AskDefine | Define tea

Dictionary Definition



1 a beverage made by steeping tea leaves in water; "iced tea is a cooling drink"
2 a light midafternoon meal of tea and sandwiches or cakes; "an Englishman would interrupt a war to have his afternoon tea" [syn: afternoon tea, teatime]
3 dried leaves of the tea shrub; used to make tea; "the store shelves held many different kinds of tea"; "they threw the tea into Boston harbor" [syn: tea leaf]
4 a reception or party at which tea is served; "we met at the Dean's tea for newcomers"
5 a tropical evergreen shrub or small tree extensively cultivated in e.g. China and Japan and India; source of tea leaves; "tea has fragrant white flowers" [syn: Camellia sinensis]

User Contributed Dictionary



Originally from the Chinese Min Nan dialect (POJ: tê, Chinese: , bitmap:



  1. The dried leaves or buds of the tea plant, Camellia sinensis.
    Go to the supermarket and buy some tea.
  2. The drink made by infusing these dried leaves or buds in hot water, often served with milk or cream and sugar added.
    Would you like some tea?
  3. A cup of this drink.
    I’d like two teas, please.
  4. By extension, any drink made by infusing parts of various other plants.
    camomile tea
  5. A cup of any one of these drinks.
  6. A light meal eaten mid-afternoon, typically with tea.
    Kids, your tea’s on the table!
  7. The main evening meal, irrespective of whether tea is drunk with it.
    The family were sitting round the table, having their tea.
  8. The break in play between the second and third sessions.
    Australia were 490 for 7 at tea on the second day.
  9. Marijuana, especially as brewed with water into a drink.

Usage notes

Strictly speaking, "tea" has been reserved for infusions made from leaves of Camellia sinensis. Infusions made from other herbs such as rooibos, mint and chamomile are called tisanes. Latterly, the word "tea" has been extended to include herbal infusions.
dried leaves of tea plant
drink made from leaves of tea plant
cup of this drink
drink made from other plants
  • Arabic:
  • Czech: čaj
  • Faroese: te
  • Finnish: tee, haude
  • French: tisane
  • Hebrew: תה צמחים (té tsmahim)
  • Italian: tisana
  • Japanese: (cha)
  • Kurdish: چای, چا
  • Latvian: tēja
  • Polish: herbata
  • Russian: чай (čaĭ)
  • Slovak: čaj
  • Slovene: čaj
  • Welsh: trwyth
cup of drink made from other plants
light afternoon meal
main evening meal
See dinner




  • /ˈtɛɒ/|lang=hu


  1. tea




Extensive Definition

Tea is an infusion made by steeping processed leaves, buds, or twigs of the tea bush, Camellia sinensis, in hot water for several minutes. The processing can include oxidation, heating, drying, and the addition of other herbs, flowers, spices, and fruits. The four basic types of true tea are black tea, oolong tea, green tea, and white tea. The term "herbal tea" usually refers to infusions or tisane of fruit or herbs that contain no Camellia sinensis.
Tea is one of the most widely-consumed beverages in the world, second only to water. It has a cooling, slightly bitter, astringent flavor. and polyphenolic antioxidant catechins (often referred to as tannins).
The word tea came into the English language from the Chinese word for tea (), which is pronounced tê in the Min Nan spoken variant. The British English slang word "char" for "tea" arose from its Mandarin Chinese pronunciation "cha" with its spelling affected by British English arhotic dialect pronunciation.


Camellia sinensis is an evergreen plant that grows mainly in tropical and sub-tropical climates. However, it is commercially cultivated from the equator to as far north as Cornwall on the UK mainland.
In addition to a tropical climate, it requires at least 50 inches of rainfall a year, and prefers acidic soils. Many high quality tea plants grow at elevations up to 1500 meters (5,000 ft), as the plants grow more slowly and acquire a better flavor.
Only the top 1-2 inches of the mature plant are picked. These buds and leaves are called flushes, and a plant will grow a new flush every seven to ten days during the growing season.
Tea plants will grow into a tree if left undisturbed, but cultivated plants are pruned to waist height for ease of plucking.
Two principal varieties are used, the small-leaved China plant (C. sinensis sinensis) and the large-leaved Assam plant (C. sinensis assamica). Leaf size is the chief criterion for the classification of tea plants. Based upon this criterion, tea is classified into (1) Assam type characterized by the largest leaves, (2) China type characterized by the smallest leaves and (3) Cambod characterized by leaves of intermediate size.

Blending and additives

Almost all teas in bags and most other teas sold in the West are blends. Blending may occur in the tea-planting area (as in the case of Assam), or teas from many areas may be blended. The aim is to obtain better taste, better price or both, as more expensive, better-tasting tea may cover the inferior taste of cheaper varieties. Blending may also achieve more consistent taste of the blend, regardless of the variation of taste among pure teas.
Various teas, as sold, are not pure varieties but have been enhanced through additives or special processing. Tea is indeed highly receptive to inclusion of various aromas; this may cause problems in processing, transportation and storage, but also allows for the design of an almost endless range of scented variants, such as vanilla-flavored, caramel-flavored and many others.


Tea contains catechins, a type of antioxidant. In a fresh tea leaf, catechins can be up to 30% of the dry weight. Catechins are highest in concentration in white and green teas, while black tea has substantially less due to its oxidative preparation. Tea contains theanine, and the stimulant caffeine at about 3% of its dry weight, translating to between 30 mg and 90 mg per 8 oz (or 0.25 L) cup depending on type, brand and brewing method. Tea also contains small amounts of theobromine and theophylline. Tea also contains fluoride, with certain types of brick tea made from old leaves and stems having the highest levels.

Origin and history

According to : "Tea originated in southeast Asia, specifically around the intersection of latitude 29°N and longitude 98°E, the point of confluence of the lands of northeast India, north Burma, southwest China and Tibet. The plant was introduced to more than 52 countries, from this ‘centre of origin’."
Yunnan Province has been identified as "the birthplace of tea...the first area where humans figured out that eating tea leaves or brewing a cup could be pleasant.

Creation myths

In one popular Chinese legend, Shennong, the legendary Emperor of China, inventor of agriculture and Chinese medicine, was drinking a bowl of boiling water, some time around 2737 BC. The wind blew and a few leaves from a nearby tree fell into his water and began to change its colour. The ever inquisitive and curious monarch took a sip of the brew and was pleasantly surprised by its flavour and its restorative properties. A variant of the legend tells that the emperor tested the medical properties of various herbs on himself, some of them poisonous, and found tea to work as an antidote. Shennong is also mentioned in Lu Yu's famous early work on the subject, Cha Jing.
A Tang Dynasty legend regarding tea spread along with Buddhism and Bodhidharma, founder of the Zen school of Buddhism based on meditation known as "Chan". After meditating in front of a wall for nine years, he accidentally fell asleep. He woke up in such disgust at his weakness, he cut off his eyelids and they fell to the ground and took root, growing into tea bushes. Sometimes, the second story is retold with Gautama Buddha in place of Bodhidharma In another variant of the first mentioned myth, Gautama Buddha discovered tea when some leaves had fallen into boiling water.
Whether or not these legends have any basis in fact, tea has played a significant role in Asian culture for centuries as a staple beverage, a curative, and a symbol of status. For these reasons, perhaps it is not surprising that its discovery is ascribed to religious or royal origins.


The Chinese have enjoyed tea for thousands of years. While historically the use of tea as a medicinal herb useful for staying awake is unclear, China is considered to have the earliest records of tea drinking, with recorded tea use in its history dating back to the first millennium BC. The Han Dynasty used tea as medicine.
Laozi (ca. 600-517 BC), the classical Chinese philosopher, described tea as "the froth of the liquid jade" and named it an indispensable ingredient to the elixir of life. Legend has it, master Lao was disgusted at his nation's immoral way of life, so he fled westward to Ta Chin. While passing through the Han Pass, he was offered tea by a customs inspector named Yin Hsi. Yin Hsi may have inspired the writers of the Dao De Jing, a collection of Laozi's sayings. Yin's generosity helped many people and thus began a national custom of offering tea to guests, in China.
In 220, a famed physician and surgeon named Hua Tuo wrote Shin Lun, in which he describes tea's ability to improve mental functions: "to drink k'u t'u [bitter tea] constantly makes one think better"
In 59 BC, Wang Bao wrote the first known book providing instructions on buying and preparing tea, establishing that, at this time, tea was not only a medicine but an important part of diet.
During the Sui Dynasty (589-618 AD) tea was introduced to Japan by Buddhist monks.
The Tang Dynasty writer Lu Yu's 陸羽 (729-804 AD) Cha Jing 茶經 is an early work on the subject. (See also Tea Classics) According to Cha Jing writing, around 760 AD, tea drinking was widespread. The book describes how tea plants were grown, the leaves processed, and tea prepared as a beverage. It also describes how tea was evaluated. The book also discusses where the best tea leaves were produced. Teas produced in this period were mainly tea bricks which were often used as currency, especially further from the center of the empire where coins lost their value.
During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), production and preparation of all tea changed. The tea of Song included many loose-leaf styles (to preserve the delicate character favoured by the court society), but a new powdered form of tea emerged. Steaming tea leaves was the primary process used for centuries in the preparation of tea. After the transition from compressed tea to the powdered form, the production of tea for trade and distribution changed once again. The Chinese learned to process tea in a different way in the mid-13th century. Tea leaves were roasted and then crumbled rather than steamed. This is the origin of today's loose teas and the practice of brewed tea.
Tea production in China, historically, was a laborious process, conducted in distant and often poorly accessible regions. This led to the rise of many apocryphal stories and legends surrounding the harvesting process. For example, one story that has been told for many years is that of a village where monkeys pick tea. According to this legend, the villagers stand below the monkeys and taunt them. The monkeys, in turn, become angry, and grab handfuls of tea leaves and throw them at the villagers. There are products sold today that claim to be harvested in this manner, but no reliable commentators have observed this firsthand, and most doubt that it happened at all. For many hundreds of years the commercially-used tea tree has been, in shape, more of a bush than a tree. "Monkey picked tea" is more likely a name of certain varieties than a description of how it was obtained.
In 1391, the Ming court issued a decree that only loose tea would be accepted as a "tribute." As a result, loose tea production increased and processing techniques advanced. Soon, most tea was distributed in full-leaf, loose form and steeped in earthenware vessels.


Tea use spread to Japan about the sixth century. Tea became a drink of the religious classes in Japan when Japanese priests and envoys, sent to China to learn about its culture, brought tea to Japan. Ancient recordings indicate the first batch of tea seeds were brought by a priest named in 805 and then by another named in 806. It became a drink of the royal classes when , the Japanese emperor, encouraged the growth of tea plants. Seeds were imported from China, and cultivation in Japan began.
In 1191, the famous Zen priest brought back tea seeds to Kyoto. Some of the tea seeds were given to the priest Myoe Shonin, and became the basis for Uji tea. The oldest tea specialty book in Japan, , was written by Eisai. Eisai was also instrumental in introducing tea consumption to the warrior class, which rose to political prominence after the Heian Period.
Green tea became a staple among cultured people in Japan -- a brew for the gentry and the Buddhist priesthood alike. Production grew and tea became increasingly accessible, though still a privilege enjoyed mostly by the upper classes. The modern tea ceremony developed over several centuries by Zen Buddhist monks under the original guidance of the monk . In fact, both the beverage and the ceremony surrounding it played a prominent role in feudal diplomacy.
In 1738, Soen Nagatani developed Japanese , literally roasted tea, which is an unfermented form of green tea. It is the most popular form of tea in Japan today. In 1835, Kahei Yamamoto developed , literally jewel dew, by shading tea trees during the weeks leading up to harvesting. At the end of the Meiji period (1868-1912), machine manufacturing of green tea was introduced and began replacing handmade tea.


The first historical record documenting the offering of tea to an ancestral god describes a rite in the year 661 in which a tea offering was made to the spirit of King Suro, the founder of the Geumgwan Gaya Kingdom (42-562). Records from the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) show that tea offerings were made in Buddhist temples to the spirits of revered monks.
The latitude of Korea is high and the climate is unsuitable for tea growing; production of tea is slight, the quality was bad and the taste was unpalatable. The Koreans therefore imported tea leaf, chiefly from Beijing.
During the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), the royal Yi family and the aristocracy used tea for simple rites. The "Day Tea Rite" was a common daytime ceremony, whereas the "Special Tea Rite" was reserved for specific occasions. These terms are not found in other countries. Toward the end of the Joseon Dynasty, commoners joined the trend and used tea for ancestral rites, following the Chinese example based on Zhu Xi's text formalities of Family.
Stoneware was common, ceramic more frequent, mostly made in provincial kilns, with porcelain rare, imperial porcelain with dragons the rarest. The earliest kinds of tea used in tea ceremonies were heavily pressed cakes of black tea, the equivalent of aged pu-erh tea still popular in China. However, importation of tea plants by Buddhist monks brought a more delicate series of teas into Korea, and the tea ceremony. Green tea, "chaksol" or "chugno," is most often served. However other teas such as "Byeoksoryung" Chunhachoon, Woojeon, Jakseol, Jookro, Okcheon, as well as native chrysanthemum tea, persimmon leaf tea, or mugwort tea may be served at different times of the year.


Tea cultivation in India has somewhat ambiguous origins. Though the extent of the popularity of tea in Ancient India is unknown, it is known that the tea plant was a wild plant in India that was indeed brewed by local inhabitants of different regions.
Indian legends credit the creation of tea as known in the modern sense to Bodhidharma (ca. 460-534), a monk born near Madras, India, and the founder of the Ch'an (or Zen) sect of Buddhism. Interestingly, ancient Japanese tales credit the origin of tea to Bodhidharma as well.
The Singpho tribe and the Khamti tribe also validate that they have been consuming tea since the 12th century.
The first recorded reference to tea in India was in the ancient epic of the Ramayana, when Hanuman was sent to the Himalayas to bring the Sanjeevani tea plant for medicinal use.
The next recorded reference to tea in India dates to 1598, when a Dutch traveler, Jan Huyghen van Linschoten, noted in a book that "the Indians ate the leaves as a vegetable with garlic and oil and boiled the leaves to make a brew."
The same year, another reference to tea in India was recorded, by a different group of Dutch explorers.
In an 1877 pamphlet written by Samuel Baildon, and published by W.Newman and Co. of Calcutta, he writes, "...various merchants in Calcutta were discussing the chance of imported China seeds thriving in Assam, when a native from the province present, seeing some tea said, "We have the plant growing wild in our jungles." It is then documented that the Assamese nobleman, Maniram Dutta Barua, (also known as Maniram Dewan) showed British surveyors existing fields used for tea cultivation and wild tea plants growing in the Assamese jungle.
Writing in The Cambridge World History of Food , Weisburger & Comer sum up the history of tea in India from early times till 2000:
The tea cultivation begun there [India] in the nineteenth century by the British, however, has accelerated to the point that today India is listed as the world's leading producer, its 715, 000 tons well ahead of China's 540, 000 tons, and of course, the teas of Assam, Ceylon (from the island nation known as Sri Lanka), and Darjeeling are world famous. However, because Indians average half a cup daily on per capita basis, fully 70 percent of India's immense crop is consumed locally.
In general, even though India leads the world in tea technology, the methods employed to harvest the crop vary with the type of tea and terrain. Fine-leaf tea is hand plucked, and hand shears are used on mountain slopes and in other areas where tractor-mounted machines cannot go. A skilled worker using hand shears can harvest between 60 to 100 kg of tea per day, whereas machines cut between 1,000 and 2, 000 kg. The latter, however, are usually applied to low grade teas that often go into teabags. The tea "fluff" and waste from processing is used to produce caffeine for soft drinks and medicine.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica (2008): "In 1824 tea plants were discovered in the hills along the frontier between Burma and the Indian state of Assam. The British introduced tea culture into India in 1836 and into Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in 1867. At first they used seeds from China, but later seeds from the Assam plant were used."
It is evident that Western accounts of the history of tea in India and Eastern and Indian accounts differ not only in minor details, but in major facts as well. Current research is being conducted to settle the issue, but research to date has been largely inconclusive.
India was the top producer of tea for nearly a century, but was displaced by China as the top tea producer in the 21st century. Indian tea companies have acquired a number of iconic foreign tea enterprises including British brands Tetley and Typhoo. In the same year Samuel Pepys records drinking "a china drink of which I had never drunk before".

United States of America

While coffee is more popular, hot brewed black tea is enjoyed both with meals and as a refreshment by much of the population. Iced tea is consumed throughout similarly. In the Southern states sweet tea is the fashion. Outside the South, "Sweet Tea" is rarely found in restaurants as well as other places. Sugar or an artificial sweetener must be added.
The American speciality tea market has quadrupled in the years from 1993-2008, now being worth $6.8billion a year.

Sri Lanka/Ceylon

The plantations started by the British were initially taken over by the government in the 1960s, but have been privatised and are now run by 'plantation companies' which own a few 'estates' or tea plantations each.
Sri Lanka is renowned for its high quality tea and as the 3rd biggest tea producing country globally, has a production share of 9% in the international sphere, and one of the world's leading exporters with a share of around 19% of the global demand. The total extent of land under tea cultivation has been assessed at approximately 187,309 hectares.
Ceylon tea is divided into 3 groups as Upcountry, Mid country and Low country tea based on the geography of the land on which it is grown. Today, Ceylon tea is known as one of the best in the world.

Tea spreads to the world

The earliest record of tea in a more occidental writing is said to be found in the statement of an Arabian traveler, that after the year 879 the main sources of revenue in Canton were the duties on salt and tea. Marco Polo records the deposition of a Chinese minister of finance in 1285 for his arbitrary augmentation of the tea taxes. The travelers Giovanni Batista Ramusio (1559), L. Almeida (1576), Maffei (1588), and Taxiera (1610) also mentioned tea. In 1557, Portugal established a trading port in Macau and word of the Chinese drink "ch'a" spread quickly, but there is no mention of them bringing any samples home. In the early 17th century, a ship of the Dutch East India Company brought the first green tea leaves to Amsterdam from China. Tea was known in France by 1636. It enjoyed a brief period of popularity in Paris around 1648. The history of tea in Russia can also be traced back to the seventeenth century. Tea was first offered by China as a gift to Czar Michael I in 1618. The Russian ambassador tried the drink; he did not care for it and rejected the offer, delaying tea's Russian introduction by fifty years. In 1689, tea was regularly imported from China to Russia via a caravan of hundreds of camels traveling the year-long journey, making it a precious commodity at the time. Tea was appearing in German apothecaries by 1657 but never gained much esteem except in coastal areas such as Ostfriesland. Tea first appeared publicly in England during the 1650s, where it was introduced through coffee houses. From there it was introduced to British Colonies in America and elsewhere.

Potential effects of tea on health

According to :
Tea leaves contain more than 700 chemicals, among which the compounds closely related to human health are flavanoides, amino acids, vitamins (C, E and K), caffeine and polysaccharides. Moreover, tea drinking has recently proven to be associated with cell-mediated immune function of the human body. Tea plays an important role in improving beneficial intestinal microflora, as well as providing immunity against intestinal disorders and in protecting cell membranes from oxidative damage. Tea also prevents dental caries due to the presence of fluorine. The role of tea is well established in normalizing bloodpressure, lipid depressing activity, prevention of coronary heart diseases and diabetes by reducing the blood-glucose activity. Tea also possesses germicidal and germistatic activities against various gram positive and gram negative human pathogenic bacteria. Both green and black tea infusions contain a number of antioxidants, mainly catechins that have anti-carcinogenic, anti-mutagenic and anti-tumor properties.

Etymology and cognates in other languages

The Chinese character for tea is 茶, but it is pronounced differently in the various Chinese dialects. Two pronunciations have made their way into other languages around the world. One is tê, which comes from the Amoy Min Nan dialect, spoken around the port of Xiamen (Amoy). This pronunciation is believed to come from the old words for tea 梌 (tú) or 荼 (tú). The other is chá, used by the Cantonese dialect spoken around the ports of Guangzhou (Canton), Hong Kong, Macau, and in overseas Chinese communities, as well as in the Mandarin dialect of northern China. This term was used in ancient times to describe the first flush harvest of tea. Yet another different pronunciation is zu, used in the Wu dialect spoken around Shanghai. The word for tea in both Korea and Japan is 차 and 茶(ちゃ), both transliterated as cha.

The derivatives from tê

  • Note: (1) té or thé, but these words sound archaic; čaj is used nowadays, as explained in the next table. see (4). In case of (2), (3), arbata and herbata are from Latin herba thea.

The derivatives from cha or chai

  • (5) They are both direct derivatives of the Chinese 茶; the latter term is used mainly in the north and describes a tea made with freshly-picked leaves.
The Polish word for a tea-kettle is czajnik, which could be derived directly from cha or from the cognate Russian word. However, tea in Polish is herbata, which, as well as Lithuanian arbata, was derived from the Latin herba thea, meaning "tea herb".
It is tempting to correlate these names with the route that was used to deliver tea to these cultures, although the relation is far from simple at times. As an example, the first tea to reach Britain was traded by the Dutch from Fujian, which uses te, and although later most British trade went through Canton, which uses cha, the Fujianese pronunciation continued to be the more popular.
In Ireland, or at least in Dublin, the term cha is sometimes used for "tea", with "tay" as a common pronunciation throughout the land (derived from the Irish Gaelic tae), and char was a common slang term for tea throughout British Empire and Commonwealth military forces in the 19th and 20th centuries, crossing over into civilian usage.
In North America, the word chai is used to refer almost exclusively to the Indian masala chai beverage.
The original pronunciation "cha" in the Cantonese and Mandarin languages has no [j] ending. Therefore it is merely an adaptation of the Mandarin and Cantonese word "cha" in mainly Eurasian languages that do not usually tolerate a syllable that openly ends in "[a]". The different articulations of the word for tea into the two main groups: "teh-derived" (Min Chinese dialects) and "cha-derived" (Mandarin, Cantonese and other non-Min Chinese dialects) is an interesting one, as it reveals the particular Chinese local cultures where non-Chinese nations acquired their tea and "tea cultures". Not surprisingly, India and the Arab world most likely got their tea cultures from the Cantonese or the Southwestern Mandarin speakers, whereas the Russians got theirs from the northern Mandarin speakers. The Portuguese,the first Europeans to import the herb in large amounts, took the Cantonese form "chá", as used in their trading posts in the south of China, especially Macau. On the contrary, other Western Europeans who copied the Min articulation "teh" probably traded with the Hokkienese while in Southeast Asia.
Quite recently, no more than 20 years ago, "chai" entered North American English with a particular meaning: Indian masala black tea. Of course this is not the case in other languages, where "chai" usually just means black tea (as people traditionally drink more black tea than green outside of East Asia). English is thus one of the few languages that allow for the dual articulations of "tea" into a "teh-derived" word and a "cha-derived" one, such as Moroccan colloquial Arabic (Darija): in the case of Moroccan Arabic, "ash-shay" means "generic, or black Middle Eastern tea" whereas "atay" means a specialty tea: Zhejiang or Fujian green tea with fresh mint leaves. The Moroccans are said to have acquired a unique penchant in the Arab world for East Chinese green tea after the ruler Mulay Hassan exchanged some European hostages captured by the Barbary Pirates for a whole ship of Chinese tea. They have thus acquired a word for this special tea different from the generic "ash-shay". see Moroccan tea culture
Perhaps the only place in which a word unrelated to tea is used to describe the beverage is South America (particularly Andean countries), because a similar stimulant beverage, yerba mate, was consumed there long before tea arrived.

Tea culture

In many cultures, tea is often had at fancy social events, such as afternoon tea and the tea party. It may be consumed early in the day to heighten alertness; it contains theophylline and bound caffeine
Some tea sorts are often brewed several times using the same tea leaves. Historically, in China, tea is divided into a number of infusions. The first infusion is immediately poured out to wash the tea, and then the second and further infusions are drunk. The third through fifth are nearly always considered the best infusions of tea, although different teas open up differently and may require more infusions of hot water to bring them to life.
One way to taste a tea, throughout its entire process, is to add hot water to a cup containing the leaves and after about 30 seconds to taste the tea. As the tea leaves unfold (known as "The Agony of the Leaves") they give up various parts of themselves to the water and thus the taste evolves. Continuing this from the very first flavours to the time beyond which the tea is quite stewed will allow an appreciation of the tea throughout its entire length.

Black tea

The water for black teas should be added at the boiling point (100 °C or 212 °F). Many of the active substances in black tea don't develop at temperatures lower than 90 °C. For some more delicate teas lower temperatures are recommended. The temperature will have as large an effect on the final flavour as the type of tea used. The most common fault when making black tea is to use water at too low a temperature. Since boiling point drops with increasing altitude, this makes it difficult to brew black tea properly in mountainous areas. It is also recommended that the teapot be warmed before preparing tea, easily done by adding a small amount of boiling water to the pot, swirling briefly, before discarding. Black teas are usually brewed for about 4 minutes and should not be allowed to steep for less than 30 seconds or more than about five minutes (a process known as brewing or [dialectally] mashing in the UK, specifically in ). Longer steeping times make the tea bitter (at this point it is referred to as being stewed in the UK). When the tea has brewed long enough to suit the tastes of the drinker, it should be strained while serving.

Green tea

Water for green tea, according to most accounts, should be around 80 °C to 85 °C (176 °F to 185 °F); the higher the quality of the leaves, the lower the temperature. Hotter water will burn green-tea leaves, producing a bitter taste. Preferably, the container in which the tea is steeped, the mug, or teapot should also be warmed beforehand so that the tea does not immediately cool down. Many teas are traditionally drunk with milk. These include Indian chai, and British tea blends. These teas tend to be very hearty varieties which can be tasted through the milk, such as Assams, or the East Friesian blend. Milk is thought to neutralise remaining tannins and reduce acidity.
The order in which to make a cup of tea is a much-debated area. Some say that it is preferable to add the milk before the tea, as the high temperature of freshly brewed tea can denature the proteins found in fresh milk, similar to the change in taste of UHT milk, resulting in an inferior tasting beverage. Others insist that it is better to add the milk after brewing the tea, as most teas need to be brewed as close to boiling as possible. The addition of milk chills the beverage during the crucial brewing phase, meaning that the delicate flavour of a good tea cannot be fully appreciated. By adding the milk afterwards, it is easier to dissolve sugar in the tea and also to ensure that the desired amount of milk is added, as the colour of the tea can be observed.
In Britain and some Commonwealth countries, the order in which the milk and the tea enter the cup is often considered an indicator of social class. Persons of working class background are supposedly more likely to add the milk first and pour the tea in afterwards, whereas persons of middle and upper class backgrounds are more likely to pour the tea in first and then add milk. This is said to be a continuing practice from a time when porcelain (the only ceramic which could withstand boiling water) was only within the purchasing range of the rich - the less wealthy had access only to poor quality earthenware, which would crack unless milk was added first in order to lower the temperature of the tea as it was poured in.

Other additives

Other popular additives to tea include sugar or honey, lemon, fruit jams, mint. In colder regions such as Mongolia, Tibet and Nepal, butter is added to provide necessary calories. Tibetan butter tea contains rock salt and dre (yak) butter, which is then churned vigorously in a cylindrical vessel closely resembling a butter churn. The flavour of this beverage is more akin to a rich broth than to tea, and may be described as an acquired taste to those unused to drinking it. The same may be said for salt tea, which is consumed in some cultures in the Hindu-Kush region of northern Pakistan, and probably in other areas as well.
The flavour of the tea can also be altered by pouring it from different heights, resulting in varying degrees of oxidisation. The art of high-altitude pouring is used principally by people in Northern Africa (e.g. Morocco), but also in West Africa (e.g. Guinea, Mali, Senegal) and can positively alter the flavour of the tea, but it is more likely a technique to cool the beverage destined to be consumed immediately, often cooked with mint leaves. In certain cultures the tea is given different names depending on the height it was poured form. In Mali, gunpowder tea is served in series of three, starting with the highest oxidisation or strongest, unsweetened tea (cooked from fresh leaves), locally referred to as "bitter as death". Follows a second serving, where the same tea leaves are boiled again with some sugar added ("pleasant as life"),and a third one, where the same tea leaves are boiled for the third time with yet more sugar added ("sweet as love"). Green tea is the central ingredient of a distinctly Malian custom, the "Grin", informal social gathering that cuts across social and economic lines, starting in front of family compound gates in the afternoons, extending late in the night, and widely popular in Bamako and other large urban areas.
In Southeast Asia, particularly in Malaysia and Singapore, the practice of pouring tea from a height has been refined further using black tea to which milk and usually sugar has been added, being poured from a height from one cup to another several times in alternating fashion and in quick succession, to create a tea with entrapped air bubbles creating a frothy "head" in the cup. Expert practitioners of this skill, usually in community hawker food stalls, are a pleasure to watch, a kind of street performance art that adds to the enjoyment of the drink. This beverage, teh tarik, literally, "pulled tea", has a creamier taste than flat milk tea and is extremely popular in the region. Tea pouring in Malaysia has been further developed into an art form in which a dance is done by people pouring tea from one container to another, which in any case takes skill and precision. The participants, each holding two containers, one full of tea, pour it from one to another. They stand in lines and squares and pour the tea into each others' pots. The dance must be choreographed to allow anyone who has both pots full to empty them and refill whoever has no tea at any one point. They are full of rhythmic patterns and a joy to watch.

Economics of tea

Tea's world consumption easily equals all other manufactured drinks in the world — including coffee, chocolate, soft drinks, and alcohol — put together.]]


In 2003, world tea production was million tonnes annually. The primary producer was China, followed by India (the order has since reversed), followed by Sri Lanka and Kenya. China is the only country today to produce in industrial quantities all different kinds of tea (white tea, yellow tea, green tea, blue-green tea, red tea and black tea)

Organic Tea production

Production of organic tea is rising ; tonnes of organic tea were grown in 2003. The majority of this tea (about 75%)is sold in France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States



The amount of tea produced is rising but exports are declining. In 2003, 1.4 million tonnes of tea were exported, a decline of 2.6% compared to 2002. This is primarily due to the strong drop in exports from India and Indonesia.


The principal importers are the CIS, the EU, Pakistan, the United States, Egypt and Japan. In 2003, 1.39 million tons were imported – an increase of 1% over 2002.


The large quantities produced in 2003 did not greatly affect the prices, which were relatively stable in that year.


Tea bags

In 1907, American tea merchant Thomas Sullivan began distributing samples of his tea in small silk bags with a drawstring. Consumers noticed that they could simply leave the tea in the bag, and better still re-use it with fresh tea. However, the potential of this distribution/packaging method would not be fully realized until later on. During World War II, tea was rationed. In 1953 (after rationing in the UK ended), Tetley launched the tea bag to the UK and it was an immediate success.
Tea leaves are packed into a small (usually paper) tea bag. It is easy and convenient, making tea bags popular for many people today. However, the tea used in tea bags has an industry name - it is called "fannings" or "dust" and is the waste product produced from the sorting of higher quality loose leaf tea. It is commonly held among tea aficionados that this method provides an inferior taste and experience. The paper used for the bag can also be tasted by many, which can detract from the tea's flavor. Because fannings and dust are a lower quality of the tea to begin with, the tea found in tea bags is less finicky when it comes to brewing time and temperature.
Additional reasons why bag tea is considered less well-flavored include:
  • Dried tea loses its flavour quickly on exposure to air. Most bag teas (although not all) contain leaves broken into small pieces; the great surface area to volume ratio of the leaves in tea bags exposes them to more air, and therefore causes them to go stale faster. Loose tea leaves are likely to be in larger pieces, or to be entirely intact.
  • Breaking up the leaves for bags extracts flavoured oils.
  • The small size of the bag does not allow leaves to diffuse and steep properly.

Pyramid tea bags

The "pyramid tea bag", invented by Lipton, has an unusual design that addresses two of connoisseurs' arguments against paper tea bags. Its three-dimensional, pyramidal shape allows more room for tea leaves to expand while steeping, and because the bags are made of nylon mesh, they do not leave flavours (such as paper) in the tea. These characteristics let the delicate flavors of gourmet selections (such as white teas) shine through; however, the bags have been criticized as being environmentally unfriendly, since the synthetic material does not break down in landfills as loose tea leaves and paper tea bags do.

Loose tea

The tea leaves are packaged loosely in a canister or other container. Rolled gunpowder tea leaves, which resist crumbling, are commonly vacuum packed for freshness in aluminized packaging for storage and retail. The portions must be individually measured by the consumer for use in a cup, mug, or teapot. This allows greater flexibility, letting the consumer brew weaker or stronger tea as desired, but convenience is sacrificed. Strainers, "tea presses", filtered teapots, and infusion bags are available commercially to avoid having to drink the floating loose leaves and to prevent over-brewing. A more traditional, yet perhaps more effective way around this problem is to use a three-piece lidded teacup, called a gaiwan. The lid of the gaiwan can be tilted to decant the leaves while pouring the tea into a different cup for consumption.

Compressed tea

Some teas (particularly Pu-erh tea) are still compressed for transport, storage, and aging convenience. The tea is prepared and steeped by first loosening leaves off the compressed cake using a small knife. Compressed teas can usually be stored for longer periods of time without "spoilage" when compared with loose leaf tea.

Instant tea

In recent times, "instant teas" are becoming popular, similar to freeze dried instant coffee. Instant tea was developed in the 1930s, but not commercialized until the late 1950s, and is only more recently becoming popular. These products often come with added flavours, such as vanilla, honey or fruit, and may also contain powdered milk. Similar products also exist for instant iced tea, due to the convenience of not requiring boiling water. Tea connoisseurs tend to criticise these products for sacrificing the delicacies of tea flavor in exchange for convenience.

Canned tea

This latest method of marketing tea was first launched in 1981 in Japan.


Tea has a shelf-life that varies with storage conditions and type of tea. Black tea has a longer shelf-life than green tea. Some teas such as flower teas may go bad in a month or so. An exception, Pu-erh tea improves with age. Tea stays freshest when stored in a dry, cool, dark place in an air-tight container. Black tea stored in a bag inside a sealed opaque canister may keep for two years. Green tea loses its freshness more quickly, usually in less than a year. Gunpowder tea, its leaves being tightly rolled, keeps longer than the more open-leafed Chun Mee tea. Storage life for all teas can be extended by using desiccant packets or oxygen absorbing packets, and by vacuum sealing.
When storing green tea, discreet use of refrigeration or freezing is recommended. In particular, drinkers need to take precautions against temperature variation.
Improperly stored tea may lose flavor, acquire disagreeable flavors or odors from other foods, or become moldy.

See also

Tea companies



  • Jana Arcimovičová, Pavel Valíček (1998): Vůně čaje, Start Benešov. ISBN 80-902005-9-1 (in Czech)
  • Kit Chow, Ione Kramer (1990): All the Tea in China, China Books & Periodicals Inc. ISBN 0-8351-2194-1 References are to Czech translation by Michal Synek (1998): Všechny čaje Číny, DharmaGaia Praha. ISBN 80-85905-48-5
  • John C. Evans (1992): Tea in China: The History of China's National Drink,Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-28049-5
  • Eelco Hesse (1982), Tea: The eyelids of Bodhidharma, Prism Press. ISBN 0-907061-05-0
  • Seeds of Change: Six Plants that Transformed Mankind
  • Lu Yu (陆羽): Cha Jing (茶经) (The classical book on tea). References are to Czech translation of modern-day edition (1987) by Olga Lomová (translator): Kniha o čaji. Spolek milců čaje, Praha, 2002. (in Czech)
  • Roy Moxham (2003), Tea: Addiction, Exploitation, and Empire
  • Jane Pettigrew (2002), A Social History of Tea
  • Stephan Reimertz (1998): Vom Genuß des Tees : Eine heitere Reise durch alte Landschaften, ehrwürdige Traditionen und moderne Verhältnisse, inklusive einer kleinen Teeschule (In German)
  • James Norwood Pratt (2005), Tea Dictionary
  • The Cambridge World History of Food .
  • Biotechnology in Agriculture and Forestry .
  • How India came to be the largest tea drinking nation.">}}.
  • The Singpho: The cup that jeers.">}}.

External links

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tea in Ido: Teo
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tea in Swahili (macrolanguage): Chai
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tea in Dutch: Thee (drank)
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tea in Occitan (post 1500): Tè
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tea in Romanian: Ceai
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tea in Scots: Tea
tea in Albanian: Çaji
tea in Sicilian: Tè
tea in Simple English: Tea
tea in Slovak: Čaj
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tea in Serbian: Чај
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tea in Sundanese: Entéh
tea in Finnish: Tee
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tea in Thai: ชา
tea in Vietnamese: Nước trà
tea in Tajik: Чой
tea in Turkish: Çay (içecek)
tea in Ukrainian: Чай
tea in Urdu: چائے
tea in Contenese: 茶
tea in Samogitian: Erbeta
tea in Chinese: 茶

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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