Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Prepper's Pantry: Tea

I recently talked about chocolates, and in my post on nuts I shared a recipe for scones. A regular companion to both of these treats is tea

Coming in second place to clean water, tea is the most commonly drunk beverage in the world. Served both hot and cold, tea is an infusion made from the leaves of Camellia sinensis (an evergreen shrub native to East Asia) soaked in hot or boiling water. While there's evidence of people imbibing tea in China for many thousands of years, for much of that time tea leaves were eaten, either raw or added to other dishes. Drinking tea as we know it today dates back to at least the Han Dynasty in China, 2500 years ago.

The vast majority of tea comes from one of two types of plants, small-leaf (C. sinensis var. sinensis) and Assam-type (C. sinensis var. assamica). According to some theories, small-leaf tea plants are thought to have diverged from Assam-type tea plants around 22,000 years ago, while Chinese and Indian Assam tea plants are estimated to have diverged 2,800 years ago.

There are also herbal teas, which are not made from Camellia sinensis and are instead infusions of fruits, leaves, or other plants such as chamomile. To help distinguish them from teas made from the tea plants, herbals are often referred to as tisanes or herbal infusions.

Tea Types
In addition to plant origin, tea is divided into categories based on processing. There are at least six different types, some of them less commonly known in the United States:

  • White: wilted and unoxidized
  • Yellow: unwilted and unoxidized but allowed to yellow
  • Green: unwilted and unoxidized
  • Oolong: wilted, bruised, and partially oxidized
  • Black: wilted, sometimes crushed, and fully oxidized
  • Post-fermented (Dark): green tea that has been allowed to ferment/compost

Wilted vs Unwilted: Wilting, or withering, is used to remove excess moisture from the leaves. This process promotes the breakdown of leaf proteins and increases the availability of caffeine, changing the flavor of the tea.

Oxidized vs Unoxidized: The leaves are put in a climate-controlled room where they are allowed to darken. This oxidation helps form taste and aroma compounds, which effect the color, strength, and briskness.

Aging / Curing: Some teas benefit from additional aging, fermentation, or baking to reach their optimal flavor. For example, prior to aging a tea may be bitter or harsh in flavor, but becomes sweeter and more mellow after sufficient aging.

There are also an almost infinite variety of tea blends available. My personal favorites are the Assam-based breakfast teas, including English, Irish, Scottish, and Ceylon styles. Each has their own distinct flavor profile and I enjoy them all.

A selection of the author's teas

Tea can be procured both loose or in pre-measured bags, and is prepared in a variety of ways. Traditional tea is steeped in hot or near boiling water for a variable amount of time depending on the flavor and strength desired. Many people, myself included, add a small amount of sweetener to help cut the bitterness common to many teas; sugar (both white and brown), honey, maple syrup, and artificial sweeteners are all used.

(For those who enjoy it, I'm not going to get into the argument about whether milk should be added to the cup before or, in proper British style, after the tea. Instead, I'll leave that for Jonathan Ferguson to discuss.)


Sun tea is brewed by placing tea and water in a clear glass container which is left to sit in sunlight, and has what many consider to be a softer flavor.

Iced tea is usually brewed in hot water, cooled as a separate step, then served over ice. In the south, several teaspoons of this is added to a cup of sugar. This beverage is colloquially known as sweet tea.

As with so many other items, storage conditions and type determine the shelf life of teas. In general, the lighter the tea, the shorter the storage time, however herbal teas have a broad shelf life due to their wide variety of ingredients.

The best way to preserve freshness is to store the tea, as usual, away from heat, light, air, and moisture. If kept properly, black tea may last two years before starting to lose flavor, while the lightest tea will start to deteriorate in less than a year. 

Something discussed in many of our other articles is using oxygen-absorbers, vacuum sealing, and refrigeration in air-tight containers, all of which can extend storage times.

Over the years, there have been a number of discussions on the healthful benefits of drinking teas. For the most part, they were dismissed as unsubstantiated; however, a recent study may revise that perception.

So pour yourself a cuppa, get an appropriate snack, sit back with a good book, and relax.

Book here:

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