A simple cup of tea has spawned cultural traditions throughout the world, particularly in Turkey, England, Japan, Korea and China.
Tea is a drink produced by brewing the leaves and buds of the Camellia sinensis plant. Over the centuries, tea has served as a drink, a tradition, and a means of economic expansion. Volumes have been written on the fascinating global journey of tea: to summarize, it is believed to have been first used in China around 2700 BC as a medicinal beverage; began being cultivated and used as an everyday drink in the 3rd century AD; and, in the 17th century, was subsequently brought from China to Europe by Portuguese traders and merchants, with many turns and detours along the way.
Although the plant originated in China, tea is now mainly grown in Turkey, around the Black Sea, and on the Asian, African, and South American continents.
In Turkey, tea is omnipresent. There are tea gardens (çay bahçesi) in every village where only tea is served, and every neighborhood of every city and town where you can relax and sip your tea. Tea is offered in restaurants after the end of a meal, and in homes whenever a guest arrives. According to the World Tea Report, published by the World Tea Committee in 2018, Turkey is the world leader in annual tea consumption per capita: the average consumption worldwide is 500 grams per year and, in Turkey, that consumption reaches 3.5 kilos. In tea production, Turkey ranks fifth in the world, behind China, India, Sri Lanka, and Kenya, respectively.
Hundreds of types of tea exist, classified according to variables such as region, production and fermentation methods, and mixture ratios. But most fall into three main categories: black, green or white tea. The difference between the teas in these categories is how they are processed: black tea is fully oxidated after the leaves are picked; white tea leaves are picked when young and undergo minimal processing. Green tea leaves are partially oxidated, and then steamed or pan-fried.
How to brew tea
How the tea is brewed also affects its flavor. Generally, tea leaves are placed in a teapot or a glass, and hot water (100°C) is poured over them. Smaller tea leaves require less steeping time, while a long-leafed tea such as Ceylon can be steeped longer. According to Bon Appetit magazine, most tea leaves can be re-used for additional infusions. Green and white tea leaves are usually steeped with water of a lower temperature (80°C). In Turkey, two kettles are used. The larger kettle is filled with hot water; the smaller kettle, which is atop the larger, is filled with tea leaves, which heat as the water heats. The water is then poured into the smaller kettle. A glass is usually half-filled with strong, steeped tea and diluted slightly with hot water.
Note for tea lovers: it is alleged that the best tea is steeped in water obtained from melted snow!
While there are hundreds of teas, we’ve listed five wonderful teas to begin your personal journey into tea drinking!
Named after the city in the West Bengal region where it is grown, Darjeeling is considered among the best quality teas worldwide. Cultivated in the high mountains, the tea plants receive strong sunlight, while low temperatures in the evening result in slower-growing plants. Thus lies the secret of Darjeeling’s uniquely soft fragrance. This black tea, a light copper color, is one the most expensive teas in the world.
Possessing a smoky, earthy taste and aroma, Oolong tea has a special place in the tea world, particularly in China, Japan, and Taiwan. Distinguished by its processing method, oolong tea leaves undergo withering, rolling and drying after harvesting, and the tea can present a wide range of fragrances and flavors according to the climate, rainfall and soil components of its growing region. The oolong tea flower is among the most difficult types of tea to cultivate.
Assam tea, cultivated in the Assam region of northern India, is one of the most consumed tea types in India. Having its own special place among black teas, it features a strong, malty aroma. After steeping, the color is clear and bright and diffuses a sharp smell. Assam tea is a must-try delicacy for tea lovers who enjoy black tea and strong flavors.
Originating in Africa, Rooibos tea, also known as “red tea”, is produced from the red bush, Aspalathus linearis. Cultivated in a small area in the Western Cape region of South Africa, Rooibos is usually served mixed with spices. The tea has a pleasant, mild flavor that can range from vanilla, fruity and earthy, and is sometimes drunk with milk and honey.
Kenyan Tea is a delicious tea grown in the Kenyan highlands. The equatorial climate of this Eastern African nation is ideal for year-round tea cultivation, and the plant’s distinctive flavor is complemented by its strong aroma and bright color. Kenyan tea is also often served with milk and honey.