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Tea is a drink made by infusing leaves of the tea plant (Camellia sinensis, or Thea sinensis) in hot water. The name 'tea' is also used to refer to the leaves themselves; and it is also the name of a mid- to late-afternoon meal in the British Isles and associated countries, at which tea (the drink) is served along with various foods.

The Word Tea
The "word tea" in most of mainland China (and also in Japan) is 'cha'. (Hence its frequency in names of Japanese teas: Sencha, Hojicha, etc.) But the word for tea in Fujian province is 'te' (pronounced approximately 'tay'). As luck would have it, the first mass marketers of tea in the West were the Dutch, whose contacts were in Fujian. They adopted this name, and handed it on to most other European countries. The two exceptions are Russia and Portugal, who had independent trade links to China. The Portuguese call it 'cha', the Russians 'chai'. Other areas (such as Turkey, South Asia and the Arab countries) have some version of 'chai' or 'shai'. 'Tay' was the pronunciation when the word first entered English, and it still is in Scotland and Ireland. For unknown reasons, at some time in the early eighteenth century the English changed their pronunciation to 'tee'. Virtually every other European language, however, retains the original pronunciation of 'tay'.

Different Kinds of Tea
There are about three thousand variations of tea depending upon its plantation, genetic "parentage", processing, blending etc. but all tea comes from one plant i.e. Camellia sinensis (This plant is a bush but if allowed to grow wild, it can reach the height of about thirty feet.) In general, the tea can be categorized into three main categories i.e. green, black, and oolong. There are, of course, many different varieties within these three main categories. The major differences between them are a result of the different processing methods they undergo. Black teas undergo several hours of oxidation (Fermentation), oolongs receive less oxidation or are semi-fermented, and green teas are not oxidized at all.

Black Tea
The preparation of Black tea involves hours of oxidation. All tea comes from tropical or subtropical climates. Tea plants will flourish where it is warm and where rainfall is heavy. While the rainy seasons are vital to the survival of the tea bush, the best tea are produced during the dry season. However, while the plant grows best in hot climates, the best quality tea is made in the cooler climates at altitudes of 3,000 to 7,000 feet. The slower growth of the tea leaves at high altitudes produces more flavorful tea. Black tea, currently accounts for approximately seventy percent of world tea consumption. Popular variations such as English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, Darjeeling, Ceylon, Assam, and Keemun are all black teas. Many studies have indicated that black tea may possess some of the healthy properties associated with green tea, although the evidence is not as strong. More research is needed to determines black tea's role in human health.

Green Tea
Green tea is not fermented or oxidized at all; the freshly harvested leaves are rolled and fired immediately. As a result, green tea usually has more of a vegetative or herbaceous quality than blacks or oolongs. Most greens tea produces a greenish-gold liquor. A cup of green tea is generally much lighter than other teas. While Asian cultures have believed for centuries that green tea has properties beneficial to human health, modern science is just now discovering that this may be true. The green tea is more valued for its medicinal benefits.

Oolong Tea
Oolong tea, which is partially fermented (oxidized) tea, accounts for less than three percent of world consumption. Some tea enthusiasts insist that Oolong tea, which usually has a delicate flavor, is the champagne of all teas.

Tea Grades:

There are different grading schemes for tea. Some of the well-known grades are:

Flowery Orange Pekoe (peck-oh),
Orange Pekoe
Broken Orange Pekoe
Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings
Broken Pekoe
Young Hyson
Extra Fancy
Extra Choice