Monday, January 26, 2009

The Top Ten Tea Myths

Tea is so misunderstood! Marketeers often exaggerate the sensational aspects of tea, and sometimes they just plain get it wrong. People often ask us questions about these things, so here’s our take on the most common misconceptions many people have.
  1. White tea is “the baby tea leaf.”

No. White, green and black teas all use very young leaves, depending on the kind of tea being made. White tea is defined by the fact that it’s uncured and unfermented. (It’s sometimes steamed as part of the drying process.)

  1. White and black tea are different kinds of plants.

No, they’re both made from Camellia Sinensis. The difference is that black tea is fermented. Green tea is roasted in ovens or dings; oolong tea is partly fermented, typically about 30-40 percent.

  1. Tea is tea.

Certainly not! Different kinds have very different characteristics, and even two similar-looking teas of the same variety are almost never identical in flavor. Almost all the teas from other brands we’ve had tested for comparison lack the potency and purity of fresh organic tea. Many are grown in impure areas and use chemical fertilizers, pesticides, moldicides and fungicides... but we think the biggest difference is in the flavor.

  1. Air is good for tea.

Some teas are carefully oxidized, like pu’er, a deeply fermented, aged tea. However, most teas quickly lose flavor and potency when exposed to the air. Try grinding some coffee and letting it sit for a few days… it will taste kind of like cardboard. The same is true of tea.

  1. Green tea is lower in caffeine than black tea.

There are no hard rules about this. Contrary to popular belief, our lab tests revealed that not only is our green tea higher in caffeine than our black tea, it’s much higher than a cup of coffee! (Fortunately, you can pre-steep to remove much of the caffeine.)

  1. Some tea is naturally caffeine-free.

All true tea has natural caffeine, which is technically referred to as theine in tea. (Herbal teas and tisanes like chamomile and mint aren’t made from the tea plant.)

  1. White tea is “healthier” than green tea.

We’ve heard this many times, but in our lab tests, the green tea was in fact higher in antioxidant potency than any of the others.

  1. Iced tea is the same as hot tea.

The main reason this isn’t the case is that most iced tea is “ready-to-drink.” The tea in bottles is usually acidified with ascorbic or citric acid and heated to extremely high temperatures to conform to FDA shelf-stable requirements. Those teas tend to be high in sugar and caffeine, but lower in natural antioxidant properties. Recent studies also indicate that caffeine levels become more pronounced in a beverage when it's chilled.

  1. Green tea is a fad.

Tea has been the most popular drink in the world since the beginning of history. For thousands of years, people have drunk more tea than anything else except water. America is recently re-discovering tea in its natural form, and we think it’s here to stay.

  1. All tea comes from China.

Many countries grow tea. Africa and India are famous for their black teas, and Japan is known for its ricey sencha and macha teas. South America grows matte, a different kind of tea, and many other cultures have a local herb or root tea. In the United States, Lipton tea is grown in South Carolina, and more recently, Hawaii has begun experimenting with tea crops. China is known worldwide for the best green and white tea, especially the mountain tea areas like Fujian and Hangzou. Taiwan, Wu’Yi and An’xi are known for their oolong teas.

More about the different tea varieties