The Wild Foods Guide To Tea has been on our "Do list" for some time now. As fate would have it, perhaps I needed to truly fall in love with tea before I could muster the courage to tackle the project.
Well I did and I did.
This guide will be constantly expanded, like all of our Wild guides.
We are going to cover many aspects of tea in this guide, from growing tea to brewing it to herbal teas and everything in between.
But before we get to the first part, I want to reiterate our beliefs about tea (which are pretty much the same as our beliefs about every other ingredient).
It's this: drink great tea and shun the rest.
Take these recommendations into account as well:
Without further ado, enjoy the Wild Foods Guide to Tea!
The tea we drink today has been evolving and changing for thousands of years.
Ancient civilizations in southeast Asia have cultivated and consumed the camellia sinensis plant (the plant you get tea from) for many generations, which is why we have a near limitless variation of tea options to choose from in our modern cultures.
Although tea originates specifically in what is today India, Burma, China, and Tibet, it was modern day China that shows evidence of the earliest cultivation and use of tea leaves. Due to the only available historical evidence, China is considered the birthplace of tea.
Legend has it that in 2737 B.C., the Chinese emperor Shen Nung sat under a tea tree with a pot of hot water when the wind blew leaves into his water.
Deciding to try the accidental infusion, he became the first man to drink tea.
He loved the flavored liquid so much that he decided to spread it across the kingdom.
While the legend is a bit romantic, the historical evidence suggests a different timeline for tea.
According to scholars, tea was first used as a medicinal drink during the Shang Dynasty (1500 BC - 1046 BC) in modern-day Yunnan province.
Initially, tea leaves were just one ingredient of many—other leaves, tree bark, mushrooms—used to make medicinal soup-like liquids.
It wasn’t until the end of the Zhou dynasty (1122 - 256 BC), when Chinese cultures started to boil tea leaves alone for consumption. The drink was stimulating and flavorful and soon caught on.
As with most discoveries, timing is everything. Luckily for tea, three great philosophical traditions started around the middle of the Zhou dynasty. Tea was quickly adopted in Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism, which lead to the spread of this “elixir of life” across China.
Geo-political changes in China, including the unification under the Qin emperor (221 - 210 BC), helped spread tea throughout the land. By the time the Great Wall of China was built, workers were using tea as a source of energy to complete their laborious tasks.
For almost 800 years, the Chinese people had a monopoly on the tea trade and had yet to share this wonderful leaf with the outside world.
During the Tang dynasty (618 - 907 AD), a unified China brought emissaries from neighboring countries who were eager to increase trade and establish friendly relations.
Buddhist monks from Japan visited China and brought seeds of the tea plant home. Recorded Japanese literature mentions tea as early as 815, which started out as an expensive drink exclusive to nobles and monks.
In Tibet, tea came to the country in 641 through the marriage of the Chinese princess, Wen Cheng, and the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo.
After tea became more popular throughout the country, merchants set up regular trading caravans to fulfill demand.
Flickr: "Men Laden With Tea, Sichuan Sheng, China [1908 Ernest H. Wilson [RESTORED]]" - by ralph repo
Traveling outside of China and spreading throughout Asia, tea became a major source of revenue and commerce of the continent.
Typical of the politics of the time, the best quality tea was reserved for Chinese nobility. The Tang court devised a way to generate revenue by creating “border tea”, which were compressed bricks of low-quality tea.
At the time, the Chinese were already creating tea cakes to transport high quality tea across the country, but this new border tea used twigs and other parts of the tea plant to make the product cheaper.
While low in quality compared to the Chinese version, this allowed many of the lower classes to develop a taste for tea.
The modern production and preparation of tea originates during the Song dynasty (960 - 1279) in China before spreading to Japan, Tibet, and neighboring areas.
This new style of tea was called "loose leaf tea."
Loose leaf tea was developed to preserve the delicate flavor of the tea leaves compared to older processing methods that treated the leaves more harshly.
Initially, the Chinese roasted then crumbled tea leaves. Other methods of production including gentle heat drying, tumble drying, washing and steaming.
In addition to innovating tea processing to produce better flavor, the Chinese innovated ways of conducting tea drinking and commerce.
Consumption of tea became ritualized, with a series of established formalities, as it become more ingrained in Chinese culture.
Chinese tea houses started opening up to offer a public gathering place for the drink (much like how the first coffeehouses were born).
These became a place to conduct business, play games and listen to poetry. In Japan, the practice of “Tocha” (tea competitions) became popular amongst the Samurai class. These were the early forms of tea ceremonies, which we still see today.
By this time, tea had spread to neighboring regions of Japan and Tibet, Korea, and Vietnam. Each culture developed their own ceremonial process with tea as well as their own ways of drinking, preparing, buying and selling.
As southeast Asia was refining their relationship with tea, the rest of the world started taking notice.
Although tea is recorded in western (Arabic) writing as early as 879, it wasn’t until the 13th century that it entered the vocabulary of European elite.
Famed traveler, Marco Polo, mentions tea in 1285, but it wasn’t until 1610 when the Dutch East India Company first transported leaves to Amsterdam that tea started it's ascent into European culture.
Around this time, the Japanese had developed a tea style—via growing and processing methods—of its own and European countries were buying different types of tea from it and other smaller tea-producing countries across southeast Asia.
In 1636, tea was introduced to France and quickly become popular amongst aristocracy.
The Russian Czar was gifted tea in 1618 and German pharmacies were selling it as early as 1657.
The greatest catalyst for the spread of tea to the rest of the world was when the British, most specifically the Dutch East India Company, secured regular trade routes for buying tea from Asia.
Due to the sheer volume of tea this single corporation could move with it's vast fleets, tea demand skyrocketed as new markets were created almost overnight.
After sending tea to the American continent and colonies, it quickly spread throughout north and south America.
Due to the relatively mild taste compared to coffee, which was pretty bad due to limited innovation in shipping, growing and brewing methods, tea spread in popularity among both the upper and middle classes.
To break Chinese domination of the tea market, the British introduced tea to the Indian subcontinent. With an ideal tea growing that could support many types of tea, India quickly grew into one of the largest tea producers in the world.
The British then used their position in India to lower costs and ramp up tea production so it could introduce larger quantities to the rest of the world.
While tea popularity was growing in India, Europe and Asia, tea in America hit a growth roadblock. In an ironic twist, the British Tea Act enraged the British colonies in America and lead to the Boston Tea Party. During this time in America, it was seen by many as unpatriotic to drink tea, which is ultimately why coffee became the more popular drink in the states.
Tea culture in America has never reached the same apex while tea in British culture is a standard part of life.
As the world has become more globalized, the traditional ceremonies and formalities of tea culture have spread from southeast Asia into the western world. Most countries have developed their own formalities with tea, no doubt influenced by teas' Asian roots.
While not made from the camellia sinensis plant, and not actually classified as "tea," there is a plethora of herbal teas that are prepared similar to traditional tea. Some of the more popular herbal teas include yerba mate, red and green rooibos, honeybush, chamomile, hibiscus, to name a few.
We will cover these in the rest of this guide, so stay tuned because there's a lot to appreciate about herbal teas!
The psychoactive components of the camellia sinensis, which can make one feel relaxed, focused and invigorated, has helped it become one of the most popular drinks in the world.
At Wild Foods, we are fanatical about tea. It's delicious, versatile and enjoyable. In fact, the Wild Foods Guide To Tea is our first step in our Drink More Tea campaign that we are working on!
Whether you are enjoying a hot cup of tea on a cold day or an iced cold tea on a hot day, take a moment to ponder the thousands of years and millions of manpower that it took to bring that tea to your cup.
The flavor, aroma, and health benefits of tea all start at the seed of the magical plant that gives us tea; camellia sinensis.
As with wine and coffee, the geographic location where a crop is grown plays a vital role in the final epigenetic makeup of a grown ingredient.
This is known as terroir.
Every cup of tea is unique because every crop is unique.
Each tea has a unique terroir that is the result of the region and its climate and soil.
The weather leading up to a specific harvest can cause variations from one crop to another even when grown the same way as previous crops.
The first part of tracing the growing process starts at the harvest level, also known as the "plucking."
How the tea leaves are processed after harvest plays a vital role in the final classification and quality of the tea.
For example, some teas are fermented (black tea) while others are steamed, dried or baked.
Learning the basics of tea manufacturing will make you a smarter consumer and more appreciative tea drinker.
The process of cultivating and harvesting tea is the most important step in determining the final tea flavor and quality.
A harvest spells the difference between a delicate tasting tea, a bold, overpowering tea, and everything in between.
The camellia sinensis plant typically grows in tropical and subtropical climates at higher altitudes.
The high altitude coastal regions of China have a long tradition of tea cultivation, but as the plant has spread across the globe it has found other suitable regions to thrive in.
The mountainous regions in Japan, for example, are known for their tea. More recently, Indian and European climates have shown strong performance in producing quality tea.
The amount of sunlight or shade the tea plants grow in is one of the foremost considerations in producing tea leaves.
Many farmers will cover tea plants with share for periods of time to stimulate growth of certain chemicals in the leaves, thus altering their flavor and nutritional profiles.
For example: Tecnha, the tea used to make matcha, is progressively covered with shade leading up to harvest to make the leaves fight harder to continue photosynthesis. This makes the leaves tender, which makes them more easily ground into the fine powder you get later on called matcha. The shade also boosts the chlorophyll content of the leaves while improving the amino acid content.
Typically, the shading is created by using a framework of reed screens and rice straw and is continually increased to provide less and less sunlight to the tea as it gets closer to harvest.
Most shade grown teas fall into three distinct categories of shade exposure.
The gyokuro and matcha categories are usually shaded to about 90% shading for 2-3 weeks. Gyokuro and matcha have differences during the drying, rolling, and refining process later, but for the growing process they are the same.
The other Japanese shade grown tea is kabusecha, which is 40 - 50% shaded for 1 - 2 weeks and undergoes a similar processing as gyokuro.
Through selective breeding over hundreds of years, the gyokuro tea is even more specialized. Clonal varieties of tea plants have been developed specifically for gyokuro, which have small, sweet leaves.
Because of this meticulous selection and unique processing, gyokuro is by far the most expensive Japanese green tea and is highly regarded by experts.
In Japan, there is friction regarding the claim to "best" producer of gyokuro. Annual competitions are serious affairs, with Uji and Okabe (in Shizuoka prefecture) most often contending for the prize.
Most plucking happens twice a year during the early spring and early summer / late spring.
In Japan, the first harvest is known as “Ichiban-cha” or “Shincha,” which denotes the highest quality tea from that year.
"First harvest" is a key term reserved for the highest quality green teas in the world. (Our Wild Matcha 1st harvest is one very tea!)
Teas hand-plucked by expert pluckers prevents broken leaves and partial flushes that you get from machinery-based harvesting, both which reduce the quality of a harvest.
For high quality teas, such as gyokuro and ceremonial grade matcha, it's essential to hand pick leaves.
Between competition-grade gyokuro and consumer-grade gyokuro there are subtle differences.
Explained by a man named Maso Kono from Minamiyamashiro village, the competition-grade gyokuro is picked with just the smallest bud or shoot of the tea plant while gyokuro for consumers is plucked one week later and includes a whole single leaf.
Similarly strict harvesting policies are used for Silver Tip Pekoe tea, which is the highest quality grade amongst white tea variations; only one bud and two leaves are plucked and only if the weather is perfect for plucking—sunny days when the air is cool and dry.
After plucking, some of these leaves are left to wilt in a process by which leaves are put out in the sun or a cool breezy room to remove moisture. This process can breakdown the proteins, lead to higher amino acid (and caffeine) content, and change the taste of the tea considerably.
To keep in mind, these plucking standards are reserved for the highest quality tea producers in the world. Much of the tea you find in the tea bags lining grocery stores across the country is not made this way.
The first part of the manufacturing process starts when the leaves are removed from the tea trees. This is called the plucking.
Most teas are plucked by hand, although some mass-produced tea is plucked using heavy machinery. (Hint: avoid these.)
The more experienced the tea plucker, the better tasting the final cup of tea. If a plucker picks leaves too young or too mature, the tea will have inconsistent flavors due to the differences in size and nutrition content of the leaves as they pass through the rest of the tea-manufacturing process.
As far as the camellia sinensis plant goes, the different classes of tea is mostly determined by what happens after the leaves are picked (except in the case of matcha in which the quality is determined by when the leaves are plucked.)
The following six categories comprise the majority of harvested tea from the camellia sinensis plant:
After tea leaves are plucked, there are two primary processes used to change the chemical makeup and flavor of the tea leaves.
The first process is called oxidation, which starts during the wilting process.
For oolong and black tea, the process is continued until the desired amount of time has passed. The amount of time is carefully calculated to produce the desired level of oxidation.
As you probably guessed, various oxidation levels result in various flavor profiles.
Lighter oolong teas will oxidize to a darkness of, say, 5% - 40% while darker variations, namely black tea and pu-erh, can range from 60% - 100%.
The oxidation adds flavor, richness, and color to the tea.
Once the oxidation process is complete, the drying process is the most common next step.
The drying process is typically the final step in most tea leaf manufacturing before it is packaged and shipped off to customers.
During the drying state, the leaves are either sun-dried, air-dried, or oven-dried with the goal of removing the moisture from the leaves so it can be packed and shelf-stable.
Some teas go through an additional post-fermentation process, where they are fermented a second time. For example, green pu-erh tea must go through a second process to get the mellow flavor or it ends up too bitter.
While the tea grower and manufacturer has done their job producing the tea, there is more for us, the tea drinker and consumer, to consider for determining the quality and final flavor of our tea.
After the tea leaves are prepared for sale, there are usually a few final steps that determine what form the tea will be sold to consumers.
Most tea is cut and sifted into small particles so it can fit in tea bags.
This is not the tea an educated tea drinker consumes.
What we want is high-quality, as whole ingredient as we can find, loose leaf tea.
And a general rule we note is: the bigger the ingredients, the better.
The smaller the tea leaves or tea ingredients, the more susceptible to losing flavor and nutrition and the more likely the tea can grow mold, like mycotoxins.
*Note: we are referring to loose leaf dried teas in this case and not finely ground matcha tea, which is a different category of tea altogether.
By the time the tea ends up in your infuser, it has undergone hundreds of processes, each one a direct or indirect decision by the farmer, manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer.
From growing, plucking, drying to shipping, processing and packing, that tea has quite the story to tell.
And after that first sip, you'll know if it's a good story or a bad one.
You'd think the farmers and manufacturers would have more of a say in how their tea is presented and sold to the market, but that's simply not the case.
For better or worse, it's the tea retailers that control the image of tea as it is presented to the public.
As an example, according to digital trends, in January 2014 “matcha” has risen as a popular search term in the United States, showcasing the increase in demand for matcha green tea.
Unfortunately, companies like Starbucks and Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf have made popular matcha drinks using low-grade produced matcha tea combined with milk and sugar.
A sugar and milk-filled matcha latte leaves little room for acquiring—and appreciating—a taste for true matcha.
These same companies have popularized sweetened tea in the form of brewed tea with added sugar as well as blends of tea that have artificial flavors and sugar added to the blend.
These added flavorings mask the true beauty of tea on top of altering the palate and taste perception of the public.
But this doesn't concern you because you are an educated tea drinker and you choose loose leaf tea and prepare it at home with some lemon and a dash of honey!
Tea as a brewed drink originates as an ancient Chinese medicinal drink and is still revered as such in many parts of Chinese culture.
Both traditionally brewed tea and other herbal tea blends are filled with various chemicals and micronutrients that improves human brain and bodily function.
For generations, the health benefits of tea (from the camellia sinensis plant) have been touted by many Asian cultures as well as European.
It took awhile, but modern research finally caught up with some verified research backing some of these health claims and finding evidence to support tea as a medicinal concoction.
One of the main health benefits of tea is the antioxidant content that aids the body in multiple ways.
By plucking early, young stage tea leaves and through the fermentation process, a high number of antioxidants called polyphenols and flavonoids are formed.
These compounds help make cells cleaner by removing the toxins that form through poor environmental and dietary factors.
A 2013 study noted that antioxidants provide “Significant reductions in toxicity… so that more patients are able to complete prescribed chemotherapy regimens… and improve the potential for success in terms of tumor response and survival.” (1)
Simply put, the antioxidants help rid the body of unhealthy chemicals responsible for inflammation which can contribute to a host of modern diseases and ailments.
The effect of tea can be seen in Asian cultures, such as the Japanese, who have a much lower risk of cancer and similar Western diseases.
As recently as 2014, a comprehensive study showed a significant reduction in oral cancer risk due to consuming the antioxidants in green tea. (2)
There is also documented research regarding tea’s benefits for helping prevent liver, esophageal, and many other types of cancer.
While antioxidants help remove free radicals from the body, which can help prevent cancer, tea should not be considered a cure-all.
Instead, tea should be a healthy part of an already healthy lifestyle that includes a real food diet and plenty of exercise, sleep and sunlight.
Check out our article, 20 Rules Of Living A Healthy Life.
Even if your genetics preclude you from having cancer (what luck!), you might still struggle with inflammation.
There are many inflammatory ingredients in our food and modern environments, such as sugar, gluten, seed oils, pollution, synthetics, mold, dust, allergens, etc, and they are all attacking us on a daily basis.
Why not combat them all with a few delicious cups of daily tea?
Drinking tea is another tool in your "health arsenal" and you should use it often. (Proper nutrition, exercise, sleep and sunlight are a couple other important tools in your fight against the inflammation monsters.)
A 1994 study in New Horizons showed that antioxidants “reduced inflammatory symptoms in inflammatory joint disease, acute and chronic pancreatitis, and adult respiratory distress syndrome.” (3)
Since tea is a great way to increase antioxidants in your body, drinking tea helps fight all of inflammation causing bad guys.
In America, 48% of women and 46% of men have some form of risk for cardiovascular disease. In fact, cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S.
A comprehensive analysis of green tea “...reported a 20% reduction in cardiovascular disease…” While this study notes there are many factors involved with heart disease, it strongly asserts that there is a strong preventative correlation to the benefits of green tea. (4)
Blood pressure is a major marker for heart disease and a 2014 British study found that “...long-term ingestion of tea could result in a significant reduction in systolic and diastolic BP.” (5)
While antioxidants have a protective impact on your body as a whole, the protection of your heart is one of the most important and scientifically verified benefits to drinking more tea.
There are four different molecules of “catechins” found in green tea that can improve general health.
These four help prevent diabetes and obesity, improve blood vessel health, and assist healthy brain function.
Of the four molecules, one referred to as EGCG is known as the most potent.
Studies point to ECGG as being the wonder chemical found in green tea, which improves many markers for health on top of increasing healthy fat burn.
That said, studies suggest that the combination of all four catechins is better than consuming just EGCG.
And this is why drinking a cup of tea has more benefit than simply taking an EGCG supplement.
As we saw in the Tea Manufacturing section of this guide, the processes for harvesting tea have effect on the final amino acid profile of the leaves.
The longer a tea ferments, the higher the caffeine content and the more of the amino acid L-Theanine you get.
Caffeine is most commonly thought of as a stimulant, but it has other important functions in the human body beyond keeping you awake.
Caffeine helps increase memory and acts as a neuroprotective aid, protecting the brain.
While caffeine is an important ingredient on its own, when it is combined with the L-Theanine found in tea, it is even more powerful.
The L-Theanine amino acid increases relaxation and reduces stress. Numerous studies show that L-Theanine helps improve alpha brain waves, which is considered the most productive, problem solving brain frequency the human brain can muster. (Meditation also induces this type of brain wave.)
There is exciting research regarding the combination of caffeine and L-Theanine and its effects on the human brain.
Combining both of these chemicals offers even more focus and attention than either individually.
In short, tea is a memory enhancing, brain stimulating, energy-boosting and fat-burning super drink!
It's great for studying, reading, working, writing, exercise, or trying to stay awake during the lecture by your professor that likes to hear himself talk.
Depending on the growing and processing methods of the tea, the different the chemical makeup.
Yellow and white teas often have more antioxidants, but less L-Theanine and caffeine.
Oxidized and fermented options typically have the higher quantity of caffeine compared to antioxidants.
Herbal teas are another beast altogether and many of them, including rooibos and honeybush, have a vast array of antioxidant properties and no caffeine. Anyone caffeine sensitive who is worried they cannot have the same benefits as traditional tea drinkers only need to find the right herbal option.
Learn more about Herbal tea in later sections of this guide.
With these natural variations, it is possible to mix and match different tea types, herbal blends, and other spices and herbs to have a great tasting brew as well as a healthy one.
It's best to learn what's in your favorite cup of tea so you can adjust the tea you drink to the time of day and goal you are after.
The more you learn about tea and develop your tea palate, the more strategic you'll get with your tea drinking!
Whether you are drinking a delicious, high quality yellow tea or a medicinal herbal tea, preparation makes a huge difference in the flavor, aroma, and quality of your final cup of tea.
There are recommend methods of tea preparation for each tea and understanding the subtle differences can go a long way in improving the quality of your tea experience.
The most basic method of making tea is steeping hot water and tea leaves in a pot or bowl.
After pouring a certain amount of hot water over a certain amount of leaves, you let the watery mix steep for a certain amount of time before straining the liquid into drinking vessels.
Making good tea is an entirely other subject, and the one we are concerned with in this guide.
After all, the amount of time, manpower, nature, sunlight and transportation that those humble little leaves require is a profound miracle that should be appreciated by making the best cup of frickin' tea possible!
To start on the quest for the perfect cup of tea, we have to find the perfect cup of water.
Ok, maybe there's no such thing as the "perfect" water, but you can at least get really, really good water.
In fact, finding quality water is the most commonly overlooked aspect of making tea. And considering water makes up 99% of the final cup of tea, it makes sense to find a water that is free from unpleasant metallic, chlorinated, or earthy flavors that might interfere with the final flavor of the tea you brew.
Filtered or high-quality bottled water is best for preparing tea.
Although it may seem superfluous to the process, materials like iron are useful for black or pu-erh tea because they require higher heat for longer periods of time and the iron maintains these temperatures longer and more consistently. The same reason that so many chefs swear by cast-iron pans is equally as important when it comes to brewing certain teas.
A material like glass or porcelain is beneficial for green and white teas because these materials release heat more quickly, helping avoid over-extraction of the delicate leaves.
Once you have the right water and the right brewing vessel, you are almost ready to make tea. I say "almost" because you still have to get a few things just right.
These are: the ratio of tea to water, the temperature of the water, and the steeping time.
There is much variation of recommended water temperature and steeping times depending on who you talk to, so be sure to take them all as guidelines and adjust them to suit your tastes and preferences.
The longer, and hotter, you steep your tea, the more concentrated the flavor due to the more extracted compounds that end up in your cup.
Some people enjoy a strong, slightly bitter cup of tea, while others will be turned off by the slightest hint of tannic bitterness. Again, find what you like and stick with that.
The final consideration to make before brewing your tea is the final number of infusions you will perform with your leaves.
An infusion is another word for a single steeping or brewing of your leaves.
Most teas should be infused more than once. In fact, some teas taste better the second or third infusion!
Here is a rough guideline for brewing green tea using multiple infusions. (If you want a strong cup and/or plan to infuse only once, double the time.)
Certain teas are more delicate than others and require less temperature and a shorter brewing time as a result.
Think of black and pu-erh teas as the "hot" end of the spectrum, needing higher temperatures and longer steeping times, while the white, yellow and green teas as the "cooler" and more delicate side of the spectrum.
As you can see above, each type of tea calls for a different variation of temperature, time and amount of leaves.
The younger and more frail the tea leaves, the lower temperature needed. White and yellow teas are delicate, young leaves from the tea plant plucked early in the harvest season. Water that is too hot will erode the quality of these teas both in flavor and in health.
It's best to measure your tea with a scale. Because tea comes in many shapes and sizes, a measuring spoon is generally not an accurate way of measuring tea leaves.
Like coffee, tea is a game of ratios. In the case of tea, it's the ratio of water to leaves coupled with the right temperature and brewing time that determines the final cup.
If you prefer a stronger cup, it's advisable to add more tea instead of more time as a longer steeping will extract more of the tannins in the tea, resulting in a bitter cup.
(The same is said for temperature; avoid hotter temperatures for the same reason.)
The general starting point ratio of tea to water is 2 grams for every 6-8 ounces of water. For most teas, this is usually a teaspoon. For larger teas, you should consider measuring with a tablespoon—1-2 being a good starting point.
When it comes to most things, personal preference dictates the final ratios you use, and tea is no exception.
However, that being said, there is one thing you shouldn't veer too far from and that is the temperature. The temperatures recommended have been tested over thousands of years and are going to best produce a cup of tea that brings out the flavorful compounds over the bitter ones.
That's why it's best to experiment with everything but the temperature. Add more of less tea, water, infusions and steeping time to produce different cups of tea.
In China, tea is usually brewed multiple times (infusions) using the same leaves.
The first infusion is typically known as the "wash" and is discarded, while the second and subsequent infusions are the ones you drink.
Using this technique, 3 - 5 infusions are recommended as the best tasting infusions to drink.
The three most common forms of tea are:
Cold brewing tea is a method of tea extraction using cold water instead of hot. (Just like cold brew coffee.)
A benefit of cold brew tea is you don't get the same harsh, tannic compounds in your final cup the way you do with the hot method due to the gentle, and slow, form of extraction from using cold water.
It's also really easy... just add the right amount of tea and water to a vessel and place in the fridge for 8-24 hours.
To get the best result from cold brewed tea, use 1.5 times the amount of tea leaves you would use for a typical hot brew method. Then refrigerate for 8-24 hours.
In many parts of the world, but primarily in Asia, tea is a ceremonial part of the culture.
The rise of tea is tied to many of the ideological and religious beliefs of those geographical areas of the world—e.g. Buddhism, Daoism, and so on.
In China and Japan, tea gardens and ceremonies are a cultural experience with rote traditional protocols. For example, one form of ceremony is called “Gongfu tea ceremony”, which uses only small Yixing clay teapots and oolong tea.
Another form of tea ceremony is the Japanese tea ceremony which uses matcha green tea for preparation.
While the cultural use of tea in social settings originated in China, and then Japan, it eventually spread throughout Europe, especially in places with British influence.
While varied in style and tradition, Indian, Irish, and English cultures still have ceremonial-like methods of preparing that have lasted for generations.
Ultimately, no matter how you prepare tea, the main factor for determining flavor is first based on the quality of the tea.
How it's grown, processed, transported, stored, and so on, all play a vital role in how "good" your tea leaves are.
As technology has developed, allowing the tea industry to produce tea faster and cheaper, the quality of tea has suffered in most cases. And this is nearly always the case with mass-produced teas you find in tea bags.
Of course, there are still craft tea farmers and artisan tea manufactures that create amazing quality tea using traditional methods passed down through the generations.
All that said, you can still ruin a quality tea by not respecting the nuances of tea brewing.
To get the best flavor and nutrition out of each cup of tea, first choose the best loose leaf tea leaves and then prepare them using the right temperature, water, infusions and time.
In the next section of this guide, we will cover the various types of tea, both from the Camellia sinensis plant as well as the many herbal varieties.
Typically the word "tea" refers to all teas from the plant that is most known for producing green and black tea. Depending on the processing method and time of harvest, the following teas all come from the same plant.
There is some confusion about the actual definition of "white tea," but it seems the general consensus is that tea from the camellia sinensis plant that has not been dried or fermented, and gone through little, if any processing is white tea.
White tea is also often classified as only made from the smallest buds and young leaves of the tea plant.
The word white comes from the silver-white hairs on the unopened buds of the tea plant. The final brewed liquid comes as a pale yellow/greenish hue similar to a light green tea.
Yellow tea is the rarest tea from the camellia sinensis family of tea.
It's also typically expensive, produced only in China, and is rarely exported from the country. But hey, at least you know it exists!
Green tea is the most talked about version of tea, but it's not the most widely consumed tea in the U.S.
Black tea accounts for about 84% of all American tea consumption according to the Tea Association of the USA.(1)
Oolong tea is characterized by its unique production process of withering in sunlight and letting it oxidize to certain levels before curling and twisting the tea.
Black tea is tea that has been more oxidized than green and oolong teas. This produces it's darker color of leaves and brew as well as its distinct deep flavor.
When you drink "iced tea" in the U.S., you are drinking black tea.
Pu-erh is tea taken to secondary oxidation and usually aging beyond what you find in black tea.
It is the "darkest" tea you can find. There are many varieties of pu-erh, ranging in oxidation and aging level and providing unique tasting notes.
Matcha means "fine powder tea" in Japanese and is made by whisking tea powder into a frothy, bright green beverage.
While matcha is a green tea, there are quite a few properties that separate it from traditionally brewed loose leaf green tea.
First of all, when you consume matcha tea, you consume the entire leaf. Compare this to green tea in which you consume only water that is flavored with the leaves through hot or cold extraction.
This is why matcha is like drinking 10 cups of regular green tea in total nutritional content.
Matcha also has unique methods of preparation, such as thick and thin matcha, as well as the matcha ceremony.
We love matcha so much at Wild Foods, it was one of our first products and we dedicated an entire Wild Guide to it. Check out the Wild Foods Guide To Matcha.
Tea not from the camellia sinensis plant is considered herbal tea.
Some tea purists claim it's not really tea at all because tea is only derived from the camellia sinensis plant.
Any beverage that's delicious and healthy and made by extracting flavor from whole ingredients qualifies as “tea” in our book!
The most popular herbal teas justified their own section in this guide, like rooibos and mate.
First we'll cover the most popular herbal teas before moving to a list of other ingredients commonly used to produce yummy tea-like beverages.
Yerba Mate is a popular drink in South American culture made from the dried stems and leaves of the holly plant named llex paraguariensis.
Due to the unique combination of caffeine, theobromine and theophylline, all of which help promote alertness and concentration, mate is revered as an alternative to coffee and a more powerful drink than green tea.
Learn more in the Yerba Mate section.
Rooibos tea is from a plant native to South Africa and is often referred to as "red tea" due to its red leaves and the red drink it produces.
Rooibos, pronounced roy-bos, means "red bush" in Afrikaans. The plant is a member of the legume family and typically grows in South Africa's Fynbos area full of natural shrubland or heathland.
Rooibos is naturally caffeine-free and full of naturally occurring antioxidants. It is low in tannins compared to regular black and green teas.
Rooibos has high levels of ascorbic acid, a form of vitamin C, which is one of the reasons it is recommended as a cold-fighting tea.
Learn more about red tea in the Rooibos section.
Honeybush tea is a cousin of Rooibos and native to South Africa. It is named for the smell of its flowers, which have a sweet, honey-like smell.
Honeybush is a newly popular tea, with global production doubling in recent years. This is probably due to how delicious this naturally caffeine-free tea is. (It's one of our favorites!)
Guayusa is our newest herbal tea line, one we are super excited about!
Guayusa, like honeybush, is a newer tea to the global tea market, with global production being zero in 2008 to now around 2 million pounds exported from South America a year.
Because Guayusa is so unique, it's best if you check out the Guayusa guide here to receive the full treatment. Hint: It's worth it!
Check out the Wild Shop for the full list of the most common herbal teas we stock and get sipping!
Mate is a popular drink in South America, where it has been cultivated and consumed for hundreds of years.
While mate is referred to as a tea, it is made from the stems and leaves of the botanical plant name is Ilex paraguariensis, a member of the holly family of plants.
As traditional “tea” comes from the camellia sinensis plant, mate comes from an entirely different species of plant, and thus is considered an herbal tea.
Despite these semantics, mate is similar to tea in chemical composition, health benefit, and brewing methods.
Once farmed by Guarani and Tupi tribes in Brazil, mate is now a popular drink in Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, U.S.A., and Argentina.
While elements of the traditional brewing methods are still in certain places around the world—mostly in South American countries—there are many variations of mate that have since evolved into various cultures.
Good mate, like tea, starts at the cultivation level.
Traditionally grown across South America, Argentina is the largest producer in the world, exporting 280,000 tons annually.
The cultivation in northeastern Argentina represents over half the total production of the world and dwarfs Brazil and Paraguay, the second and third largest producers respectively.
The best mate is grown in the shade of rainforest canopy. Mass-produced mate is grown on large farms in direct sunlight, which makes the plants grow faster but produces bitter leaves and rapid soil depletion year after year.
Once mate leaves and stems are cultivated—by experienced pruners in the case of quality mate—they undergo one of a few specific processing methods before being shipped to retailers.
Here is a flow chart describing the processing of mate tea compared to black and green camellia sinensis plant variations.
The greatest difference in processing between mate and green tea is the blanching and drying process. With mate, the leaves are flash heated over an open flame while green tea is generally steamed or pan-fried.
Mate is also dried slowly, often with smoke, which can alter the flavor of the mate. In contrast, green tea is quickly dried by high temperature (or sunlight) to avoid flavoring from other compounds.
In much of South America, mate is prepared by steeping yerba mate leaves in hot water.
The loose leaf mate is placed in a gourd (many are made specifically for mate), filled with hot water and enjoyed through a filtered straw called a "bombilla."
Typical recommendations call for filling the mate gourd 50% - 75% full of leaves. Like other teas, the flavor is in the ratio.
Treating the yerba mate leaves with cool water before adding hot is essential because it protects the leaves and essential nutrients that provide the desirable health benefits.
If hot water is added directly to the dry leaves, it can scald the leaves and damage the flavor and nutritional compounds in the mate.
After adding cool water to protect the mate, pour the hot water into the gourd. Instead of filtering the tea out the water and drinking it in a cup, the bombilla filters the liquid on every sip and so the leaves remain in the cup. Pretty cool.
After steeping mate, experienced practitioners use different shaking methods to enhance the experience. They may isolate leaves to a single side of the gourd, shake the leaves in order to remove particulates, or just consume it as is.
While this process might sound daunting, the drinker can get as many cups of mate from a single batch of leaves as he or she desires. Finally, once the flavor and effects diminish, the mate is finished.
Of course, not all cultures drink mate this way.
In Argentina, the traditional method of brewing and drinking mate is so popular that it has been written into law as the "National Infusion."
Many variations of the traditional mate method exist across south America. For example, Brazil, which accounts for over 50% of global mate production, has many unique variations of consuming mate.
Many Brazilians prefer an iced mate method, which may be sweetened with sugar or honey. This style of mate has been popularized as a delicious and enticing beach drink in Rio de Janeiro, though it can be found in other areas of the country as well.
The most unique group in the world consuming traditional mate is located in Lebanon and Syria. The people who adhere to the Druze faith are some of the largest consumers of mate outside of south America.
Introduced by Lebanese migrants in the late 19th century, mate has become an incredibly popular drink in this part of the world.
In 2012 alone there were 1,500 tons shipped to Lebanon. During this time, mate has made appearances in many photographs and video footage during the conflict of the time. (1)
While there are various geographical and cultural changes, most people will agree that the best way to brew mate (for both taste and health benefits) is through the loose leaves and traditional steeping method.
But the only real test is to try it yourself and make up your own mind! (Hint: start here.)
Mate is revered more for its benefits than its taste, especially if you are drinking unsweetened mate the traditional way.
At a basic level, mate contains chemicals called “xanthines”, which consist of commonly known caffeine, but also theobromine and theophylline. These chemicals are similar in their promotion of concentration and alertness.
These combined molecules make mate a perfect tool for improving mental function and cognitive abilities. Having all of these slightly varied molecules in a single food product is rare.
Best of all, mate has much less caffeine than coffee or guarana, which means it does not come with the high incidence of anxiety or jitters that can come with over-consumption of each.
Aside from this, mate is packed with polyphenols and flavonoids, which are powerful antioxidants that help prevent inflammation.
Studies suggest mate may have higher antioxidants and inhibit free radicals more strongly than green tea. (We say this: drink both!)
But the most special aspect of mate are chemicals called “caffeoyl derivatives,” which are found almost exclusively in mate and have unique antioxidant effects. There are other plants that contain these beneficial compounds, but mate has the highest concentration of any documented thus far.
The average western diet is severely deprived of nutrients and minerals like potassium and magnesium, to name a few. Steeped mate provides additional potassium and magnesium, which support health in adults and help to replenish levels in active individuals that sweat a lot.
Just one more reason why mate is such an amazing brew!
While there are a plethora of snake oil products promoting fat loss on the market, mate is not one of them. It is a scientifically proven alternative, both empirically and with verified data.
According to a 2002 study in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, mate showed a “...dramatic decrease in weight, after 45 days, in overweight patients…”(3)
Further studies have shown that mate helps with fat metabolism and generally improves weight management while preventing onset obesity.
Mate is a great drink to add to your (hopefully) already healthy lifestyle that will aid in mental cognition as well as general overall health.
If you are interested in a nutrient rich brew, which will provide additional concentration and focus for your tasks, traditionally brewed mate could be the answer.
If you want a simpler mate experience, start with our loose leaf Wild Mate. All you need is a tea strainer or reusable tea bag and hot water.
Also consider cold brewing mate and keeping a jug in the fridge.
In many countries, the word “tea” is reserved for tea that comes from the camellia sinensis plant—green, black, white, yellow, oolong and pu-erh teas being the most common.
This has led to confusion regarding what is actually "tea," which will vary depending on who you ask.
At Wild Foods, we consider herbal teas "tea," because it's easier and people in the west tend to associate most drinks brewed with hot water and ingredients as tea.
That said, any tea that does not come from the camellia sinensis plant is considered an herbal tea.
Ingredients for brewing herbal tea include herbs and spices as well as other plants like rooibos, mate and guayusa.
Aside from mate and guayusa, both of which include caffeine, one of the primary considerations when comparing regular tea to herbal tea is the lack of caffeine in herbal tea.
The popularity of herbal teas has led to an entire tea drinking subset of individuals that opt to drink only these caffeine-free, ingredient-infused concoctions.
There are a variety of herbal options that people enjoy, each providing a different benefit and flavor profile.
Here are some of the most popular herbal teas:
This European plant is harvested and the flowers are used to create a brew that can prove incredibly relaxing and is known for its calming effects.
Chamomile tea has a mild and subtle flavor, which makes it the perfect candidate for added lemon and honey.
Chamomile is also used as an herbal remedy and alternative to medicine in many parts of the world. Chamomile is known to provide relaxation while reducing stress and can lead to better sleep.
It is also recommended as an herbal treatment for stomach pains and irritable bowel syndrome.
The earliest known use of human consumption of peppermint was recorded in an ancient Roman text in 79 AD.
This makes peppermint one of the oldest flavors in Europe and continues widespread use to this day due to its invigorating flavor and aroma and its health benefit.
Today, peppermint is most commonly used as an essential oil, food flavoring, and as a loose leaf tea.
Peppermint tea is great for soothing an upset stomach and improving digestion. It is also known to ease a sore throat and helps prevent those nagging coughs.
Peppermint leaves are found most often as an added ingredient in tea blends to help add dimension and flavor to a tea. We have it in a few of our Wild Teas.
But as a stand-alone tea, peppermint is a rockstar that is often overlooked, which is why it earned a spot in the Wild Tea line as Wild Tea #16 Peppermint Soothe, one of the best peppermint teas we've found in the many we've tested.
Native to South Africa, the rooibos plant is able to survive some of the harshest conditions of the desert, which is why it is grown almost exclusively in certain parts of South Africa.
There are two different kinds of rooibos teas, the oxidized red version and the more expensive, and unoxidized, green rooibos.
Both rooibos options are filled with antioxidants and flavanols, which can help reduce inflammation. Rooibos also contains iron, calcium, and potassium.
Typically, rooibos is brewed and prepared similar to black tea; the leaves are steeped in hot water, then strained before adding milk and honey/sugar.
A member of the mint family, this Mediterranean plant is a potent relaxant and stress-reliever.
Lemon balm is used as both a tea and an essential oil to help sedate anxious individuals and to improve sleep quality.
Many people who suffer from insomnia use lemon balm tea as an herbal remedy before getting prescription drugs.
The slight sweetness and tartness of lemon balm make it a perfect brew after a long day of work.
Holy basil (often called tulsi) is an Ayurvedic plant that has been used for thousands of years as a medicinal tea.
Brewed in a similar fashion as other herbal teas, holy basil is known for its brain enhancing properties. In fact, the plant is so revered for health benefits, it is called the “elixir of life."
A close cousin of rooibos, honeybush has a sweeter aroma and flavor than rooibos yet retains many of the same health benefits.
Honeybush is named for it's flowers that smell like honey.
This beautiful, flowering plant makes one of the most delicious and beneficial herbal teas.
Many studies show hibiscus can help improve cardiovascular health at the level of many prescription drugs! Hibiscus has been long revered in traditional Ayurvedic medicine for its health promoting properties.
Not bad for a naturally sweet red liquid.
Although ginseng contains zero caffeine, it can be a powerful stimulant for the brain, stimulating brain waves and helping you focus.
A root found in colder climates, ginseng has been used in Chinese traditional medicine for centuries.
The herb is so revered for stimulating properties, it is often an added ingredient in many energy drinks.
Ginger is incredibly potent and has a strong, some say "acquired" flavor. This is why you often see ginger as an added ingredient in tea blends.
Taking alone, ginger is known to help settle the stomach and aid in treating a cold. Instead of leaves, you take fresh ginger and dice or thin slice it before steeping in hot water for desired period of time—5-7 minutes should do the trick.
Native to southeast Asia, kratom tea is one of the less popular, but highly effective stimulant alternatives. It can lead to tolerance problems similar to over-consumption of caffeine.
The sensation when taking kratom is similar to morphine, which makes it effective for relieving pain but prone to abuse.
Kava is a root found on tropical islands in the south Pacific.
Islands in Polynesia use kava as a relaxant and anti-anxiety compound, which has sedative and anesthetic properties.
The kava tea flavor is heavy and earthy and for some, difficult to consume. However, the health effects are considered well worth it.
Many drink kava to get a chilled-out relaxed feeling.
For tea purists, herbal tea might seem like a "cute" step-child and lacking in any real tea consideration compared to a healthy green tea or a bold pu-erh.
Of course, this myopic view is unfounded as there are actually plenty of advantages of herbal tea you can't get with traditional tea from the camellia sinensis plant.
For starters, most herbal teas are filled with more antioxidants and micronutrients (like magnesium and potassium) than traditional tea.
Secondly, herbal teas allow you to drink with specific (sometimes contrasting) health goals in mind.
For example, on one hand, a chamomile or lemon balm tea can promote feelings of relaxation and anxiety reduction. On the other, a caffeine-free honeybush or red rooibos tea can provide the health benefits without interfering with your sleep—which you can't say about tea from camellia sinensis.
While subtle differences in green, white, oolong, and black tea are appreciated by traditional tea drinkers, herbal options provide a vast array of flavors, nutrition profiles and drink options.
There are many options with herbal tea, so don't feel overwhelmed.
Feel free to peruse the Wild Shop and read about some of our Wild Teas. If you want to try a few before committing to a large supply, get any of our Wild Teas in "Mini" size for a fraction of the price.
Honeybush tea, named for its natural sweetness and the honey-like smell of its flowers, is a plant native to South Africa used to make tea.
Like its close cousin rooibos, the honeybush plant is not the same species as traditional tea and so is considered a herbal tea.
The honeybush tea plant is a member of the legume family.
In 2000, wild cultivation of honeybush accounted for most of the 125 tons produced annually—a relatively small tea in the tea industry.
But honeybush tea has been gaining popularity. A short 15 years later, over 300 tons of honeybush tea is produced on a yearly basis, mostly in South Africa.
The process of growing honeybush tea is difficult and arduous, but yields great tasting results for herbal tea lovers.
The honeybush tree grows in small parts of South Africa, particularly in the southeast and southwest regions of the country. The plant enjoys the climate by the coast, but even in its natural environment, expert farmers work tirelessly to create the best tasting honeybush teas.
Before planting honeybush plants, a farmer must come by the highest quality seeds. One way of testing seed quality is putting seeds in a jug of water to see which float. Any seed that floats is determined unfit for planting and is discarded.
The next step is to treat the seed; the farmer will damage the outer seed shell in order to encourage moisture uptake during the germination phase.
A typical day for a South African honeybush (or rooibos) farmer during the harvesting season—January to April—looks like this: Farmers leave home at 5:00 am to turn fermentation heaps on the drying yard (where honeybush and rooibos are laid out to dry). After continuing this for most of the day, the farmer heads home around nightfall, after a mere 13 or so hours of hard labor.
But man does honeybush tea taste so good! Thank you farmers!
The honeybush plant is one that grows best in extreme climates, which makes cultivation and growing even more difficult. The plant enjoys extreme weather conditions and must be cultivated during the coldest part of the year during heavy rainfall.
The tea itself is made from the shoots of the shrub. To process honeybush, farmers chop the stems and leaves into small pieces.
Once chopped into small pieces, the wet heap is left alone to ferment.
This process usually requires an oven set to 60 - 70 degrees C.
After drying, the delicious golden red bits are ready for export.
Unlike green tea, which changes in flavor after long brewing, it is possible to leave honeybush brewing for many minutes without getting a bitter cup of tea.
In fact, many South African locals brew honeybush on the stove as a way of filling their home with a pleasant aroma until they are ready to consume the sweet herbal beverage.
In traditional tea style, honeybush is often consumed with milk and sugar, but doing so makes it impossible to enjoy the subtle flavor of the tea itself. We recommend trying it straight and then adding a bit of honey and lemon as you go until you find your preferred flavor.
People often compare honeybush flavor to apricot jam or a dried fruit mix. We find that a dash of lemon and honey makes for a perfect cup of honeybush tea!
While hot honeybush tea is most typical, it is possible to create a delicious iced honeybush tea as well. Brew using the hot method, then let cool and pour over ice.
Like the rooibos plant, honeybush is relatively low in amino acids compared to traditional tea, although it has plenty of antioxidants.
It is caffeine-free, which makes it popular with those that want a warm, flavorful, and rich drink at night.
As early as 1881, the Khoisan, an indigenous people of South Africa, were recorded using honeybush for the treatment of coughs and upper respiratory problems.
Today, it is used for the same purpose and modern science points towards a chemical in the plant called “pinotol,” which is known to soothe the throat and lungs.
Beyond soothing coughs, pinitol has blood-sugar lowering effects in laboratory studies and thus helps fight against diabetes and inflammation.
Honeybush is one of our favorite herbal teas and earned its spot.
There's a reason it's becoming one of the more popular herbal teas on the market... and I highly recommend learning why this is for yourself!
Originally discovered and harvested in China, green tea has spread to many cultures across southeast Asia and the western world.
The term “tea” is traditionally used only for the camellia sinensis species, of which green tea is one of the primary varieties produced.
Green tea is characterized by minimal oxidation during the processing, which often gives it a subtle and mild flavor.
However, as the plant has spread across Asia and the west, different geographies, climates, and cultivation practices have created a wide range of green tea flavors and processing methods.
This makes it virtually impossible to completely categorize any tea, and so most of what we cover are best-practices and what's "typical" of green—and other—tea.
When someone extols the virtues of green tea, they are echoing sentiment that has been passed down for thousands of years.
As early as 600 AD, Chinese writers described green tea and its benefits in a book called “Tea Classic.”
The culture of tea became ingrained in the growing religions of the time, such as Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism, which gave the drink extra significance compared to any other beverage consumed during the time.
The special place that tea reserved in Chinese culture led to enhanced farming methods, cultivation, and processes that created various varieties that we still enjoy today.
Some examples include yellow tea and white tea variations, which are subtle harvest-timing and processing methods that control the final flavor of the tea leaves.
The importance of tea in Chinese culture was undoubtedly responsible for its spread through the rest of the world.
As green tea spread to other countries, methods of growing, harvesting and production were created, each leading to new tea discoveries.
For example, in Japan, green teas are often steamed instead of pan-fired, which gives them a unique “leafy” flavor different than the Chinese versions.
In fact, the Japanese method of producing tea has become unique to their culture, geography, and history, and many regions of Japan are heavily influenced by tea production to this day.
A short bullet train ride from Tokyo, in the town of Shizuoka, farmers are producing tea the same way they were in the 1600s. As soon as you step off the train, you'll smell the freshly roasting tea leaves.
Spread among the karaoke clubs, residential buildings, and commercial property, the tea factories, tea shops, and warehouses are all prominent staples in the real estate of the town.
Venture a bit more into the Japanese countryside and you'll discover rows of tea bushes lining roads.
Farmers, many old and seasoned tea veterans, use modest barns as their factories from which they produce some of the highest quality teas in the world.
It's not just China and Japan that produces great tea, although they are the most well-known.
In recent time, the camellia sinensis plant has made it to Europe and other far-flung regions of the world.
On the Portuguese Azores islands, for example, tea was introduced as recently as 1874 by experts in southeast Asia.
The Azores remain one of the few places in Europe that can grow high quality tea because the island has high altitude terrain, mineral-rich soil, and is hundreds of miles from industrial pollution.
Tea in the Azores has become so popular that Chinese companies are buying the tea for sale at home!
Depending on who you talk to, you'll end up with conflicting opinions on the "correct" way of cultivating, processing, and brewing green tea.
Nearly all methods have their supporters, but in general there are the traditionalists who like to stick to the old ways of doing things and there are the modernists that like to try to find the newer, better ways.
In general, green tea grows best at higher altitudes.
Regions above 6,900 feet (2,100 meters) are chosen in Sri Lanka for tea cultivation. In China, the country has such a history with tea, there are different plantations across the country giving plenty of regional flavor, so it's hard to say "higher is better than lower," although many tea connoisseurs might disagree on that distinction.
In the Fujian province, the high altitude mountains are known for growing organic green tea as well as other variations, such as white tea and oolong tea. Because Fujian is near the coast and has a high altitude, it provides an ideal environment for growing tea and produces some exceptional teas.
While the Chinese categorize their green tea by regions, which often come with connotations of flavor and quality, the Japanese categorize strictly by quality. Additionally, Japanese green tea is usually steamed, which offers a completely different flavor than the Chinese pan-fired or oven-roasted variations.
Some people like the “earthy” taste of Chinese green tea versus the “leafy” counterparts in Japan.
Either way, there are other elements of the growing and processing methods of Chinese and Japanese tea that prove instrumental in determining the final quality and flavor.
White tea is a variation of green tea, which is often made from the flower buds and young leaves without any fermentation or further processing.
Harvested mostly from the famous coastal Fujian province of China, white tea is a rare and delicate tea.
To produce a high-quality white tea, cultivation is done without any panning, rolling, or shaking. Furthermore, only the finest young leaves are harvested to produce white tea.
Another rare and expensive form of tea cultivation produces yellow tea, which has an additional step of preparation compared to green tea.
After the oxidation process, a damp cloth is placed over the tea as it is steamed. Not only does this impart a yellow color (hence the name), but it also provides a mellow and less grassy flavor than green tea.
Yellow tea was often served to members of the Chinese Imperial court. To this day, it rarely leaves China. If you ever try some, let us know how it tastes!
Within the category of green tea, there are further subcategories of green tea based on processing methods.
In Japan, the most common tea is “sencha,” which is green tea made with direct sun exposure and is usually lightly steamed.
The more expensive “gyokuro” is grown in the shade, which increases certain chemical contents such as amino acids and l-theanine. The gyokuro is usually grown with 90% shading for 2 weeks (similar to matcha) leading up to harvest while “kabusecha” is only shaded 40 - 50% for 1 - 2 weeks.
These subtle differences in growing and processing create vast flavor differences.
Even though there are dozens of different styles of green tea cultivation and preparation, there are only a few brewing methods that most used and recommend.
Most cultures use a steeping method, which utilizes hot water to extract the flavor and chemical compounds of the green tea. While some high quality teas require brewing variations—such as steeping multiple times or short durations—in general, brewing green tea is pretty straightforward.
Use 2 grams (~1 teaspoon) for every 6-8 ounces of water. Larger tea sizes might need to be measured in tablespoons. A scale is always best for getting the precise ratio, which increases the chances of producing a delicious cup of tea.
Aim for water between 160° - 175° degrees and infusing for 2 - 3 minutes. Using this method, infuse 2-5 times and enjoy the subtle flavor differences with each subsequent infusion.
It will vary based on the green tea you use, but these are general guidelines to start with.
The benefits of green tea have long been documented by Chinese and Japanese scholars. Since then, modern health research has tested green tea against the rigors of scientific analysis and found many positive findings.
Green tea is full of enzymes, polyphenols, flavanols, and amino acids that improve health.
One popular amino acid called theanine is a compound known to reduce anxiety and mental stress. Theanine is often used as a supplement to promote concentration and focus while reducing anxiety and nervousness, two byproducts of caffeine.
Theanine improves alpha brain waves in the brain, which are associated with the highest form of cognitive performance capable in human beings.
Besides theanine, which varies depending on the processing of green tea, there are phytochemicals such as quercetin and EGCG, which have high antioxidant contents.
All green tea includes these antioxidants, but white tea has the most.
There is some evidence to suggest that green tea can help tackle larger problems, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease, but more evidence is required on all accounts.
A recent analysis was completed in 2015, which showed “promising” results in animals.
Antioxidants are helpful in reducing cancer, but that does not make them 100% correlated with cancer prevention, especially in western society where the human body is treated poorly though poor nutrition and exercise habits.
A 2013 American Society for Nutrition article showed 1 cup of green tea per day helped reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by 28% and up to 38% decreased risk with 2 cups per day. The study concluded that “...evidence appears to be stronger for green tea than for black tea, which differ greatly…” (1)
Green tea research suggests tea as a potent preventative medicine for a large variety of cancers.
One 2014 lung cancer study concluded “...both green tea and black tea were significantly associated with reduced lung cancer risk…” (2)
Another study suggests green tea reduces oral cancer risk by 21% (3) while a 2011 study noted “Both men and women showed the preventative effects of tea intake on the development of primary liver cancer…” (4)
While the scientific research is encouraging, there are always biases and confounding variables in research that makes for "best guesses" rather than hard truths.
It is important to use tea as part of your cancer prevention plan rather than a cure-all.
A common question we get is what's the best green tea?
Of course, this is impossible to answer since each person is going to have their own preference for flavor.
The earthy flavor of Chinese teas appeals to many, while in Japan the most widely consumed green tea is Sencha, a steamed leaf tea that is milder than Chinese green teas.
Figuring out the best green tea for you is an enjoyable—and healthy—endeavor!
The Wild Green Tea options in our Wild Shop is a great place to start!
I remember the first time I read about guayusa.
The feelings I experienced were shock, wonder and a frantic searching for finding 'the catch.'
Of course, I couldn't find a catch and so my shock and wonder grew.
At that point, I knew I had to find a supplier of guayusa to bring under the Wild Foods brand and share this amazing super-leaf with the world.
After a month of contacting various suppliers, I found a company I trust that supplies organic guayusa direct from the Ecuadorian rainforests.
A thing unique about guayusa compared to other crops harvested out of the rainforests is it actually promotes protection of the rainforest due to the unique way it is grown in 'forest gardens' that require natural forest shade and biodiverse jungle life to thrive.
What this means is, the more guayusa that is produced, the more rainforest that is protected.
And I haven't even gotten to the real selling points of guayusa.
Guayusa is a new crop to the global tea market. In fact, in just 2008, global production of guayusa was zero pounds. Nowadays, there are more than a million pounds of guayusa exported out of the Ecuadorian rain forests by indigenous forest farmers.
Guayusa is growing for a reason, or a couple reasons, I should say.
These reasons are what floored me when I first read about guayusa.
In short, they are:
*Guayusa = 66mg caffeine per 8oz cup
*Espresso = 77mg caffeine per 1.5oz shot
*Black coffee = 95mg caffeine per 8oz cup
So what you're telling me is this...
Guayusa has double the antioxidants as green tea, no bitterness, almost as much caffeine as coffee, and contains theobromine—an ingredient found in chocolate responsible for inducing muscular relaxation and known to balance out the jittery effects of caffeine?
Yup! No wonder production has gone from 0 pounds in 2008 to over a million pounds in less than 10 years!
So after I read all this amazing information about this unheard of super-leaf from South America, I was excited to try guayusa for myself.
But as I waited for my initial test batch from my supplier, I told myself to not get too hyped up. After all, life has taught me that most things sound better than they actually are.
Well, long story short, I was not let down in the least!
After brewing up 20 cups of guayusa to varying strengths and with varying added ingredients—honey, lemon, xylitol, maple syrup—I was ecstatic.
And that's how Wild Guayusa was launched.
While I could rave and rave about guayusa, my best advice is to try it for yourself. Sure, on paper, guayusa seems to have everything going for it.
But until you brew up some guayusa, take a few sips and enjoy the subtle flavor and invigorating effects for yourself, nothing I'm going to say can compete.
How much caffeine does guayusa have?
~66mg per 8oz cup
How do I brew guayusa?
Use 3g (~1-2 tsp) guayusa with 8oz 185° water and steep for 4-7 minutes
Is guayusa like yerba mate?
It is a close-cousin of mate. Both are members of the holly tree family and contain similar antioxidant and polyphenol levels, although yerba mate has a stronger, more bitter flavor and is more prone to over steeping than guayusa.
Where is guayusa grown?
Guayusa is grown in Amazonian rainforests in Ecuador by local farmers. Guayusa requires shade and the biodiverse environment of the rainforest to grow, which promotes rainforest preservation.
What does guayusa taste like?
Guayusa has a mild, slightly sweet earthy flavor that takes up other flavors well.
Rooibos tea is a popular herbal tea from a native South African plant.
It wasn’t until 1772, when the Swedish naturalist, Carl Thunberg, noted local South African tribes making brews from local rooibos plants.
These tribal people would climb the mountains, remove the leaves from the shrubs, and bring them down the slopes on their backs.
Rooibos must be good to go through all that.
During this time, importing black tea was too expensive for the local settlers and so rooibos became a cheaper alternative.
The small Western Cape province of South Africa is a mountainous region that is ideal for growing this higher altitude plant.
Within the Cederberg area of this region, most of the world's production of rooibos is grown and cultivated. The Mediterranean climate and acidic sandy soil make it a perfect region for rooibos to thrive.
Rooibos is a resilient crop, often having to withstand the frequent droughts of the region. In short, the rooibos plant thrives on less water and higher altitudes.
In recent years, farmers have feared that weather extremes are threatening the rooibos crops. Freezing temperatures during the winter were rare until recently.
According to rooibos farmer, Willem Engelbrecht, “In the past we used to plough the soil, these days we plow less and we keep material on the soil to act as isolation, basically to preserve the moisture.”
Many farmers wonder how much longer they can adapt to the evolving weather conditions.
The best rooibos farmers rotate crops every 4 - 7 years. It then takes approximately 1 - 2 years before the soil is ready for a rooibos tree.
Traditional rooibos leaves are harvested by hand and cut into 5 mm pieces.
Then the farmer adds water to the heap of leaves and bruises them to enhance the oxidation process. While fermenting (or “sweating”) for 8 - 24 hours, the leaves turn a red and brown color, which is said to enhance the flavor.
Rooibos is usually dried in special yards or in large ovens with specific temperatures. While large scale rooibos cultivation uses ovens to maintain consistency and quality, sun drying is known to aid in the flavor development of the tea.
Next the rooibos is graded by a board, which evaluates both flavor and color—similar to the "cupping" process of testing coffee beans.
The three grades—super, choice, and standard—are subjected to strict testing before being sent to distributors. In fact, if the batch doesn't pass certain microbiological tests, they won't be available for export.
Traditional rooibos is know as "red tea," named for the color of the leaves and the red brew it produces.
But that's not the only kind of rooibos on market. Green rooibos, which is rooibos that has not been oxidized or fermented, is an expensive, and considered more nutritious, version of loose leaf tea.
To create green rooibos, farmers skip the fermentation process and sun-dry the leaves immediately. This prevents the red color from developing.
Our Thai G Green Rooibos Blend Wild Tea #5
After the tea is processed, it is sent to distributors before being packaged and ready for sale.
Compared to traditional tea, rooibos is a fairly new phenomenon in the global tea market. A Russian immigrant named Benjamin Ginsberg was the first to package and sell rooibos tea in the early 20th century.
Today, 12,000 tons of rooibos are sold to hundreds of countries across the world.
Rooibos has one of the most interesting and unique flavor profiles out of any herbal tea. It compliments well with other flavors, such as cinnamon, ginger, apple, and berries.
Given that rooibos was initially used as a replacement for black tea, it is no wonder the methods of brewing and drinking are similar.
The rooibos leaves are steeped in hot water and then allowed to cool before adding sugar and milk to taste. At Wild Foods, we love rooibos with a dash of honey and lemon. (It's also delicious as is.)
Because rooibos tea does not contain caffeine, it is popular amongst a new crowd of individuals who want to avoid stimulation.
Compared to green and black tea it has few amino acids, but is full of antioxidant support.
Furthermore, red rooibos has many polyphenols and flavanols, some of which are not found in green or black tea.
Many of these are responsible for the anti-inflammatory effects of red rooibos, which are often used as local remedies for arthritis and other inflammatory diseases.
Similar to honeybush, the antioxidants in rooibos are helpful for improving insulin sensitivity and combating diabetes.
Rooibos is often used to improve glucose uptake after a meal.
Rooibos contains micronutrients and minerals, such as iron, calcium, and potassium, which are lacking in the average Western diet.
A great place to start is trying one of our delicious rooibos options:
Wild Tea #1 Coconut Chai - Spiced Chai red rooibos with cinnamon, ginger and coconut flakes.
Wild Tea #5 Thai G - A green rooibos blend with an Asian twist consisting of ginger, lemongrass and lime.
Tea is a more versatile ingredient than many think.
It's not just for drinking as a hot or cold beverage. Tea is a great base for making other drinks like smoothies, shakes, iced teas, and so on.
Here are a few of our favorite tea recipes...