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Encyclopedia Judaica

2nd Edition (Ship in USA)
An essential source of information on Jewish life, culture, history, and religion.

Kosher Tea --> History of Tea

Tea is a product made by processing the leaves or buds of the tea bush Camellia sinensis. It is commonly consumed in the form of a beverage made by steeping the processed leaves in hot water for a few minutes. Tea can refer both to the brew thus produced or to the material used to make it. The English word tea derives from the Chinese, pronounced t� in the Min Nan dialect. The flavor of the raw tea is developed by processes including oxidation, heating, drying and the addition of other herbs, spices, or fruit. Tea is a natural source of caffeine. Tea is also diuretic.

The term herbal tea usually refers to infusions of fruit or herbs containing no actual tea, for example rosehip tea or chamomile tea. Alternative terms for this are tisane or herbal infusion, which lack the word tea. This article is concerned exclusively with preparations and uses of the tea plant.

Tea is often referred to by one of its many slang names, including Cuppa (short for Cup of Tea), Bryn (short for Brynley), Chai and "brew".

About 3,000,000 tons of tea are produced worldwide annually.

Chai: A beverage made from spiced black tea, honey, and milk.

Chai simply translates to tea. The words Chai and Tea origins from ancient China ('Te' and 'Cha') and is used throughout the world in slightly different variations. The word Chai is, however, in some European countries interpreted as Masala Chai which means spicy tea (in Indian).

Judaic Tea Pots

The background and history of tea is provided only for informational purposes. does not claim any of the teas listed are kosher.  Please consult your Rabbi regarding the kashrus status of any tea products.


The origins of the chai masala recipe are obscure but it is believed to have been created after the British began cultivating tea within colonial India during the 19th century C.E. to compensate for their inability to meet demand from Chinese exports.


Tea is produced from leaves and leaf buds of Camellia sinensis, the tea plant. All tea varieties, such as green, oolong, and black tea, are harvested from this species; they differ in processing.

In the wild, the tea tree may grow from 5 to 15 m, and sometimes even to 30 m[1]. The wild distribution is in the foothills of the Himalayas, stretching from northeast India to southwest China[2]. Cultivated tea shrubs are usually trimmed to below 2 m (six feet) to stimulate the growth of leaves and to ease plucking. Many insects, including the green leafhopper, mites, caterpillars, and termites, are natural enemies to tea plants.

Tea grows wild in subtropical monsoon climates with wet and hot summers and relatively cold and dry winters.[3] Today, it is cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions. In tropical regions, the best conditions are at higher altitudes. Important tea producing countries are India, China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran, Republic of Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Japan, Indonesia, Nepal, Australia, Argentina, and Kenya. (In the tea trade, Sri Lanka and Taiwan are still referred to by their former names of Ceylon and Formosa, respectively.)

Processing and classification

The main types of tea are distinguished by their processing. Leaves of Camellia sinensis, if not dried quickly after picking, soon begin to wilt and oxidise. This process resembles the malting of barley, in that starch is converted into sugars; the leaves turn progressively darker, as chlorophyll breaks down and tannins are released. The next step in processing is to stop the oxidation process at a predetermined stage by removing the water from the leaves via heating.

The term fermentation was used (probably by wine fanciers) to describe this process, and has stuck, even though no true fermentation happens (i.e. the process is not driven by microbes and produces no ethanol). Without careful moisture and temperature control, fungi will grow on tea. The fungi will cause fermentation which will contaminate the tea with toxic and carcinogenic substances. In fact, when real fermentation happens, the tea must be discarded.

Tea is traditionally classified based on the degree or period of fermentation (oxidation) the leaves have undergone:

White tea

Young leaves (new growth buds) that have undergone no oxidation; the buds may be shielded from sunlight to prevent formation of chlorophyll. White tea is produced in lesser quantities than most of the other styles, and can be correspondingly more expensive than tea from the same plant processed by other methods. It is also less well-known in the western countries, though this is changing with the introduction of white tea in bagged form.

Green tea

The oxidation process is stopped after a minimal amount of oxidation by application of heat; either with steam, a traditional Japanese method; or by dry cooking in hot pans, the traditional Chinese method. Tea leaves may be left to dry as separate leaves or rolled into small pellets to make gun-powder tea. The latter process is time consuming and is typically done only with pekoes of higher quality. The tea is processed within one to two days of harvesting.


Oxidation is stopped somewhere between the standards for green tea and black tea. The oxidation process will take two to three days.

Black tea/Red tea

The tea leaves are allowed to completely oxidise. Black tea is the most common form of tea in southern Asia (India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan etc) and western countries. The literal translation of the Chinese word is red tea, which may be used by some tea-lovers. However, red tea may also refer to rooibos, an increasingly popular South African tisane. The oxidation process will take around two weeks and up to one month. Black tea is further classified as either orthodox or CTC (Crush, Tear, Curl, a production method developed about 1932). Unblended black teas are also identified by the estate they come from, their year and the flush (first, second or autumn). Orthodox and CTC teas are further graded according to the post-production leaf quality by the Orange Pekoe system.


Two forms of pu-erh teas are available, "raw"  and "cooked". "Raw" or "green" pu-erh may be consumed young or aged to further mature. During the aging process, the tea undergoes a second, microbial fermentation. "Cooked" pu-erh is made from green pu-erh leaf that has been artificially oxidized to approximate the flavor of the natural aging process. This is done through a controlled process similar to composting, where both the moisture and temperature of the tea are carefully monitored. Both types of pu-erh tea are usually compressed into various shapes including bricks, discs, bowls, or mushrooms. Compression occurs to start the second oxidation/fermentation process, as only compressed forms of pu-erh will age. While most teas are consumed within a year of production, pu-erh can be aged for many years to improve its flavour, up to 30 to 50 years for raw pu-erh and 10 to 15 years for cooked pu-erh, although experts and aficionados disagree about what the optimal age is to stop the aging process. In China and amongst some westerners, the tea is traditionally brewed in the gong fu style, which is a process of several short steepings in a yixing pot. (YiXing (pronounced ee-shing) teapots have long been known in China for their simple beauty and unique tea brewing qualities, but are relatively unheard of in the United States and the rest of the world.)  Most often in the west, pu-erh is steeped for up to five minutes in boiling water. Additionally, Some Tibetans use pu-erh as a caloric food, boiled with yak butter, sugar and salt to make yak butter tea. Pu-erh also has medicinal uses in traditional Chinese medicine, where it is used to cure cough, balance qi, and help in weight loss. Teas that undergo a second oxidation, such as pu-erh and liu bao, are collectively referred to as Black tea in Chinese. This is not to be confused with the western term Black tea, which is known in Chinese as Red Tea.

Yellow tea

Either used as a name of high-quality tea served at the Imperial court, or of special tea processed similarly to green tea, but with a slower drying phase.


Also called winter tea, kukicha is made from twigs and old leaves pruned from the tea plant during its dormant season and dry-roasted over a fire. Popular as a health food in Japan and in macrobiotic diets.

Blending and additives

Almost all teas in tea-bags and most other teas sold in western countries are blends. Blending may occur at the level of tea-planting area (e.g., Assam), or teas from many areas may be blended. The aim of blending is a stable taste over different years, and a better price. More expensive, more tasty tea may cover the inferior taste of cheaper tea.

There are various teas which have additives and/or different processing than "pure" varieties. Tea is able to easily receive any aroma, which may cause problems in processing, transportation or storage of tea, but can be also advantageously used to prepare scented teas.

Content of Tea

  • Caffeine: An average serving of tea contains only 1/2 to 1/3 of caffeine of the same serving size of coffee. One of the more confusing aspects of caffeine content is the fact that coffee contains less caffeine (1.5%)
    than tea (2.5% - 4.5%) when measured in its dry form.[4] [5]
  • Polyphenols
  • Essential oils

Tea preparation

This section describes the most widespread method of making tea. Completely different methods are used in North Africa, Tibet and perhaps in other places.

The best way to prepare tea is usually thought to be with loose tea placed either directly in a teapot or contained in a tea infuser, rather than a teabag. However, perfectly acceptable tea can be made with teabags. Some circumvent the teapot stage altogether and brew the tea directly in a cup or mug.

Historically in China, tea is divided into a number of infusions. The first infusion is immediately poured out to wash the tea, and then the second and further infusions are had. The third through fifth are nearly always considered the best infusions of tea, although different teas open up differently and may require more infusions of boiling water to bring them to life.

Typically, the best temperature for brewing tea can be determined by its type. Teas that have little or no oxidation period, such as a green or white tea, are best brewed at lower temperatures around 80 �C, while teas with longer oxidation periods should be brewed at higher temperatures around 100 �C.

Black Tea

The water for black teas should be added at the boiling point (100 �C or 212 �F), except for more delicate teas, where lower temperatures are recommended. This will have as large an effect on the final flavor as the type of tea used. The most common fault when making black tea is to use water at too low a temperature. Since boiling point drops with altitude, this makes it difficult to brew black tea properly in mountainous areas. It is also recommended that the teapot be warmed before preparing tea, easily done by adding a small amount of boiling water to the pot, swirling briefly, before discarding. Black tea should not be allowed to steep for less than 30 seconds or more than about five minutes (a process known as brewing or [dialectally] mashing in the UK): after that, tannin is released, which counteracts the stimulating effect of the theophylline and caffeine and makes the tea bitter (at this point it is referred to as being stewed in the UK). When the tea has brewed long enough to suit the tastes of the drinker, it should be strained while serving.

Green Tea

Water for green tea, according to most accounts, should be around 80 �C to 85 �C (176 �F to 185 �F); the higher the quality of the leaves, the lower the temperature. Preferably, the container in which the tea is steeped, the mug, or teapot should also be warmed beforehand so that the tea does not immediately cool down.

Oolong Tea

Oolong teas should be brewed around 90 �C to 100 �C (194 �F to 212 �F), and again the brewing vessel should be warmed before pouring in the water. Yixing clay teapots are the ideal brewing vessel for oolong tea. For best results use spring water, as the minerals in spring water tend to bring out more flavor in the tea.

Premium or Delicate Tea

Some teas, especially green teas and delicate Oolong or Darjeeling teas, are steeped for shorter periods, sometimes less than 30 seconds. Using a tea strainer separates the leaves from the water at the end of the brewing time if a tea bag is not being used.


In order to preserve the pre-tannin tea without requiring it all to be poured into cups, a second teapot is employed. The steeping pot is best unglazed earthenware; Yixing pots are the best known of these, famed for the high quality clay from which they are made. The serving pot is generally porcelain, which retains the heat better. Larger teapots are a post-19th-century invention, as tea before this time was very rare and very expensive.

Experienced tea-drinkers often insist that the tea should not be stirred around while it is steeping (sometimes called winding in the UK). This, they say, will do little to strengthen the tea, but is likely to bring the tannic acids out in the same way that brewing too long will do. For the same reason one should not squeeze the last drops out of a teabag; if you want stronger tea, use more leaves or bags.


Popular additives to tea include sugar or honey, lemon, milk, and fruit jams. Most connoisseurs eschew cream because it overpowers the flavor of tea. The exception to this rule is with very hearty teas such as the East Friesian blend. Milk, however, is thought to neutralize remaining tannins and reduce acidity.

When taking milk with tea, some add the tea to the milk rather than the other way around. If the milk is chilled, this avoids scalding the milk, which leads to a better emulsion and nicer taste. The socially 'correct' method is to add the tea after the milk, but this convention was established before the invention of the refrigerator. Adding the milk first also makes a milkier cup of tea with sugar harder to prepare as there will be no hot liquid in the cup to dissolve the sugar effectively. In addition, the amount of milk used is normally determined by the color of the tea, therefore when adding the milk last it added until the correct color is obtained. If the milk is added first it involves more guesswork. Of course, if the tea is being brewed in a mug, the milk must be added after the tea bag is removed.

In the United Kingdom, adding the milk first is historically considered a lower-class method of preparing tea; the upper classes always add the milk last. The origin of this distinction is said to be that the rougher earthenware mugs of the working class would break if boiling-hot tea was added directly to them, whereas the fine glazed china cups of the upper class would not. It is now considered by most to be a personal preference.

Tea packaging

Tea bags

Tea leaves are packed into a small (usually paper) tea bag. It is easy and convenient, making tea bags popular for many people nowadays. However, because fannings and dust from modern tea processing are also included in most tea bags, it is commonly held among tea afficianados that this method provides an inferior taste and experience. The paper used for the bag can also be tasted by many which can detract from the tea's flavour.

Additional reasons why bag tea is considered less well-flavored include:

  • Dried tea loses its flavor quickly on exposure to air. Most bag teas (although not all) contain leaves broken into small pieces; the great surface-area-to-volume ratio of the leaves in tea bags exposes them to more air, and therefore causes them to go stale faster. Loose tea leaves are likely to be in larger pieces, or to be entirely intact.
  • Breaking up the leaves for bags extracts flavored oils.
  • Good loose-leaf teas tend to be vacuum packed.

Loose tea

The tea leaves are packaged loosely in a canister or other container. The portions must be individually measured by the consumer for use in a cup, mug or teapot. This allows greater flexibility, letting the consumer brew weaker or stronger tea as desired, but convenience is sacrificed. Strainers, "tea presses", filtered teapots and infusion bags are available commercially to avoid having to drink the floating loose leaves. A more traditional, yet perhaps more effective way around this problem is to use a three-piece lidded teacup, called a gaiwan. The lid of the gaiwan can be tilted to hold back the leaves while sipping the tea.

Compressed tea

A lot of tea is still compressed for storage and ageing convenience. Commonly Pu-Erh tea is compressed and then drunk by loosening leaves off using a small knife. Compressed tea can be stored longer than loose leaf tea, almost indefinitely.

Tea Sticks

One of the more modern forms of tea consumption, an alternative to the tea bag, are Tea Sticks.

The first known tea sticks originated in Holland in the mid 1990's.