What Is Tea

Hello, tea lovers!

I apologise for being away from my blog for what seems like forever and I have to admit this article is no stranger. I started it just before launching TeaEsk and let me tell you I wasn’t very good at writing blogs (I like to think I'm getting better), so I decided to leave it until inspiration found me, so here I am.

I had my first tea training session with a café who, I am delighted to announce are TeaEsk's very first stockists. Holding that training day got me thinking again about a simple question (and the point of this blog), “What is tea”?. I see the confusion in many people, and this is partly because we are unclear of the differences between tea and “herbal tea”. Somewhere along the way tea started to fuse with herbals, labelling them as "herbal tea", and yes this maybe nerdy as my husband always tell me, but this, in fact, is incorrect. The correct term is "tisane" the French word for herbal or what I like to call “herbal infusion”. Herbal infusions are blends of herbs, spices, dried fruits and flowers that we "infuse" in hot water, and do contain tea leaf or caffeine. Knowing the difference can take the confusion away and will be useful when browsing for your next brew.

So, “What is tea”? All tea- Black, green, oolong, white and Pu-er tea, all come from the same plant called ‘Camellia Sinensis”. It's the way the fresh tea leaves have been processed that places them in the different categories. Another important point, ALL tea contains caffeine, this is good to know especially if you are caffeine sensitive; you don’t want to be drinking a cup of green tea at night if you want to get a good nights rest. Rule of thumb is that supposedly black tea contains more caffeine than green or white tea, this could be somewhat true but, unless the tea has been tested for its caffeine levels, then we don’t know for sure. And it's safe to say that yes some green tea may contain more caffeine than black. So you might want to switch to an herbal infusion for your evening beverage.

If you're ready to get nerdy with me, then read on!

Camellia Sinensis is the evergreen tea plant that we know as the tea bush. There is said to be over a thousand subvarieties, but the two most popular when talking tea is the Camellia Sinensis var. Sinensis, and the Camellia Sinensis var. Assamica, which has found their place in history.


  • The ‘Sinensis’ varietal is native to China and was discovered around 5,000 years ago. It’s grown throughout China, Japan, Taiwan, Korea and also in Southeast Asia, mainly in Darjeeling, India. 
  • This tea bush thrives the cooler temperatures at elevations of 2,000- 3,000 metres high in the mountainsides of these wonderful countries and can also survive the frosty winters.
  • This varietal partnered with high altitude means the tea leaves grow at a slower rate which yields smaller more, tender leaves resulting in softer more delicate flavours. Sinensis varietal is used to make Chinese Black tea, Green tea, and White tea.


  • The ‘Assamica’ varietal is native to the Assam region of India, but also grows in Sri Lanka and Africa where it enjoys a more tropical climate; it loves the heat and lots of rainfall. If there is an abundance of surrounding forestation, this creates a greenhouse effect, which in turn produces a stronger more robust tea with malty flavours. Assam black teas are a perfect example.
  • This tea plant grows at lower elevations of 600 metres to higher elevations of 2000 metres. The leaves are much larger than its cousin, the China bush. They are approximately 10-20 centimetres long and 4-8 centimetres wide, that again imparts robustness and strength in the cup. This varietal is used mainly for Black teas and Oolongs.

Tea plants are quite sensitive to ‘Terrior’ (soil, sun, altitude, longitude and humidity) and the interestingly beautiful thing is that they can absorb flavours of their surrounding environment, meaning, depending on where they are grown the flavours adjust to that particular climate of a region.

The other important part of understanding tea is oxidation, this determines what type of tea the fresh leaves are to become. I will never forget the apple comparison when I was studying. It is the simplest way to get your head around oxidation; think of an apple that you have cut. After a little while, the flesh of the apple starts to go brown; this is oxidation. The enzymes of the cut apple, when exposed to oxygen, begins the process known as "enzymatic oxidation", this is the same for tea. Once the fresh leaves are rolled, it breaks down the cell wall exposing these enzymes to oxygen causing them to brown. That is why black tea is darker in colour and more robust compared to green tea. Green tea is not oxidized, hence why it keeps its natural green colour and has lighter characteristics.

All of these elements play a significant role in the life of a tea plant, but let’s not forget about the people or should I say the real tea masters who, take the utmost care in nurturing and looking after the tea plant and manufacture it to produce the tea that we love today. 

My hope is to see tea being ordered and enjoyed more among us. With a better understanding of this old world beverage, I know we will get there and only then we can enjoy tea as much as we have come to know and love coffee. 

To get to know more about tea and how to brew the ultimate cup, take a read of my blog “How To Brew The Perfect Cup”. This will help you start a positive and enjoyable journey with tea.

Mel x

Melissa Di Marco
Melissa Di Marco


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