What is Tea?


The Camellia plant (Camellia sinensis) is responsible for growing the leaves and buds known as tea – the second most consumed beverage in the world after water.

Camellia sinensis, an evergreen shrub native to tropical and subtropical climates, produces small white flowers. Its leaves and shoots are harvested three years after planting. Although Camellia sinensis bushes can age well over 100 years, the leaves and shoots of smaller, younger bushes are easier to harvest. After harvest, the leaves are dried and rolled for sale.

The traditional tea growing countries are China, Japan, India and Sri Lanka. However, in recent years new tea producing countries have been added, including Bangladesh, Vietnam and Kenya. The origin influences the flavor characteristics, while the altitude, soil type, plant species and age of the tea plant are other factors.

Each place of origin can produce one of five tea varieties, with some regions known for one variety or another. For example, Japan is known for its green tea, China for its white and pu-erh tea, and Sri Lanka for its black tea.

Whether you choose organic green, white or black tea, it is important to know where the tea is grown, how it is harvested and how it is marketed to ensure the highest standards of ethics, quality and taste.

Gräfenhof tea holds the promise of these ideals, packaged and shipped in an environmentally friendly way, with the idea of freshness and richness of flavor at the forefront of the Gräfenhof tea philosophy.

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How is Tea grown?

The tea plant, which grows naturally throughout much of Asia, is cultivated in a wide variety of environments, from small cottage gardens to vast plantations covering thousands of hectares.

The best tea is usually grown at higher altitudes, often on steep slopes. The landscape conditions require these high quality teas to be hand-picked and around 2000 small leaves are needed to produce a single kilo of finished tea. If this sounds absurd, remember that these methods have been around for thousands of years.

Most of the teas for large-scale production are grown on flat, low-lying land so that they can be harvested by machines. It should be noted, however, that some of the best hand-picked teas in the world are grown on flat, low-lying land. Therefore, the way tea is grown is only one of many factors to consider.

There are two methods of producing tea.

Traditionally processed teas are called orthodox teas.

The modern method, called unorthodox, or CTC method was developed to help produce very large quantities of tea with help of machines.

Where tea is grow - Gräfenhof Tee GmbH

Orthodox Teas

Orthodox teas usually contain only the first two tender leaves and one unopened leaf bud, which are carefully hand-picked and then processed in five basic steps to produce the thousands of teas that are known and loved today
That is due to the fact that tea plants have small flowers, ‘buds’ are the young, unopened leaves, not the flowers.

Today, orthodox tea making uses a unique combination of ancient methods – such as bamboo straws, which allow the leaves to be wilted – and modern, innovative machines – such as leaf rollers – that have been carefully calibrated to mimic the movements originally made by hand.

Tea is a true art form, often handled by generations of skilled artisans, from harvesting to finishing. Some teas can take several days to make.

Unorthodox Methods

Another way of making tea is the unorthodox method, the most common being CTC (crush-tear-curl). This much faster method of tea making was developed specifically for black tea. These teas are either hand-harvested or not.

For commercial production, large harvesting machines are used to “cut off” the tops of the bushes for new leaves. CTC production involves crushing the leaves into fine pieces with a leaf crusher (crushing, tearing and rolling, hence the name).

They are then rolled into small balls. The result is a bit like Grape Nuts. These teas steep very quickly and make a strong and robust cup of tea. Grinders are used primarily in the tea filter industry and in India to make masala chai blends (for their strength and colour).

Types of Tea

Many new tea drinkers are surprised to discover that herbal teas and flavored teas are not actually teas at all.

The reason is that these teas do not contain any part of the tea plant, the plant known by its scientific name, Camellia sinensis.

In herbal teas and flavored teas, spices, herbs and flowers are added to water to make what is known as an herbal tea.There are three main types of tea.


True teas are made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. These are the traditional teas that were discovered thousands of years ago.

There are five sub/types of True tea: white tea, green tea, oolong tea, black tea and pu-erh tea. These are the teas that most scientists refer to when researching the health benefits of tea.

Although these teas are derived from the leaves of the same tea plant, they differ significantly in taste, aroma and appearance. White tea is delicate and airy, while black tea is intensely flavorful and strong.

How can these teas be so different when they are obtained from the same leaves?

The answer lies in the production process.

Some True teas, such as oolong and black tea, are oxidized. This process exposes the enzymes in the tea leaves to oxygen, which causes the leaves to darken. Other true teas, such as white and green tea, do not oxidize. The result is a mild, natural and earthy flavor.

Here we explain the differences between real teas.

White Tea

This tea is obtained only from the tight buds of the plant. White tea is characterized by the fact that it does not undergo any oxidation.

In order to avoid oxidation, white teas are immediately burned or steamed after being left in the open air for some time. There is no curling, breaking or bruising of any kind.

White tea comes from the first bud of the tea plant. It has been named after the silvery (white) hairs of the harvested tea plant. It is the least processed of all teas. White tea is not rolled first, but is immediately fired to prevent wilting or fermentation/oxidation.

There is limited availability and it is expensive to purchase due to the plucking standard’s limitations. White tea liquor is pale yellow in color and has a mild flavor in the cup. White tea should be prepared with water that has not been boiled.

A tea plant’s new growth consists of a complete set of leaves. It will take up to 40 days for a new bud to bloom in a stream of water.

Green Tea

The processing of green tea differs from other methods in that it does not involve oxidation.

To neutralize the enzymes and prevent oxidation, Camellia sinensis tea leaves are usually steamed or pan-fried.

The leaves are then rolled in different ways and to varying degrees of tightness. This is followed by a final drying process. Since there is no oxidation, the tea better retains its original green, leafy appearance.

READ MORE about green tea

Japanese Sencha tea - Organic teas - Gräfenhof Tee GmbH

Oolong Tea:

Oolong tea leaves are processed immediately after harvest. Usually, the tea leaves are first spread out in the sun to dry, then placed in baskets and shaken, which “bruises” the leaves.

Next, the leaves are left out in the sun once more to start a partial oxidation process, although this is stopped after about two hours so that the leaves can be cooked in hot woks. In the end, an oolong has dry, crisp leaves and a rich, dark colour.

Oolong Tea - Gräfenhof Tee GmbH
Oolong Tea

Black Tea

In the production of black tea, the tea leaves are completely oxidised (or fermented).

After harvesting, the leaves are dried for about 8-24 hours. This allows most of the water to evaporate. Then the leaves are rolled to break the surface so that the oxygen reacts with the enzymes and the oxidation process starts. The leaves are completely oxidised, which gives them a deep black colour. This is followed by a final drying process.

Black tea tends to taste stronger than green and white teas and retains its aroma for several years.

Darjeeling Tea - Organic teas - Gräfenhof Tee GmbH (1)
Darjeeling tea

Herbal Tea

Herbal teas do not contain tea leaves. These drinks are made by steeping herbs, flowers and twigs in hot water. Herbal teas come in thousands of flavors, as a variety of plants are used to make them.
Some of the most popular herbal teas are turmeric, ginger and peppermint teas. There are also hundreds of flower teas, such as hibiscus, lavender and jasmine teas.
While scientists have long studied the health benefits of true teas, herbal teas have only recently begun to attract the attention of mainstream physicians. Herbal teas have been used for thousands of years in traditional medicine, such as Ayurveda.

Tea Blends

A.K.A. Flavored Teas

Flavored tea is made by combining real tea with herbal tea. Real tea, such as green or black tea, is used as the base, while herbs, spices and flowers are added to create a surprising taste.

Among the most popular flavored teas are Earl Grey and Masala Chai. Earl Grey is a popular British tea that blends black tea with bergamot orange. It is a citrusy delight that combines fruity and malty flavors.

Masala Chai is a popular Indian drink that combines spices with black tea juice. Masala Chai is usually made with black tea from Assam or Darjeeling and five spices: black pepper, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and ginger. It has a spicy flavor that is softened by the addition of creamy nut milk or milk.

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Organic tea Blends and Infusion

Health Beneficial Compounds in Tea

Antioxidants, flavanols, flavonoids, catechins and polyphenols are potentially useful vital compounds found in all green, black and white teas.

What is EGCG in Tea?

Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is a powerful antioxidant. However, it is important to know that EGCG is only found in green tea. In addition, overheating green tea during brewing can cause the ingredients to degrade.

Tea Classification

Teas can be classified according to a number of distinguishing characteristics, such as the region in which they are grown. For example, Darjeeling is the province in India where this particular tea is grown. Sometimes the type of tea determines the characteristics of the leaves, as in the case of Japanese Sencha.


The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide by Mary Louw Heiss and Robert J. Heiss, 2007
New Tea Lover’s Treasury by James Norwood Pratt, 1999
Specialty Tea Institute

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