Throughout the world, tea is the most widely-consumed beverage after water. The first documented use of tea dates back to the 10th Century China, although there’s a legend that the Emperor Shennong (circa 2737 BCE) first brewed tea when a tea leaf dropped into some water the emperor was boiling. However, by the Tang Dynasty (618-907) tea was widely popular. Japan and Korea were the next to begin enjoying tea, and then, thanks to trade with Western countries, tea trade and consumption of tea soon spread to Europe and beyond.
Tea is made by steeping the dried leaves and leaf buds of the Camellia sinensis plant. The drying process varies from plant to plant and manufacturer to manufacturer. The five types of tea most commonly found on the market are black tea, oolong tea, green tea, white tea, and pu-erh tea. There are many other types of herbals and infused blends that are referred to as tea, such as rooibos or honeybush, but true tea comes only from the Camellia sinensis plant and various cultivars from the original plant.
Tea is classified in a variety of ways, mostly based on the rarity of the plant, the season in which the leaves are picked, the amount of leaf that is picked and how it’s processed. For example, some teas are made up of only the tips or unfurled leaves of a young plant. Generally, those teas produce a finer taste and are more expensive.
When you buy a loose-leaf cup of tea, you might notice some abbreviations on the menu. They’re simply a means of grading tea although the absence of these letters after the tea doesn’t mean an inferior quality. Not all countries and producers use the same system to grade the quality of leaf! Below are some common tea grades: