The Wild Guide to Tea

I've dabbled with tea on and off for years. It wasn't until recently that I started making it a solid daily habit... and I'm so glad I did.

The Wild Foods Guide To Tea has been on our "Do list" for some time. As fate would have it, perhaps I needed to 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 will 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 excellent tea and shun the rest.

Take these recommendations into account as well:

  • Learn to savor and respect each tea; Think of yourself as a tea connoisseur, and try to decipher the flavors in each cup of tea, even the ones you don't like.
  • Learn the history of the respective tea you are drinking, how it was made, and the exact origin of the world in which it was grown.
  • ​Embrace the learning experience of tea. Even the most robust, bitter cup of tea has a story.

​Without further ado, enjoy the Wild Foods Guide to Tea!

The History Of Tea

The tea we drink today has been evolving and changing for thousands of years.

Ancient civilizations in southeast Asia 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.

History Of Tea In China

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 led to the spread of this "elixir of life" across China.

great wall of 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 had a monopoly on the tea trade and had yet to share this wonderful leaf with the outside world.

The Tang Dynasty Has Visitors

During the Tang dynasty (618 - 907 AD), a unified China brought emissaries from neighboring countries eager to increase trade and establish friendly relations.

Buddhist monks from Japan visited China and brought seeds of the tea plant home. Historical Japanese literature mentions tea as early as 815, which started 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.

Traveling outside China and spreading throughout Asia, tea became a significant source of revenue and commerce on 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," 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 allowed many lower classes to develop a taste for tea.

Modern Tea Development And Production

​The modern production and preparation of tea originate 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 production methods include 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.

Tea consumption became ritualized, with a series of established formalities, as it became more ingrained in Chinese culture.

Chinese tea houses started opening up to offer a public gathering place for drinking (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 that we still see today.

By this time, tea had spread to neighboring regions of Japan, Tibet, Korea, and Vietnam. Each culture developed its formal process with tea and its ways of drinking, preparing, buying, and selling.

As southeast Asia was refining their relationship with tea, the rest of the world started noticing.

Tea Debuts In Europe

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 the European elite.

Famed traveler, Marco Polo, mentioned tea in 1285, but it wasn't until 1610, when the Dutch East India Company first transported leaves to Amsterdam, that tea started its ascent into European culture.

Around this time, the Japanese had developed a tea style—via growing and processing methods—of its own. 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 became popular amongst the aristocracy.

The Russian Czar was gifted tea in 1618, and German pharmacies sold it as early as 1657. The greatest catalyst for spreading 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 its 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 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 became one of the world's largest tea producers.

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 led to the Boston Tea Party. During this time in America, it was seen by many as unpatriotic to drink tea, which is 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.

Modern Tea Culture

As the world has become more globalized, tea culture's traditional ceremonies and formalities have spread from southeast Asia into the western world. Most countries have developed their formalities with tea, no doubt influenced by tea's Asian roots.

While not made from the camellia sinensis plant and not classified as "tea," a plethora of herbal teas are prepared, similar to traditional tea. Some of the more popular herbal teas include yerba matered and green rooiboshoneybushchamomile, and 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, have helped it become one of the most popular drinks in the world.

At Wild Foods, we are passionate about tea. It's delicious, versatile, and enjoyable. The Wild Foods Guide To Tea is the first step in our Drink More Tea campaign that we are working on!

Whether you enjoy a hot cup of tea on a cold day or an iced cold tea on a hot day, please take a moment to ponder the thousands of years and millions of workforce it took to bring that tea to your cup.

Sources:

  • Mary Lou Heiss, Robert Heiss “The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide” (2011)
  • Colleen Taylor Sen “Food Culture in India” (2004)
  • John Adams “The Adam Papers: Adams Family Correspondence, Volume 1” (1774)

Tea Growing And Manufacturing

Tea's flavor, aroma, and health benefits 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 resulting from its region, 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 more intelligent consumer and appreciative tea drinker.

Tea Cultivation And Growing

Cultivating and harvesting tea is the most critical 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 areas to thrive in.

For example, the mountainous regions in Japan 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 the share for periods to stimulate the 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, making them more easily ground into the fine powder you get later called matcha. The shade also boosts the chlorophyll content of the leaves while improving the amino acid content.

Typically, the shading is created 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 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 has small, sweet leaves.

Because of this meticulous selection and unique processing, gyokuro is the most expensive Japanese green tea and is highly regarded by experts.

In Japan, there is friction regarding the claim to be the "best" producer of gyokuro. Annual competitions are serious affairs, with Uji and Okabe (in Shizuoka prefecture) most often contending for the prize.

Plucking The Perfect Cup Of Tea

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 crucial 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 prevent broken leaves and partial flushes that you get from machinery-based harvesting, both of 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.

As explained by a man named Maso Kono from Minamiyamashiro village, the competition-grade gyokuro is packed with just the smallest bud or shoot of the tea plant. In contrast, gyokuro for consumers is plucked one week later and includes a single whole leaf.

Similarly, strict harvesting policies are used for Silver Tip Pekoe tea, 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 break down the proteins, lead to higher amino acid (and caffeine) content, and change the tea taste considerably.

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.

Classifying Tea At Harvest

The first part of the manufacturing process starts when the leaves are removed from the tea trees, called 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 the final cup of tea tastes. 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.

Regarding the camellia sinensis plant, the different tea classes are mainly 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:

  1. White tea - wilted leaves that remain unoxidized
  2. Yellow tea - unwilted leaves that remain unoxidized (but allowed to yellow)
  3. Green tea - unwilted leaves that remain unoxidized
  4. Oolong tea - wilted leaves that are bruised and partially oxidized
  5. Black tea - wilted (sometimes crushed) leaves and fully oxidized
  6. Post-fermented - Green tea allowed to ferment/compose (Example: Pu-erh tea)
Oxidation & Drying Tea

After tea leaves are plucked, two primary processes are used to change the chemical makeup and flavor of the tea leaves.

The first process is called oxidation, which starts during the wilting process.

The process is continued for oolong and black tea until the desired amount of time has passed. The amount of time is carefully calculated to produce the desired oxidation level.

As you probably guessed, various oxidation levels result across multiple flavor profiles.

Lighter oolong teas will oxidize to the 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 to customers.

During the drying state, the leaves are either sun-dried, air-dried, or oven-dried to remove the moisture from the leaves so they 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 end up too bitter.

Your Cup Of Tea

While the tea grower and manufacturer have 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 determining what form the tea will be sold to consumers.

Most tea is cut and sifted into small particles to fit in tea bags.

This is not the tea an educated tea drinker consumes.

We want high-quality, the whole ingredient we can find, loose-leaf tea.

And a general rule we note is: that the bigger the ingredients, the better.

The smaller the tea leaves or 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 tea category altogether.

By the time the tea ends up in your infuser, it has undergone hundreds of processes, each a direct or indirect decision by the farmer, manufacturer, wholesaler, and retailer.

From growing, plucking, and 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.

Tea And "Tea"

You'd think the farmers and manufacturers would have more say in how their tea is presented and sold to the market, but that's simply not the case.

For better or worse, tea retailers control the image of tea as it is presented to the public.

For 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, Coffee Bean, and Tea Leaf have made popular matcha drinks using low-grade matcha tea combined with milk and sugar.

A sugar and milk-filled matcha latte leaves little room for acquiring—and appreciating—a taste for authentic matcha.

These same companies have popularized sweetened tea in the form of brewed tea with added sugar and blends of tea with artificial flavors and sugar added to the mix.

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!

The Health Benefits Of Tea

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 improve the human brain and bodily function.

For generations, the health benefits of tea (from the camellia sinensis plant) have been touted by many Asian and European cultures.

It took a while, but modern research finally caught up with verified research backing some of these health claims and finding evidence to support tea as a medicinal concoction.

Antioxidants In Tea

One of the main health benefits of tea is its antioxidant content which 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 can 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 many 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 natural food diet and plenty of exercise, sleep, and sunlight.

Check out our article, 20 Ways to Live Well.

Tea The Health Tool

Even if your genetics preclude you from having cancer (what luck!), you might still struggle with inflammation.

Many inflammatory ingredients in our food and modern environments, such as sugar, gluten, seed oils, pollution, synthetics, mold, dust, allergens, etc., are attacking us daily.

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 other essential 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 inflammation-causing bad guys.

In America, 48% of women and 46% of men have some form of risk for cardiovascular disease. 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 many factors involved with heart disease, it strongly asserts that there is a robust preventative correlation to the benefits of green tea. (4)

Blood pressure is a significant 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, protecting your heart is one of the most important and scientifically verified benefits of drinking more tea.

Green Tea Catechins & Their Health Effects

Four different molecules of "catechins" are found in green tea that can improve general health.

These four may help prevent diabetes and obesity, improve blood vessel health, and assist in healthy brain function.

One of the four molecules referred to as EGCG is the most potent.

Studies point to ECGG as the wonder chemical found in green tea, which improves many markers for health and increases healthy fat burn.

That said, studies suggest combining all four catechins is better than consuming just EGCG.

And this is why drinking a cup of tea has more benefits than simply taking an EGCG supplement.

Tea And The Brain

As we saw in the Tea Manufacturing section of this guide, the processes for harvesting tea affect 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 essential functions in the human body beyond keeping you awake.

Caffeine helps increase memory and is a neuroprotective aid, protecting the brain.

While caffeine is an essential ingredient, it is even more powerful when combined with the L-Theanine found in tea.

The L-Theanine amino acid increases relaxation and reduces stress. Numerous studies show that L-Theanine helps improve alpha brain waves, 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 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, exercising, or staying awake during the lecture by your professor, who likes to hear himself talk.

Tea Health Benefits And Variations

Depending on the growing and processing methods of the tea, the different chemical makeup.

Yellow and white teas often have more antioxidants but less L-Theanine and caffeine.

Oxidized and fermented options typically have a 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 who is caffeine sensitive and 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 and 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.

For instance, I love cold brew matcha before a workout. At night, I prefer a cup of warm rooibos, honeybush, or chamomile with a dash of honey and lemon.

The more you learn about tea and develop your tea palate, the more strategic you'll get with your tea drinking!

Methods Of Preparing Tea

Whether you are drinking a delicious, high-quality yellow tea or a medicinal herbal tea, preparation makes a massive difference in the flavor, aroma, and quality of your final cup of tea.

There are recommended tea preparation methods for each tea, and understanding the subtle differences can go a long way in improving the quality of your tea experience.

Traditional Tea Brewing Methods

The primary tea-making method 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 wet mix steep 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, workforce, nature, sunlight and transportation those humble little leaves require is a profound miracle that should be appreciated by making the best cup of frickin' tea possible!

We must find the perfect cup of tea to start on the quest for the perfect cup of water.

Ok, maybe there's no "perfect" water, but you can at least get good water.

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 water free from unpleasant metallic, chlorinated, or earthy flavors that might interfere with your brew's definitive flavor.

Filtered or high-quality bottled water is best for preparing tea.

*Here is an interesting article on the differences in water for various teas.

Once you have your high-quality H20 (as Waterboy would say), it's time to get the proper teapot or tea brewing vessel.

Although it may seem redundant to the process, materials like iron are helpful for black or pu-erh tea because they require higher heat for extended periods. The iron maintains these temperatures longer and more consistently. The same reason that so many chefs swear by cast-iron pans is equally essential when 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 proper water and 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 tea-to-water ratio, the water's temperature, and the steeping time.

Depending on who you talk to, there is much variation in recommended water temperature and steeping times. Use them as guidelines and adjust them to suit your tastes and preferences.

The longer and hotter you steep your tea, the more concentrated the flavor is due to the more extracted compounds in your cup.

Some people enjoy a strong, slightly bitter cup of tea, while the slightest hint of tannic bitterness will turn others off. Again, find what you like and stick with that.

Infusions And Quantity

The final consideration before brewing your tea is the last number of infusions you will perform with your leaves.

An infusion is another word for single steeping or brewing of your leaves.

Most teas should be infused more than once. Some teas taste better with 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.)

  • White tea - 150° - 155° ​F (1 - 2 minutes)
  • Yellow tea - 160° - 165° F (1 - 2 minutes)
  • Green tea - 165° - 175° F (1 - 2 minutes)
  • Oolong tea - 175° - 185° F (2 - 3 minutes)
  • Black tea - 205°-212° F (2 - 3 minutes)
  • Flowering tea - 212° F (2 - 3 minutes)
  • Pu-erh tea - 205° - 212° F (5 - 10 minutes)

Certain teas are more delicate than others and require less temperature and a shorter brewing time.

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 in 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 health.

How Much Tea To Use

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 more robust cup, adding more tea instead of more time is advisable, as 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 starting point ratio of tea to water is 2 grams for every 6-8 ounces. For most teas, this is usually a teaspoon. For more enormous teas, you should consider measuring with a tablespoon—1-2 being a good starting point.

Concerning most things, personal preference dictates the final ratios you use, and tea is no exception.

However, that being said, one thing you shouldn't veer too far from is the temperature. The recommended temperatures have been tested over thousands of years and will 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 or less tea, water, infusions, and steeping time to produce different cups of tea.

The Chinese Tea Method

In China, tea is 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.

This technique recommends 3 - 5 infusions as the best-tasting infusions to drink.

Forms Of Tea

The three most common forms of tea are:

  • Tea ​​Bags - Low-quality mass-produced teas always come in tea bags. These usually contain "dust and fanning," the tea industry's term for the leftover dust particles that are a byproduct of the tea production process. We recommend buying loose-leaf tea and filling your tea bags if deciding to go this route.
  • Loose Leaf Tea (recommended) - Loose leaf tea is almost always the highest quality tea. Loose leaf tea allows the tea to more freely move around in the water, resulting in a better brew compared to teabags. Bigger pieces also equate to more nutrition in the final cup compared to tea bags that comprise super small cut/sifted ingredients that have dried out of their delicious—and nutritious—essential oils.
  • Compressed Tea - Less common. Usually black tea. More enhanced tea flavors. Often a favorite of tea connoisseurs.
Cold Brew Tea

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 that you don't get the same harsh, tannic compounds in your final cup as you do with the hot method due to the gentle and slow form of extraction from cold water.

It's also straightforward... add the right amount of tea and water to a vessel and place it 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.

Tea Ceremonies And Preparation

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 traditional rote protocols. For example, one form of ceremony is called the "Gongfu tea ceremony," which uses only tiny 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 preparation methods that have lasted for generations.

Enhancing Tea Quality

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, craft tea farmers and artisan tea manufacturers still create excellent quality tea using traditional methods passed down through the generations.

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, choose the best loose-leaf tea leaves and then prepare them using the right temperature, water, infusions, and time.

Many Types Of Tea

In the next section of this guide, we will cover the various types of tea, both from the Camellia sinensis plant and the wide herbal varieties.

Tea From Camellia Sinensis

Typically, "tea" refers to all teas from the plant most known for producing green and black tea. Depending on the processing method and time of harvest, the following teas come from the same plant.

White Tea

There is some confusion about the actual definition of "white tea," but it seems the consensus is that tea from the camellia sinensis plant that has not been dried or fermented and gone through little, if any, the processing is white tea.

White tea is also often classified as only made from the tea plant's smallest buds and young leaves.

The word white comes from the silver-white hairs on the unopened buds of the tea plant. The final brewed liquid is a pale yellow/greenish hue similar to a light green tea.

Yellow 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

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  

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

Black tea is a green tea that has been oxidized. The oxidation process creates darker color leaves and distinct flavors. When you drink "iced tea" in the U.S., you are drinking black tea.

Pu-Erh 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 Tea

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, quite a few properties separate it from traditionally brewed loose-leaf green tea.

First, when you consume matcha tea, you drink the entire leaf. Compare this to green tea, where you drink only water 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 preparation methods, such as thick and thin matcha and 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.

All Other Tea

Tea not from the camellia sinensis plant is considered an herbal tea.

Some tea purists claim it's not tea because it is only derived from the camellia sinensis plant.

Any beverage that's delicious, healthy, and made by extracting flavor from whole ingredients qualifies as “tea” in our book!

The most popular herbal teas, like rooibos and mate, justified their section in this guide.

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 Tea

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

​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

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 aroma.

Honeybush is a newly popular tea, with global production doubling recently. This is probably due to how delicious this naturally caffeine-free tea is.

What Is Yerba Mate?

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 Ilex paraguariensis, a member of the holly family of plants.

As traditional “tea” comes from the camellia sinensis plant, the mate comes from an entirely different plant species and thus is considered an herbal tea.

Despite these semantics, mate is similar to tea in chemical composition, health benefits, and brewing methods.

Once farmed by Guarani and Tupi tribes in Brazil, mate is now a popular drink in Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, the 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.

Mate Cultivation And Processing

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.

Cultivation in northeastern Argentina represents over half the world's total production and dwarfs Brazil and Paraguay, the second and third largest producers, respectively.

The best mate is grown in the shade of the 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.

​Source: Yerba Mate Tea: A Comprehensive Review on Chemistry, Health Implications, and Technological Considerations

​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.

Mate Preparation & Brewing

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 to remove particulates or consume them as is.

While this process might sound daunting, the drinker can get as many cups of meat as they desire from a single batch of leaves. Finally, once the flavor and effects diminish, the mate is finished.

Of course, not all cultures drink mate this way.

Yerba Mate Brewing Around The World

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 mate style has been popularized as a delicious and enticing beach drink in Rio de Janeiro, though it can also be found in other areas of the country.

A unique group consuming traditional mates is located in Lebanon and Syria. The people who adhere to the Druze faith are some of the largest mate consumers outside South America.

Introduced by Lebanese migrants in the late 19th century, mate has become a trendy drink in this part of the world.

In 2012 alone, there were 1,500 tons shipped to Lebanon. During this time, mate appeared 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 taste and health benefits) is through loose leaves and traditional steeping.

But the only real test is to try it yourself and make up your mind! 

Health Benefits of Mate

​Mate is revered more for its benefits than its taste, especially if you drink unsweetened mate the traditional way.

At a basic level, mate contains chemicals called “xanthines,” commonly known as caffeine, 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 high anxiety or jitters that can come with over-consumption.

Aside from this, mate is packed with polyphenols and flavonoids, potent antioxidants that help prevent inflammation.

Studies suggest mates may have higher antioxidants and inhibit free radicals more strongly than green tea. (We say this: drink both!)

But the most extraordinary aspect of mate are chemicals called “caffeoyl derivatives,” which are found almost exclusively in a mate and have unique antioxidant effects. Other plants contain these beneficial compounds, but a 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 a fantastic brew!

Weight Loss And Yerba Mate

While many snake oil products promote 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, a 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 the onset of obesity.

Mate is a great drink to add to your (hopefully) already healthy lifestyle that will aid mental cognition and overall health.

Get Started With Mate

A traditionally brewed mate could be the answer if you are interested in a nutrient-rich brew that will provide additional concentration and focus for your tasks.

If you want a more direct mate experience, start with our loose-leaf Wild Mate. You only need a tea strainer or reusable tea bag and hot water.

Also, consider cold brewing, mate, and keep a jug in the fridge.

Herbal Tea Varieties

In many countries, the word “tea” is reserved for tea from the camellia sinensis plant—green, black, white, yellow, oolong, and pu-erh teas are the most common.

This has led to confusion regarding what " tea is," 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 with 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, spices, and other plants like rooibos, mate, and guayusa.

Aside from mate and guayusa, which include caffeine, one of the primary considerations when comparing regular tea to herbal tea is the lack of caffeine.

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.

Popular Herbal Teas

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:

Chamomile Tea

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 an herbal treatment for stomach pains and irritable bowel syndrome.

Peppermint Tea

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 refreshing flavor, aroma, and health benefit.

Today, peppermint is most commonly used as an essential oil, food flavoring, and a loose-leaf tea.

Peppermint tea is excellent 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 often found 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.

Rooibos Tea

Native to South Africa, the rooibos plant can 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.

Rooibos pairs well with the flavors of ginger, coconut, and cloves. Examples: Coconut Chai and Thai G.

Lemon Balm Tea

A member of the mint family, this Mediterranean plant is a potent relaxant and stress reliever.

Lemon balm is a tea and essential oil to help sedate anxious individuals and improve sleep quality.

Many insomnia people use lemon balm tea as an herbal remedy before getting prescription drugs.

Lemon balm's slight sweetness and tartness make it a perfect brew after a long day of work.

Holy Basil (Tulsi)

Holy basil (often called tulsi) is an Ayurvedic plant used for thousands of years as a medicinal tea.

Brewed similarly to other herbal teas, holy basil is known for its brain-enhancing properties. The plant is so revered for health benefits that it is called the "elixir of life."

Honeybush Tea

​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 its flowers that smell like honey.

Hibiscus Tea

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.

Ginseng Tea

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 Tea

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, take fresh ginger and dice or thin slice it before steeping in hot water for the desired period—5-7 minutes should do the trick.

Kratom Tea

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 the over-consumption of caffeine.

The sensation when taking kratom is similar to morphine, which makes it practical for relieving pain but prone to abuse.

Kava Tea

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, earthy, and challenging to consume for some. However, the health effects are considered well worth it.

Many drink kava to get a chilled-out relaxed feeling.

Herbal Tea Advantages And Disadvantages

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 plenty of advantages of herbal tea you can't get with traditional tea from the camellia sinensis plant.

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 the one hand, chamomile or lemon balm tea can promote feelings of relaxation and anxiety reduction. Conversely, a caffeine-free honeybush or red rooibos tea can provide health benefits without interfering with your sleep—which you can't say about tea from camellia sinensis.

While traditional tea drinkers appreciate subtle differences in green, white, oolong, and black tea, herbal options provide various flavors, nutrition profiles, and drink options.

Where To Start?

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 an ample supply, get any of our Wild Teas in "Mini" size for a fraction of the price.

What Is Honeybush Tea?

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 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 yearly, mainly in South Africa.

Honeybush Tea Cultivation

Growing honeybush tea is 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 roots 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 treating the seed; the farmer will damage the outer seed shell to encourage moisture uptake during germination.

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 hours of hard labor.

But man, does honeybush tea taste so good! Thank you, farmers!

The honeybush plant grows best in extreme climates, making cultivation and growing even more difficult. The plant enjoys extreme weather conditions and must be cultivated during heavy rainfall during the coldest part of the year.

Harvesting Honeybush Tea

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.

Enjoying Delicious Honeybush Tea

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.

Many South African locals brew honeybush on the stove to fill their home with a pleasant aroma until they are ready to consume the sweet herbal beverage.

In the 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 adding a bit of honey and lemon until you find your preferred taste.

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 typical, it is possible to create a delicious iced honeybush tea. Brew using the hot method, then let cool and pour over ice.

Honeybush Health Benefits

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, was recorded using honeybush to treat coughs and upper respiratory problems.

Today, it is used for the same purpose, and modern science points toward a chemical in the plant called "pivotal," 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!

Green Tea (Camellia Sinensis)

Discovered initially 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 categorize any tea completely, so most of what we cover are best practices and what's "typical" of green and other tea.

Green Tea History And Culture

When someone extols the virtues of green tea, they echo sentiment 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 tea culture 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.

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 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 throughout the rest of the world.

As green tea spread to other countries, growing, harvesting, and production methods were created, leading to new tea discoveries.

For example, green teas in Japan are often steamed instead of pan-fired, giving them a unique "leafy" flavor different from the Chinese versions.

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.

A short bullet train ride from Tokyo, in the town of Shizuoka, farmers produce tea the same way they were in the 1600s. You'll smell the freshly roasted tea leaves as soon as you leave the train.

Spread among the karaoke clubs, residential buildings, commercial property, tea factories, tea shops, and warehouses are all prominent staples in the town's real estate.

Venture a bit more into the Japanese countryside and 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.

The camellia sinensis plant has recently made it to Europe and other far-flung regions.

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 to grow high-quality tea because the island has high-altitude terrain, mineral-rich soil, and 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!

How Green Tea is Grown and Cultivated

Depending on who you talk to, you'll have 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 want to try to find newer, better ways.

In general, green tea grows best at higher altitudes.

For tea cultivation, regions above 6,900 feet (2,100 meters) are chosen in Sri Lanka. The country has a history of different tea plantations giving plenty of regional flavors in China, so it's hard to say "higher is better than lower." However, many tea connoisseurs might disagree with that distinction.

In the Fujian province, the high-altitude mountains are known for growing organic green tea and 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 it strictly by quality. Additionally, Japanese green tea is usually steamed, offering a different flavor than the Chinese pan-fired or oven-roasted variations.

Some people like the “earthy” taste of Chinese green tea versus Japan's “leafy” counterparts.

Either way, other elements of the growing and processing methods of Chinese and Japanese tea prove instrumental in determining the final quality and flavor.

White Tea

White tea is a variation of green tea, often made from flower buds and young leaves without fermentation or further processing.

Harvested chiefly from the famous coastal Fujian province of China, white tea is a rare and delicate tea.

Cultivation is done without panning, rolling, or shaking to produce a high-quality white tea. Furthermore, only the most delicate young leaves are harvested to make white tea.

Yellow Tea

Another rare and expensive form of tea cultivation produces yellow tea, which has an additional preparation step 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!

Other Forms Of Green Tea

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,” green tea made with direct sun exposure and is usually lightly steamed.

The more expensive “gyokuro” is grown in the shade, which increases specific chemical contents such as amino acids and l-theanine. The gyokuro is usually produced with 90% shading for two 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.

Brewing Green Tea

Even though there are dozens of different green tea cultivation and preparation styles, only a few brewing methods are most used and recommended.

Most cultures use a steeping method, which utilizes hot water to extract green tea's flavor and chemical compounds. 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 infuse for 2 - 3 minutes. Invest 2-5 times using this method 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.

Health Benefits Of Green Tea

Chinese and Japanese scholars have long documented the benefits of green tea. Since then, modern health research has tested green tea against the rigors of scientific analysis and found many positive findings.

Green tea contains enzymes, polyphenols, flavanols, and amino acids that improve health.

One popular amino acid, 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 evidence to suggest that green tea can help tackle more extensive problems, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease, but more proof is required on all accounts.

A recent analysis was completed in 2015, which showed “promising” results in animals.

Antioxidants help reduce cancer, but that does not make them 100% correlated with cancer prevention, especially in a western society where the human body is treated poorly through poor nutrition and exercise habits.

A 2013 American Society for Nutrition article showed that 1 cup of green tea per day helped reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by 28%, and up to 38% decreased stake with 2 cups per day. The study concluded that “...evidence appears to be stronger for green tea than for black tea, which differs greatly…” (http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/98/6/1651S.long)

Green tea research suggests tea is 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…” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25194612)

Another study suggests green tea reduces oral cancer risk, 21%while a 2011 study noted, “Both men and women showed the preventative effects of tea intake on the development of primary liver cancer…” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21403523)

While scientific research is encouraging, there are always biases and confounding variables in research that makes for "best guesses" rather than hard truths.

It is essential to use tea as part of your cancer prevention plan rather than as a cure-all.

Which Green Tea is Best?

​A common question we get is, what's the best green tea?

Of course, this is impossible to answer since each person will have a preference for flavor.

The earthy flavor of Chinese tea appeal to many, while in Japan, the most widely consumed green tea is Sencha, a steamed leaf tea that is milder than Chinese green tea.

Figuring out the best green tea for you is an enjoyable—and healthy—endeavor!

Guayusa: The Amazonian Superleaf Tea

I remember the first time I read about guayusa.

I experienced shock, wonder, and a frantic search to find 'the catch.'

Of course, I couldn't find a catch, 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 fantastic 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 unique thing about guayusa compared to other crops harvested out of the rainforests is that it promotes the rainforest's protection due to the unique way it is grown in 'forest gardens' that require natural forest shade and biodiverse jungle life to thrive.

This means that 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 rainforests by indigenous forest farmers.

Guayusa is growing for a reason or a couple of reasons, I should say.

​These reasons are what floored me when I first read about guayusa.

In short, they are:

  • Guayusa contains nearly double the antioxidants of green tea.
  • Guayusa contains almost as much caffeine per cup as a cup of coffee *
  • Guayusa contains no tannins—the compounds that can make tea and coffee bitter—and is a naturally smooth and sweet beverage.

*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 in chocolate responsible for inducing muscular relaxation and balancing 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 ten years!

​Guayusa FAQ

​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.

Wh​at does guayusa taste like?
Guayusa has a mild, slightly sweet earthy flavor that takes up other flavors well.

Herbal Rooibos Tea

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.

Rooibos Cultivation

The small Western Cape province of South Africa is a mountainous region 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 part of 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 at higher altitudes.

In recent years, farmers have feared that weather extremes threaten rooibos crops. Freezing temperatures during the winter were rare until recently.

According to rooibos farmer Willem Engelbrecht, “In the past we used to plow 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 takes approximately 1 - 2 years before the soil is ready for a rooibos tree.

Processing Rooibos

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 red and brown, enhancing the flavor.

Rooibos is usually dried in particular yards or large ovens with specific temperatures. While large-scale rooibos cultivation uses ranges 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 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. It won't be available for export if the batch doesn't pass specific microbiological tests.

Traditional rooibos is known 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 the 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 fermentation and sun-dry the leaves immediately. This prevents the red color from developing.

​After the tea is processed, it is sent to distributors before being packaged and ready for sale.

Rooibos is a reasonably new phenomenon in the global tea market compared to traditional tea. 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 worldwide.

Rooibos has one of the most exciting and unique flavor profiles of any herbal tea. It complements other flavors, such as cinnamon, ginger, apple, and berries.

A Delicious Brew Of Rooibos

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.)

Rooibos Health Benefits

​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.

Like honeybush, rooibos's antioxidants help improve insulin sensitivity and combat 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.

Rooibos - How To Begin

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.

Delicious Tea Recipes

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...

Hibiscus-Pomegranate Iced Tea

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup Wild Tea #3 Hibiscus Mint Tea
  • 4 cups boiling water
  • 1 cup pomegranate juice
  • 4 cups cold water
  • Lemon wedges, for garnish

​​Process:

  1. Steep tea in hot water for 5 minutes
  2. Strain tea into large pitcher
  3. Stir in pomegranate juice and cold water
  4. Refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours
  5. Serve over ice with lemon wedges

Green Jasmine-Mint Iced Tea

​I​ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup Wild Tea #8 Green Jasmine Loose Leaf Tea
  • 1/2 cup mint leaves
  • 4 cups 195° water
  • 4 cups cold water
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup honey

Process:

  1. Steep tea for 3 minutes in hot water
  2. Strain into large pitcher
  3. Stir in lemon juice and honey until the honey is dissolved
  4. Add cold water
  5. Refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours
  6. Serve over ice with some sprigs of mint for a garnish

Lemongrass-Lavender Green Tea

​Ingredients:

  • 16 cups cool water
  • 3 sprigs mint
  • 1/2 cup green tea
  • 1 tablespoon dried lemongrass
  • 1 tablespoon dried lavender
  • Optional: honey, xylitol, stevia, coconut sugar

Process:

  1. Pour water into large pitcher
  2. Add mint, tea, lemongrass and lavender
  3. Brew in fridge for 24 hours
  4. Sweeten to desired taste
  5. Strain tea and serve with ice​

Blueberry Matcha Slushy

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tablespoons Wild Matcha
  • 1 or 2 Tablespoons of raw honey or the sweetener of your choice (adjust sweetness to taste)
  • 1 cup organic frozen blueberries
  • ½ cup organic pomegranate, apple or orange juice
  • 200g ice cubes

Process:

  1. Whisk Matcha powder into 1/3 cup cold water until thick
  2. Add 1/3 cup 175° water to mixture and whisk
  3. Add sweetener of choice and stir until completely incorporated
  4. Set aside until cool
  5. Add blueberries, juice, prepared Matcha tea and ice cubes to blender and blend until smooth
  6. Serve

Coconut Matcha Latte

Ingredients:

  • 1 TSP Wild Matcha
  • ¼ cup 175° water
  • ¼ cup warmed coconut milk
  • Optional sweetener of your choice

Process:

  1. Sift matcha into bowl to prevent lumping
  2. Add 1 TBSP cool water to matcha and stir into paste
  3. Add hot water and whisk until frothy
  4. Add warm coconut milk and whisk until frothy
  5. Taste and add water, coconut milk, and/or sweetener to desired taste​

Mango Tea Smoothie

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup almond or coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup choice tea (experiment!)
  • 1 sliced mango
  • 1/3 cup ice
  • 1 frozen banana
  • Optional berries/additions

Process:

  1. Blend all ingredients until smooth.
  2. Experiment with amounts to perfect your own smoothie concoction!

Join the Wild Newsletter for free guides, discounts, and recipes!

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form. Email us plz: info@wildfoods.co