Tea is soothing, a quality to be craved in these stressful days. It is more subtle than coffee and meant to be sipped, not gulped. A cup of tea has less caffeine than a cup of coffee — half the amount or less. From a single evergreen plant, camillia sinensis, come the thousands of nonherbal teas consumed around the world. The variety depends on where the tea is grown and how it is gathered and processed. Some variables that determine the type of tea are whether the tea is made from long leaves or short leaves, early buds or later pickings; whether the leaves are whole, broken or rolled and, most important, whether they are allowed to oxidize. The finest teas are consistent-looking and fresh. Because tea readily picks up foreign aromas and fades in contact with light, teas should be sold and stored in containers that are airtight and opaque. Shops that keep their teas in glass canisters are as bad as those that display coffee in open burlap bags. In the proper container tea can last up to six months. But it should never be stored in the refrigerator or freezer.
Black teas are dark, tannic teas made by allowing the fresh green leaves to wither and darken through oxidation (the term used in the tea business is fermentation). The process takes about a day, after which the leaves are dried by warm air. Black teas include winy Keemun and smoky Lapsang Souchong from China, Ceylon teas from Sri Lanka and India, Assam and Darjeeling, the exquisitely delicate tea grown in the Himalayan foothills. Traditional blends like English breakfast are made of black teas. All Japanese and many Chinese teas are green teas, prized for aroma and finesse. They are processed by lightly drying the leaves. Some green teas are whole-leaf while others, including Chinese gunpowder, are made from leaves rolled into little balls, hence the name. Japanese matcha is powdered green tea. Green teas should be sipped plain, without the addition of sweeteners, lemon or milk. One exception is...
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