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All about tea

Whether your choice of brew is English Breakfast, Earl Grey or Lapsang Souchong, tea remains a universal favourite.

by: Louisa Holst | 23 Feb 2007

What is tea?

All types of tea come from the plant Camellia sinensis. Tea can be categorised into three main types: green, black and oolong, within which there are many different varieties. Each type undergoes a different processing method to give it its distinctive characteristics.

Varieties of tea

Irish breakfast

A blended black tea that is strong and full bodied. Mostly made of Assam tea (black tea grown in India), this tea has an orange colour when brewed and has a malty flabour.

English breakfast

This blended black tea is sometimes a blend of Indian and Ceylon teas and sometimes a blend that includes Keemun tea, a black tea grown in China. It is usually rich and fruity.

Earl grey

A well-known British blend of black tea that is flavoured with the essential oil of the bergamot orange.


This is the most expensive and sought-after black tea. Grown in the mountainous Darjeeling region of northern India, this tea is known for its crisp astringency. Check to see whether you are buying pure Darjeeling or a blend. Pure Darjeeling has a light reddish colour when brewed and an aroma reminiscent of almonds and wild flowers.

Lapsang souchong

Black tea grown in China. The leaves are fired over smoking pine needles, delivering the distinctive smoky aroma and flavour.

Russian caravan

A blended black tea that is usually made up of teas from China, including Lapsang Souchong, and may also include some oolong tea.

Jasmine black Green or oolong tea or a blend of the two that is scented with jasmine flowers to give a fragrant floral aroma and flavour.


Technically not a true tea, as it is not made from leaves of the tea plant, rooibos is a herbal tea. The brew is reddish brown and has a fragrant sweet flavour. It is naturally caffeine free and rich in minerals. It can be enjoyed with or without milk.

Know your teas

Black tea

Black tea undergoes several hours of oxidation or fermentation. It is the most popular tea and accounts for approximately 70% of world tea consumption. Black tea can be enjoyed with or without milk and can be sweetened with honey or sugar.

The black tea that we are most familiar with locally is Ceylon tea, which is grown in Sri Lanka. It has a reddish brown colour when brewed and is full flavoured.

Green tea

Green tea is not fermented or oxidized at all; the freshly harvested leaves are rolled and fired immediately. The brewed tea is generally much lighter than other teas and should be enjoyed without milk. Green tea is valued for its health benefits.

Oolong tea

Oolong tea is partially fermented or oxidized and has a very delicate flavour. It accounts for less than 3% of world tea consumption. Enjoy black with a little honey or sugar if you prefer.

Is loose tea better than tea bags

Loose tea leaves are generally of a better quality than those used in tea bags. Usually the leaves in tea bags are not whole, but have been crushed so that they can infuse faster.

However, this also allows the tea to go stale more quickly. Of course tea bags are much more convenient and can be used anywhere without the hassle of a teapot.

How long should tea infuse

It depends on what kind of tea you are using. Usually between three and five minutes is long enough. Oolong often needs a bit longer (about six minutes), while Darjeeling should only steep for about 90 seconds, and definitely for no longer than three minutes. Experiment to see what suits you best.

Did you know?

The refreshing qualities of tea were supposedly discovered almost 5 000 years ago in China when some wild tea leaves accidentally fell into water being boiled for the Emperor Shen Nung. It was introduced into Europe around 1610 and is now enjoyed across the world.

‘If you are cold, tea will warm you. If you are too heated, it will cool you. If you are depressed, it will cheer you. If you are excited, it will calm you.’ – William Gladstone, British politician

- Ideas


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