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Tea 101: About Tea in General
Properly speaking, tea is the beverage brewed from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. Its wide variety of incarnations, such as green, black, oolong, and white teas, are created by different processing methods, but all derive ultimately from the same plant. The flavor of tea depends not only upon how the tea was processed, but also upon which part of the world the plant grew, the time of year the leaves were harvested, what the weather was like that season, the soil conditions, altitude, etc.
Teas may be from one single estate (sometimes called a "garden" or "farm") or a blend of several different types of tea from various estates. Single estate teas are often more expensive and have unique characteristics particular to that estate for that season. These teas, not unlike fine wines, will vary from year to year, and when that year's crop has been consumed, it's just gone, and one must wait until next season to see if the new crop is as good. Blends, on the other hand, are blended so that each year a similar, reliable taste is produced. While these teas don't have the interesting characteristics of single estate teas, good ones are great every day teas that you can rely on year after year.
Often, teas are blended with other flavorings or scented with various flowers. Rarely are flavored teas produced from single estate teas, as the added flavors can mask the special character of these teas. Jasmine scented teas are an obvious exception and are sometimes made with exquisite green teas. So-called herbal teas are not properly "tea" because they do not contain tea leaves, in other words, the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. They are the dried leaves, flowers, or fruits of other various plants, brewed much in the same way as real tea. For the most part, herbals will not contain caffeine and will not get bitter with extended brewing, making them very nice for evenings, traveling, or as drinks for children or those with an intolerance to caffeine. Generally mild and sweet, these also tend to make terrific iced beverages. Unlike tea, the "leaves" are not light-sensitive, so they can be stored in glass containers to show off their beauty.