areas of the world?
How Do I Store Tea?
Tea is Camellia Sinensis (thea, or camellia, chinensis).  Tea is an herb but not all herbs are tea.  Only those leaves harvested from the camellia sinensis plant are actually tea. 
There are three related varieties of this plant, the small leaved Chinese tea plant, C. sinensis sinensis, the larger leaved, more tree-like Indian Assam plant, C. sinensis assamica, and another tree like plant from Cambodia, C. sinensis assamica subspecies lasiocalyx. Hybrids are also grown, with the Cambodian plant used mainly for hybrid production.

What are the types of tea?
Tea is known by the terms white, green, oolong and black.  The types are references to processing and oxidization. The simplest explanation is to think of a leaf that is picked or falls from any bush.  The leaf turns stages of colors until it is finally black.  In the case of tea, oxidization is stopped at various stages.
non-oxidized (White)
non-oxidized (Green)
semi-oxidized (Oolong)
fully oxidized (Black)
Some of the grades of tea are as follows:
Black Tea Grades
  • Flowery Orange Pekoe
  • Pekoe
  • Souchong
  • Broken Orange Pekoe
  • Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings
  • Broken Pekoe
  • Fannings
  • Dust
Green Tea Grades
There is no uniform grading terminology for green tea. Chinese greens are graded differently depending on where they come from.  Some terms that you may find with regard to Chinese green teas are:
  • Gunpowder 
  • Young Hyson
  • Imperial
  • Twankay
  • Oolong Tea Grades
Grading for oolongs changes 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).

What are the Major Tea-Producing Countries Around the World?
There are more than 70 tea-growing countries around the world including the United States of America.

How Do I Store Tea?
Keep it dry and out of the light. The best container is a metal box with a double lid or a canister/caddy with a seal and is light-proof. Loose-leaf tea keeps better than tea packed in tins or boxes because it has a larger bulk. Some tea comes wrapped in tinfoil and boxed, if you expect to use it all in a month or two, it is all right to leave it in the original bag. Oolong tea (with 2-3 percent moisture compared to 5-7 percent in others) keeps longer. If tea gets damp you can spread it out in a pan and dry it in the oven. Store tea in a cool, dry place, preferably well ventilated. Tea absorbs other odors easily, so never keep it in the cabinet with spices nor sitting on a counter near onions or garlic. Avoid placing tea in the refrigerator or freezer. Once tea is tainted by an outside odor, it cannot be salvaged.
Tea should not be placed in a refrigerator since the change in temperatures when the product is used could contribute to “sweating” which could lead to mold formation and deterioration of quality.  Similarly, tea should be allowed to breathe so that excess moisture may safely evaporate.  Shipping tea in airtight containers for short periods of time is an acceptable practice which serves to protect the fragile product from harmful outside contaminants.
  • Do you teach tea classes on site?
    Yes, I'll be happy to travel to your boardroom or conference room. We can make special group arrangements or corporate membership, too.

  • Do you offer classes other than in Seattle and Portland?
    Yes, although I travel frequently, I will also be teaching classes at other venues. And presentations at trade shows as well. Please sign up for the newsletter to keep current on class schedules.

  • How do I brew tea? What is the recommended process?
    We usually say "infusing tea" or "steeping tea" as compared to "brewing tea". Cardinal Rule: Always begin with fresh, non-chlorinated water. Hot Tea: Use a teapot, preheating it by rinsing it out with hot water. This keeps the tea hot for a greater period of time. Bring fresh cold water to a full rolling boil. Water that has been reheated gives tea a flat taste; only boiling water can extract the full flavor and benefit from black tea leaves. Water heated in the microwave is not recommended.

    A good way to judge the temperature of water is this: when watching a pot of water begin to boil, the first bubbles that appear in the bottom are called "fish eyes". When the bubbles begin to rise to the surface, they are sometimes called a "chain of pearls". Lastly, when the water surface is covered with bubbles and is rolling, it is called a "full boil". Steep white tea at 165°-170°F or at the "fish eye" stage. Steep green tea at about 190°. Steep oolong at 200°F or at the "chain of pearls" stage. Black tea is infused at 212°F, a full boil.

    Green tea will cook, or stew, when boiling water is added. Some teas may be infused multiple times - up to seven times. Each infusion creates a different level of pleasure. Generally, use one teaspoonful of tea or one teabag per cup (6 ounces) of water and pour the hot water over the tea. The recommended measurement is 2 gm. per 5 oz. of water. Steep for 3 to 7 minutes.

    Don't judge the strength of tea by its color. Allow time for the leaves to unfold and release their flavor. Green tea takes less time than black tea to steep. If you like tea less strong, add water after the steeping period. If tea is too weak, you must begin again.

    Iced Tea: Follow the guidelines for making hot tea, but use 50% more tea to allow for melting ice. For a pitcher of iced tea, bring 1 quart of fresh water to a full rolling boil. Remove from heat and immediately add 1/3 cup of loose tea. Stir and let stand 5 minutes. Stir again and strain into a pitcher holding an additional quart of fresh cold water.

    A pound of loose tea will make 200-300 cups of tea, whereas a pound of coffee makes about 70 cups. If you use teabags, the same proportion holds true: a pound of tea is used to fill 200 teabags, enough for 200+ cups of tea. Comparing the number of cups of tea and the cost of tea per pound, you will find that next to water, tea is the least expensive beverage in the world. Including sugar, lemon or milk, it costs less than 12 cents per serving.

    Sun Tea is not recommended. Although the tea leaves probably contain no bacteria, the health department recommends boiling the water before making any beverage. Once made for iced tea, tea may be left unrefrigerated for up to 8 hours according to the SW WA Health Department.

  • I'm new to tea and find the acronyms and terminology confusing. Can you help?
    These simplified tea terms guide you through the teas on this website. There are many tea names and references in the tea world. T = Tippy G=Golden F=Flowery O=Orange P=Pekoe. Sometimes numbers following the grade indicate flushing. For example, TGFOP1 indicates tippy golden flowery orange pekoe from the first plucking of the year. See more terms above...

  • What is tea and what do those letters mean?
    Tea, camellia sinensis, is indigenous to China, Tibet and Northern India. While tea is now cultivated in over 70 countries around the world, the highest quality teas continue to be exported from China, India, Japan, Taiwan, Kenya and Sri Lanka. While the point of tea origin may differ, Germany, the center of world trade for tea, is the largest importer of tea. Who drinks the most tea per capita? The Turkish! Different methods of processing freshly plucked tea leaves determine types, grades and flavors. Oxidization and processing, or lack of it, determines whether a tea is white, green, oolong, black or dark. Leaves for all types may be from the same kind (or the very same) plant. Over 97 percent of all tea consumed in the United States is black tea. The oxidization process turns the leaves black and they produce a brew with hearty flavor. Green tea is light in color when brewed. Oolong tea is a compromise between black and green tea. It is semi-oxidized, so the leaves turn greenish-brown. It, too, brews lighter in color. Grading refers to the size of the leaf only - not quality. Most grading terms apply to black teas only. OP: Orange Pekoe (Long thin wiry leaves) BOP: Broken Orange Pekoe (The smallest of the leaf grades.) TGFOP: Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (This grade represents some of the most precious teas in the world. It is not uncommon to see whole leaves in their original state after infusing.) FANNINGS: Much smaller than BOP. Its main characteristic is quick brewing with good color in the cup. For use in teabags only, not a good grade but tasty nonetheless. GREEN TEAS: Usually graded by name of tea. (Gunpowder, Chinese, Sencha, etc.) WHITE TEAS: Most white teas are made from tips; their infusions are pale golden and slightly sweet. They are highly prized, very rare and produced primarily in China and Sri Lanka. 

  • White tea and some green teas taste just like hot water to me? How do I get more flavor?
    To enjoy the nuances of fine tea, we recommend avoiding use of spices, onion, garlic and coffee for 2-3 days before infusing certain teas. A purist enjoys the lighter flavored teas by having a clean palate. The nuances of tea are more pronounced when the body's system is cleansed. White tea by its nature has a mild taste. The mild taste and color does not mean less health benefits.

  • This may not be related but what about the pinkie in the air?
    Heaven forbid. This affectation relates to a time when the King of France set table manners and decreed that rather than using knives or other pointy objects, food should be picked up with the thumb, index and middle fingers. The position itself automatically forced the ring and pinkie fingers into the air. When the rule was abandoned, so was the pinkie in the air. Is it a sign of ignorance or defiance, who knows?

Tea Newsletter

Every month we'll send to you, for as long as you want, free news updates on all things tea.
Next, there'll be a confirmation e-mail with a link to my free, downloadable Tea Flavor Wheel to help you define and describe the various teas you are tasting. Enjoy!
Tea Newsletter