Tea Knowledge

History of Tea
After nearly 5,000 years of tea consumption, we continue to marvel at the subtlety, the aroma, the variety and the soothing effects of this beverage. From humble beginnings in China, the leaves of camellia sinensis (the common tea plant) have remained prized for their sophisticated flavors, fought over for ideological causes, touted for their medicinal benefits and traded among cultures as valued currency. Tea’s history chronicles a universal devotion to the drink itself. When its flavor was raw and bitter, the Chinese added citrus and salt to make it palatable. In the 18th century when tea became prohibitively expensive, sawdust and gunpowder were added to lower the cost. In Colonial America it was boycotted as contrary to the Revolution, but quickly embraced again once the War was concluded. Despite tea drinking’s long history, efforts to improve, augment, diversify and package tea progressed forward. As trade becomes more global in nature, tea drinking will inevitably be enriched by the exchange of customs, varieties, and technology, in the same way our palates have been educated by exposure to multi-cultural cuisines.
The continuing growth of tea’s popularity is testimony to timeless qualities. Next to water, no other beverage in our history has commanded such a loyal following for such a long time. Although much of the early history of tea is confined to anecdotal writings and references from later periods, there is general agreement that the origins of tea drinking were in China around 2737 B.C. As the story goes, the Emperor Shen Nung used to relax in his garden with a cup of hot water. One day a tea leaf from a nearby bush fell into his cup. This new infusion was such an improvement on the water alone, the Emperor adopted it as his regular drink. Having become the beverage of choice among the aristocracy, tea was soon embraced by the populace at large.
Numerous references to tea customs and cultivation suggest that it was grown and consumed in China for centuries, but the first reliable historical reference to tea comes over 2,000 years later in a Chinese dictionary called the Erh Ya, in 350 A.D. Although the original dictionary is attributed to a 12th century B.C. statesman named the Duke of Chou, it was an annotator from the 4th century A.D. named Kuo P’o who added the definition for tea. P’o’s account identified a medicinal beverage prepared from boiling raw green tea leaves. There is some speculation that it was the boiling process itself and perhaps not the tea that was mainly responsible for tea’s early curative properties. Bacteria present in much of the water of the time were destroyed by the boiling of tea water, and probably reduced incidences of illness as a result.
It was not until the T’ang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) that tea was given a Chinese character by which it could be clearly identified. Prior to this period it was impossible to be sure whether a reference pertained to tea specifically or some other vegetable matter. Over the next 500 years, through the T’ang, Sung and Ming Dynasties in China, processing improved and consumption expanded as tea drinking spread beyond its aristocratic preparation during this time which consisted of boiling the raw green tea leaves with water, probably yielding a rather bitter drink to which ginger, onions, orange and sometimes salt were added, undoubtedly to mask the coarse flavor. To make transporting tea easier, tea leaves during the 5th century were pressed into “cakes” and then pan roasted. Holes were then made in the “bricks” through which rope could be strung for easy portability. Tea “bricks” can still be found today as a compact packaging of tea leaves. Brewing tea from these bricks consists of simply breaking a small piece off and adding it to boiling water.
As time went on, tea continued to be regarded as a beverage consumed for its medicinal benefits. Claims for the health benefits of tea spanned a range from relief of headaches and dyspepsia to appetite suppression. By the later part of the 8th century however, “cha” as it was now called, was being prized for its flavor as well as its medicinal value. In 780 A.D. the first text devoted exclusively to a discussion of tea was published. This work by the poet Lu Yu was called the Ch’a Ching, or The Classic of Tea and contained discussions of the history of tea, its cultivation and its place in the Taoist philosophy of time. The work probably represents the first formal codification of the ritual of tea preparation. In it, Lu Yu celebrated tea drinking and preparation as a ritual through which the individual could attain harmony and order in his life. This was accomplished by attending to the details of tea preparation and consumption, following a strict regimen to ensure a “properly” brewed tea. The work, which was written at the request of a group of tea merchants, became a very important reference manual for both Chinese and foreigners interested in the propagation of the tea plant and its processing. The treatise also contained valuable information about the necessary soil conditions and plucking method for tea processing. The first tax to be levied on tea also occurred during this period, evidencing tea’s emergence as an important commodity in the Chinese economy.
During the Sung Dynasty which followed (960-1280 A.D.) tea cultivation and popularity expanded. A cult of tea drinking developed, in part due to the writings of Sung Emperor Huei Tsung, who wrote extensively on the types and preparation of tea. Also during this time an interest in rare varieties of tea became fashionable. A new dimension was now added to the appreciation of tea’s medicinal value as tea connoisseurs of the Sung dynasty created a more delicately flavored brew, scenting it with jasmine flowers and roses.
Coinciding with this burgeoning interest in rare teas was the development of porcelain for tableware. The elegant public tea houses which had appeared in certain cities could now offer the beverage in much more fashionable tableware to suit the social art which had developed around tea drinking.
During the reign of the Mongols which followed, tea drinking fell from favor as a consequence of disinterest on the part of their reigning Emperor. Although the highly social aspect of public tea drinking disappeared during this period, the general population continued to favor the beverage. With the fall of the Mongols in the 14th century, a renewed interest in tea cultivation and appreciation was ushered in with the Ming Dynasty. The fine craftsmanship of tableware for which this period is known also yielded new vessels for the preparation of tea, notably the familiar round or “muskmelon” style teapot. Whimsical teapots in a variety of shapes (i.e. eggs, wheels, and flowers) were also introduced during the Ming period.
With the refinement of the tableware associated with tea preparation, came a new concern that the ceremony of tea be done with style. This attention to tea preparation and the diversity of the tea serving ware are unique legacies tea enjoys even today. Back to Top
Tea in the West
The spread of tea drinking to the West began with Portuguese missionaries’ reports from China during efforts to spread Catholicism to that region in the 16th century. The missionaries in China were enamored of both the flavor and customs associated with this drink and spoke highly of tea’s great medicinal properties upon returning to Europe.
Despite these endorsements by the Portuguese, it was the Dutch who were responsible for the earliest commerce in tea between Asia and Europe. The first teas to make their way to Europe were probably Japanese green teas, rather that the Chinese, because of better trade relations between the Dutch and Japan at the time. By 1610, tea began to arrive in Holland on ships operated by the Dutch East India Company. There it was touted as an exotic medicinal beverage and was consumed primarily by the aristocracy – a probable consequence of its costing more that $100 per pound.
The Dutch tea marketing effort soon became the most important factor in the spread of this new commodity to other European countries. Germany and France were slow to accept the medicinal value of tea as it was presented by the Dutch. So much emphasis was placed on tea’s ability to cure virtually all known ills, that the conservative medical establishments in Germany and France soundly rejected the beverage as a whole. A German medical treatise of 1635 even went so far as to claim its consumption would hasten the death of people over forty!
Despite these controversies, tea drinking did gain certain popularity in these countries. But probably its greatest acceptance was found in England, a country whose manner and personality seem forever tied to its tea drinking tradition. Tea was first introduced to England in the middle 1600’s by English aristocrats who, upon traveling to Holland, returned with reports of its pleasant qualities. The first actual sale of tea in England was a Garway’s Coffee House in London in 1657. As coffee houses began to proliferate, tea consumption also expanded. Tea’s purported medicinal benefits continued to be its primary recommendation, but its presence in the coffee houses rather than only in apothecary shops gave legitimacy to tea as an all purpose drink. By 1702, there were nearly 500 coffee houses in London alone. The coffee shop started by Thomas Twining in 1706 (Tom’s Coffee House) in 1717 became the first tea shop, after Twining recognized that the increasing numbers of female tea drinkers offered an unexplored business opportunity. His new tea shop was open to both men and women (unlike the men-only coffee houses) and a long tradition of women gathering over tea was begun.
The early history of tea in England, not unlike its history in other countries, was not without controversy. It was variously accused of being the cause of the country’s economic woes, lack of productivity and national impoverishment. A number of influential writers of the time proposed unfounded theories that its consumption led to ill-health and feebleness. But simply too many people had remained committed to tea as a soothing beverage to be enjoyed throughout the day. 
Despite tea’s embroilment in controversy, it survived as an important commodity in the English economy. The English East India Company, foreseeing the future of this new product, endeavored to replace the Dutch East India Trading Company as England’s tea supplier. By 1669, they had convinced the King and Queen to ban imports of tea from the Dutch Trading Company and began importing it directly from the Orient.
This entrepreneurial foresight on the part of the English East India Trading Company would lead to the cultivation of tea in India and Ceylon 100 years later. Although English traders and botanists would spend many years attempting to make Chinese tea plant seeds grow in India, ultimately it would be the success of the native tea plant (or Assam type) which would establish India and Ceylon as the premiere tea growing regions they are today. The Assam plant with its robust resistance to climactic changes, and ability to thrive in high altitudes, would forever distinguish Indian from Chinese tea varieties. China and India remain the dominant tea exporting nations, and the China and Assam types are the two major classifications of tea. Back to Top
Tea in America
The English East India Company was instrumental in the introduction of tea to America. Although the Dutch originally introduced tea to America in 1650, tea sales in the US did not begin until 1690 when the English East India Company began exporting tea to the colonies. The popularity of tea in the colonies grew until 1765 when the English Parliament passed the Stamp Act levying taxes on tea and other imported products. Dutch tea smuggled into the colonies to avert the English taxes strained the revenues of the English East India Co., and rather than lose their market, they persuaded Parliament to enact the Tea Act of 1773. This act allowed the direct importation of tea with the taxes to be reimbursed. A small 3 pence per pound tax on tea imports remained however, and it was this tax which ultimately acted as the catalyst for the Boston Tea Party and the Revolutionary War.
Although both the Stamp Act and another like it called the Townshend Act, were repealed after protests from the colonists, the remaining tax on tea represented a lingering obstacle to freedom from “taxation without representation.” Movements to boycott tea flourished, and numerous women’s groups resolved to drink only “liberty tea” made from other plants such as chamomile and sage.
Ships sailing into the harbors of Boston, New York and Philadelphia in 1773 were informed that attempts to unload tea in these ports would be considered unauthorized, and that no duty would be paid on tea being unloaded. Despite appeals to the Governor of Massachusetts to protect these shipments, the agents of the English East India Company were told to unload everything else but return to England with the tea.
In Boston, three ships docked and were prevented from unloading their tea cargo. They sat in the harbor for the required 20 days, at which point, if the duty had not been paid on the tea, customs officials were to seize the cargo. On December 14th, the night before the 20th day, men dressed as Indians boarded the ships and dumped 18,000 pounds of tea into the Boston harbor. The “Boston Tea Party” as it became known triggered a series of similar acts of defiance against British control of the colonies. Parliamentary efforts to stifle these uprisings ultimately inflamed the colonists’ spirit of revolt and eventually led to the Revolutionary War.
During and shortly after the War, it was considered unpatriotic to drink this beverage which had come to represent the British domination over the Colonies. But once independence from England had been gained, it was again acceptable to drink tea. A significant trade relationship with China was begun which the colonies traded fur for tea, spices and silk. The combination of tea becoming a politically correct beverage and its renewed availability, returned tea drinking to its place in the American culture.
Despite tea’s place in early American history, the U.S. has always been seen as a largely coffee drinking nation. The 80’s and 90’s lifestyle, with its emphasis on productivity and fast paced lifestyle nurtured a “coffee mentality.” Coffee houses, shops and espresso carts have sprung up everywhere with double espresso, lattes and cappuccinos having become nearly household words. When we drink tea in the U.S., it is more often iced than hot. In fact, over 80% of all the tea consumed in this country is iced.
Before the turn of the 21st Century, researchers began uncovering the many different health benefits of tea. Ironically, tea has long been considered a healthy beverage, but now enjoys the scientific evidence to support the suppositions. (See our section on the Health Benefits of Tea on our website.)
Now, all around the world, tea commands some well-deserved attention. People once again have decided to stop for a cup of tea. Hotels have begun to serve high teas in the afternoon, and tea houses, some associated with gift shops, are emerging throughout the United States. Many news articles about the health benefits of tea encourage daily consumption of black, green, and herbal teas. The “gourmet” tea market with emphasis on flavored “specialty” teas has enjoyed considerable success. Bottled, and flavored teas are served in many restaurants, and consumption overall in the U.S. has continued to grow. Over 127 million people in the United States now drink tea in some form every day - an interesting statistic for a country known more for its coffee consumption. In short, tea is once again coming into its own.
Davidson’s large product line includes all of the various types of true tea, as well as an expansive assortment of herbal infusions, in many different styles. Long known for our quality “gourmet” emphasis, Davidson’s focus on organic tea has blurred the division between teas consumed for medicinal reasons and teas drunk strictly for flavor. Back to Top
The Tea Tradition
Tea has long been surrounded by certain traditions. From the Japanese tea ceremony, with its intricate propriety, to the English “afternoon tea,” a certain amount of ceremony and tradition have always been associated with tea drinking. With today’s hectic pace, we still stop to make tea. We can still break our routine for a moment and treat ourselves to a simple, refreshing cup of tea. That “tradition,” although greatly simplified from the English and Japanese tea ceremony, remains a modern tradition nonetheless. For regular tea drinkers, the anticipation of tea time with as much or as little ceremony as time will allow, remains part of its appeal.
The T’ang dynasty writer Lu Wu in his treatise Ch’a Ching characterized tea in 780 as a prescription for harmony and balance, which when prepared properly, made beauty and harmony possible in one’s life. It was in this three volume work that tea and its preparation were elevated to a spiritual level.
The proper preparation and consumption of tea could be seen as symbolic of concern for orderliness and balance in the individual himself. This interest in the way the tea is prepared seems to have been responsible for the plethora of tea brewing methods and appliances.
From whimsically shaped teapots to elegant Russian samovars, tea brewing remains more than simply heating the water and pouring it over tea leaves or bags. When it is served, how it is brewed, even the type of cup it is served in has always been important to tea lovers.
By the 18th century, the English had adopted the late afternoon tea as a ritual. The origins of the afternoon tea came as a product of eating at very late dinner hours (often 10 o’clock). The long period between lunch and dinner was broken up by afternoon tea and cakes, including their famous crumpets and scones. Fortified by both the late afternoon respite and refreshment, the work day could continue until the evening’s dinner commenced. Tea drinkers continue to associate tea time with rest and leisure to this day.
Perhaps the height of tea drinking fashion during the 18th century was the phenomenon of the tea gardens in England. Tea’s fashion ability during the time led to a preponderance of garden parties. Ladies and gentleman would gather to take their tea outside in a large garden setting replete with orchestra, decorated walks, outdoor games and sport, and generally an atmosphere of refined camaraderie. Although the “tea garden” was not to last as an institution, its appearance punctuated the developing character of tea as a social if not festive beverage.
Today, people drink all different types of tea and herbal infusions for many different reasons, not really so different from those of previous centuries: the health benefits, social interaction, relaxation and simply, refreshment. Back to Top
Ceremonial Tea
A tea ceremony is a communion of feeling, when good friends come together at the right moment, under the best conditions.
~ Yasunari Kawabata
This simple explanation is at the heart of what has made tea drinking a pleasurable experience worldwide, and it is the foundation for the tea ceremony as it exists in Japan. Although tea is consumed throughout that the world with great enthusiasm, much attention has been paid to the tea tradition as it exists in Japan and in England - Japan for its complex tea ceremony, and England for its daily ritual of “taking tea.” What is it about these two countries that has forever distinguished their approach to tea?
Japanese interests in tea has a deep seated root in Zen Buddhism which was introduced into Japan from China in the ninth century by a Buddhist monk named Saicho. Tea during this period was expensive and was drunk primarily by the aristocracy and the Buddhist monks for its perceived medicinal benefit. Due to the importance of tea consumption as an aid to Buddhist rituals of meditation, the growth of Zen Buddhism necessarily carried with it an interest in cultivation of tea plants in Zen monasteries. Consistent with this association of tea and Buddhism in Japan are the serene and orderly tea gardens themselves. The tea bushes, tightly packed like groomed hedges, spread across the landscape like rolling green waves. The sacred origins of tea in Japan are clearly evident in the care with which the gardens are manicured. By the 12th century, it had become integral to daily life in Japan.
The famous Japanese ceremony celebrated the quintessential example of the country’s reverence for the beverage, which began in the 15th century. As an extension of the Zen tea ritual, it evolved into a cult concept called Teaism, which honored the beauty and serenity of the most mundane aspects of everyday life. As an expression of this credo, the ceremony relies on a kind of drama played out by the hosts and guests. The scenario revolves around the polite exchange of salutations and compliments between guest and host, including comments on the décor of the tea room, the tea itself, the paintings on the walls and so forth. The host is humbly apologetic for the tea and the serving utensils, and there is much consoling and graciousness on the part of the guests as they sip a brew made from powdered green tea.
This ancient ceremony is designed to promote the notion that one should see the beauty in the simplest acts and things. From the austerity of the tea room to the precise “rules” for how large it should be, how many rooms it can have and how the ceremony should be conducted, the Japanese tea ceremony is a celebration of simplicity, refinement and discipline which in Zen Buddhism are concepts synonymous with enlightenment. The reverence directed towards the tea itself as the focus of the ceremony speaks to the qualities tea has always had a soothing, settling kind of experience. Hiraski Yamada ex-director of the Urasenke Tea Ceremony (in New York City) comments that “offering tea is a social, a friendly, peaceful time and also a kind of meditation. You concentrate for the moment on what you are doing. Do not negate the little things, for the little things are not little things.”
Tea is the beverage of ceremonies and people, and like the monsoon rains, it is both calming and stimulating, encouraging conversation and relaxation…Ideas and traditions steep slowly in its steamy transparence.
~ Pascal Bruckner, Purias
In spite of Asia’s long history as a tea-drinking nation, it is perhaps the United Kingdom which more frequently comes to mind as the “nation of tea drinkers.” By contrast with Asian tastes in tea, the British prefer their tea strong, black and often with milk. The convention of afternoon tea has been traced to the wife of the seventh Duke of Bedsford during the 19th century. The Duchess Anna, feeling somewhat spent in the afternoon after her busy day, began ordering tea and cakes to be served at 5:00pm when the servants returned from their off-duty period. The caffeine content of black tea no doubt played a part in the duchess’ sense of revival, but the tradition of serving caked or scones with tea also helped establish the afternoon tea as a light meal, bridging the long period between breakfast and dinner. Since at this time these were the only two “planned” meals of the day, afternoon tea became a much anticipated event as hunger and fatigue set in late in the day.
To this day, the tradition of taking tea as a pleasant interruption of one’s routine-a respite from the day’s activities –persists. What seems revealing about these two ceremonies is simply the importance given to this beverage in these two cultures. Both are testaments to the seriousness with which we take our most revered pastimes. A simple custom becomes a philosophical stance.
Recent trends in England and Japan suggest movement away from both the formal afternoon tea and the ritual tea ceremony in Japan. In both countries as elsewhere in the world, the pace of modern life has necessitated the streamlining of the tea ritual. Although one is still able to find many formal afternoon teas in fine restaurants and hotels in England, most people simply enjoy their tea at regular intervals during the day in the more casual atmosphere of the workplace or home. Hot water steamers and the ubiquitous stainless teapot remain fixtures in most English cafes and restaurants, and formal afternoon teas are reserved for tea houses, fine restaurants and hotels. Ready to drink iced teas which have so captivated the rest of the world, however, remain slow to catch on in Britain. Although the country continues to prefer a more traditional approach to their tea drinking, flavored and herbal teas are beginning to develop a following, particularly among a younger audience.
The Japanese tea ceremony continues to be performed fundamentally unchanged, but the tea drinking habits of the general populace have adapted to a faster paced lifestyle. Carts travel through large office buildings bringing Japanese workers their tea at their desks. Although styrofoam cups and ready to drink teas may have entered the Japanese lifestyle, tea drinking as a daily event is still very much a part of the Japanese daily routine. The fine green teas of Japan continue to be highly regarded and little exported, although more and more black tea, including flavored tea is being consumed by the Japanese.
Despite whatever changes tea drinking may undergo as time goes on, it has proven itself as an infinitely adaptable beverage within every culture. As tastes and customs change, we have modified our teas to suit those changes. The changes which lifestyle may bring to our tea ceremonies still do not alter our appreciation of and devotion to tea. Back to Top
Children and Tea
For generations, British children have been allowed to drink tea, and in the early 1900’s, tea time in the nursery was a very special meal. Today’s children also love tea - they love the beverage itself and they especially enjoy the ritual surrounding its preparation - the special small teapots, the addition of milk and honey, and the small cookies they are allowed to have with their tea. Children also love the special time with their parents who have taken the time to make and serve the tea and to enjoy it, along with pleasant conversation about their day.
A cup of tea does contain a small amount of caffeine – very small compared to the equivalent amount of a cola – type beverage. However, if you wish your children to avoid caffeine all together simply serve them herbal tea or naturally processed decaffeinated tea. In recent years, more and more children have celebrated their birthdays with a special tea party for friends. Serve the tea in special teapots with small, sturdy mugs or cups. Tiny sandwiches, small frosted cookies and fruit salad are ideal accompaniments to the pots of tea.
Davidson's has long produced a light and lovely herbal, caffeine-free Children’s blend, with real organic dried honey in each bag, adding just the right sweetness. This tea enjoys a special following of parents and children alike. Back to Top
Tea Growing Regions
The principle tea/herb growing regions in the world based on leading tea exports (approximated to millions of pounds annually) are as follows:
- Asia (India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, China, Japan, Vietnam)
- Africa (Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Egypt)
- South America (Argentina, Brazil)
India is known for its superb black teas from such famous regions as Darjeeling, Assam and Niligiri. Teas from these regions are characterized by their “high grown” flavor - complex in character and aroma, full bodied, but delicate. Long considered the premiere growing region in the world, teas in much of India are cultivated at altitudes between 1000 and 6000 feet in the foothills of the Himalayas. Difficult terrain prohibits much mechanization of harvesting, ensuring fine “orthodox” processing and a generally superior flavor. In contrast to the smaller terraced gardens of Darjeeling, the Assam valley in the northeastern India is the world’s largest tea producing region. In gigantic sprawling gardens, sometimes extending over two thousand acres, a third of India’s total annual tea harvest is gathered in Assam. Teas from this region are often described as heavy, rich, malty and pungent - almost thick in character.
Sri Lanka
Teas from Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), like those from much of India, are grown at higher altitudes (4000-7000 feet) and are often characterized as strong and full, almost sweetish in flavor, with flowery overtones. There are, of course, a wide range of qualities within Sri Lanka, but these Ceylon teas are among the finest in the world, and make fabulous iced teas.
China is perhaps best known for the diversity of its teas. Producing the full range of teas from fragrant greens to rich China blacks to subtle Keemuns, China has long been a tea producer with a reputation for consistency and variety. Well known Chinese teas are Gunpowder and Chunmee in green teas, Keemun and Lapsang Souchong in black teas and Formosa in its finest oolong teas.
Although Japan is not among the world’s largest tea exports, it does harvest several million pounds annually, but exports a fraction of it. It is, however, famous for its fine green teas such as the Sencha. In addition to leaf green teas, Japan also produces Matcha or ceremonial tea which is in fact a powdered tea, dissolved, rather than brewed during the tea ceremony.
Africa’s importance as a tea growing region is steadily growing, owing in part to the fine product of its premiere growing region, Kenya and South Africa. Tea in Kenya is grown at elevations of 6000 feet and can rival some of the best of the high grown teas on the market. Kenya is also the largest tea producer in Africa with an annual output of over three hundred million pounds. South Africa on the other hand, is leading its way with increasing Rooibos and Honeybush (“red tea”) exports, known for its high mineral and vitamin content. 
Numerous other countries such as Russia, Argentina, and Indonesia produce tea mainly for consumption within the country and little for export. Much of this tea is designated for blending purposes or tea bags. The new tea drinker, however, should not miss the opportunity to sample the great variety of teas from around the world and discover their subtleties and surprises. With the exception of a few Chinese and African teas, Davidson’s teas come directly from our own organic gardens in India. A few teas originate in Sri Lanka. Because of this strategic alliance, our teas come fresh after each harvest, bypassing the many month-to-year storage situations, associated with most other tea importers. Our organic herbs come from all over the world: South Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and South America. Back to Top
Tea Grading
Grading tea was a result of tea producers needing to separate the leaf sizes of black teas as it emerged from the driers. Since all of the mechanics of tea production yield leaf sizes from whole leaf to “dust,” it was necessary to grade these products by visual characteristics and separate them. Different leaf sizes brew different looking and tasting end-products; thus a grading system was developed to categorize leaf appearance and facilitate sorting in a standardized way.
Tea is first categorized according to “leaf grades” and “broken grades,” which do not imply a quality level, but simply the structure of the leaf. Broken grades are sifted out, leaving the leaf grades, which are whole leaves. Broken leaf grades may have some smaller whole leaves as well, but are primarily broken as the name implies. Leaf and broken grades are further subdivided into more specific categories, the most common of which are:
  • Flowery Orange Pekoe: Top most bud leaf.
  • Orange Pekoe: Thin wire-like leaf with pale color.
  • Pekoe: Leaf grade with deep color.
  • Broken Pekoe: Somewhat smaller than leaf grade used to blend with smaller broken grades.
  • Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP): Frequently used for blending. Significantly smaller than leaf grades, brews quickly with good strength.
  • Fannings: Much smaller than BOP and consequently brews quickly with deep color.
  • Dust: True to it’s name, brewing quickly, strong in flavor and dark color.
Other sub-classifications exist but are perhaps only relevant for tea graders themselves. The Pekoe (pronounced “peek-o”) in the above grades comes from the Chinese work Pak-ho which refers to the fine hair of a newborn infant. The young tea buds which are covered with a light down-like hair thus acquired this designation. The word Orange in Orange Pekoe has nothing to do with the color or flavor, but refers to the princess of Orange, descended from the House of Nassau, and as such, implies a noble quality.
As a general rule, the term “flowery” (as in FOP or “Flowery Orange Pekoe”) refers to the top-most leaf of the tea plant, also called the “bud leaf.” Orange Pekoe would be the second largest leaf, and Pekoe the third. Since the smallest (and newest) leaf of any tea plant is considered the finest in flavor, it would reason that teas marked FOP are the finest. Unfortunately it is not that simple, and the finest leaves from one plant may not equal the Pekoe leaves from a very good plant. In the end it is the judgment of the tea drinker, and not the grading, that determines the tea quality. Grading will, however, indicate the relative strength of the brewed beverage, but not it’s subtlety or overall quality.
Green teas do not adhere to the same grading systems as black teas and are somewhat less standardized. In general green teas are referred to by leaf shape, such as Gunpowder, indicating tight pellet shaped leaf. Once again these designations are not for determining the quality of the tea, but rather for differentiating leaf style and flavor characteristics. Back to Top
Tea Cultivation and Processing
The tea plant or camellia senensis is an evergreen bush which grows primarily in tropical and sub-tropical regions. The various forms of the tea leaf known to tea drinkers around the world are the product of centuries of careful cultivation and processing. Although the tea plant remains essentially the same from one growing region to another, the soil characteristics, climate, altitude and processing methods yield a diverse spectrum of flavors. It also tolerates a wide range of soil conditions and seasonal fluctuations. Recent agricultural research by tea growers has greatly improved crop yields and the overall quality of the tea produced.
The tea plant in its wild state will grow to heights exceeding 18 to 20 feet. The Chinese, in fact, have discovered numerous wild tea plants considerably taller, notably one in the Yunnan Province over one hundred feet high which has been growing for seventeen hundred years! But with the exception of plants raised for their seed rather than their leaf, tea bushes are usually pruned to about 3 feet tall, and are flattened across the top. This flat profile allows the harvesting of new growth from the plant as it comes up, assuring the most flavorful product. Only half of the total leaf production from the plant is ever harvested, allowing the plant to survive to produce new growth year after year rather than go to seed. 

The harvesting of the leaves is called plucking, and categorized as either “fine” or “coarse” according to whether two leaves and a leaf bud are plucked, or three or more leaves are plucked. In fine plucking, only the two topmost leaves and the leaf bud are picked since these portions of the plant yield the greatest flavor and aroma. A rare white tea called Silver Needles consists of leaf buds. A type of unfermented tea, this tea is considered one of the most delicate of Chinese teas, and represents an extreme form of “fine plucking.” Coarse plucking generally yields a lesser product as it included leaves from earlier growth, but it is possible for coarse plucked tea from an exceptional plant to actually be better than fine plucked tea from an inferior plant.
Once the leaf is picked, it immediately begins a complex biochemical process in which oxidation occurs. The interruption of this “fermentation” process at various stages is what gives rise to the three basic types of tea: green, white, oolong and black. Just as coffee is roasted to differing degrees from light to dark, various fermentation times produce different tea flavors.
Green tea leaves, shortly after being plucked from the tea bush, are steamed briefly to prevent the natural oxidation of the leaf. This “unfermented” leaf remains green in color, and while still soft, is rolled and then dried mechanically or in a pan over heat. This rolling and drying process arrests the fermentation of the enzymes in the leaf, and stabilizes it for storage and transport. White tea is similar to green tea, in that it's undergone very little processing and no fermentation. But there is a noticeable difference in taste. Most green teas have a distinctive “grassy” taste to them, but white tea does not. The flavor is more light and sweet.
The second type of tea - Oolong tea – is “semi-fermented,” meaning the fermentation process is not allowed to go to completion as in the case of black or “fully-fermented” tea. Oolong teas are characteristically darker in the cup than green tea, and in leaf form are greenish-brown in color. Oolong teas retain some of the vegetative character of green teas, but because of the fermentation which has occurred, they also yield the fragrant, somewhat floral flavor for which they are famous.
Oolong tea begins, as green tea does, with the “withering” process. The leaves are spread out and allowed to wilt, losing much of their moisture in the process. Once fully withered, the leaves are then rolled by machines, bringing the flavorful tea juices to the surface. Unlike green tea, which at this point would be steamed to stop the oxidation process, the wet leaves for oolong teas are allowed to oxidize, turning the tea leaf a greenish brown color.
It is this “oxidation” process (frequently referred to as “fermentation”) which ultimately is responsible for tea’s distinctive flavor. Enzymes, polyphenols and pectins react with oxygen during this process, changing both the color and flavor of the tea. At just the right point, Oolong tea is dried either in the open air, or by fans and warm air to halt the oxidation process.
The third kind of tea, and the one most familiar to western tea drinkers, is black tea. As the name implies, this tea is darker both in its leaf and brewed forms. The pale amber of the Oolong leaf gives way to a deep reddish brown in black teas. Similarly, the brewed tea is robust and brown in color. Black teas are basically Oolongs which have been allowed to fully ferment. Where Oolongs are oxidized for several hours, black teas are allowed to ferment for a day more.
Oxidation is also responsible for the caffeine content in tea. Green tea has very small caffeine content. Oolongs somewhat more and fully fermented black teas contain the most - about 46 milligrams of caffeine per cup, or about 1/3 the caffeine content of a cup of coffee. Although pound for pound, tea contains more caffeine than coffee, but the amount used to make a cup of tea (by weight) is considerably less. Back to Top
Caffeine & Tea
Caffeine occurs naturally in the leaves of tea, and varies according to the oxidation process and brewing methods and time. Tea and coffee belong to a very small, elite group of botanicals which have the unique ability to produce caffeine during the photosynthetic process. In tea, the production of caffeine is the exclusive domain of leaves, not the roots or stems. Sugar, which is the normal by by-product of all plant photosynthesis, becomes caffeine in the tea plant. Tea contains more caffeine by weight than coffee, but far less tea is used to brew one serving of tea. The effect of caffeine from drinking tea comes on far more slowly than the effect of caffeine from drinking coffee. So when you hear “relax with a cup of tea,” it’s because drinking tea seems smoother and mellower than drinking coffee.
Caffeine Content in an 8oz cup
Coffee: 110 mg
Cola: 46 mg
Black Tea: 40 mg
Oolong Tea: 30 mg
Green Tea: 20 mg
White Tea: 15 mg
Herbal Tea: 0 mg
The large discrepancy comes from several factors, namely leaf size, brewing time and water temperature. The larger the leaf, the longer the brewing time and the hotter the water temperature, the more caffeine releases into the brew.
You can reduce the amount of caffeine in your cup of tea with a simple decaffeination method. Simply brew your cup of tea for one minute, discard the liquid (with most of the released caffeine) and continue to brew the tea for the rest of the suggested brewing time. On a commercial level, the removal of caffeine from tea is generally done by one of three available methods: solvent, CO2 based extraction and steam. In solvent based extraction, ethyl acetate is used to “capture” the caffeine from the leaf. The solvents are then removed by filtration carrying with them the caffeine. In CO2 extraction, the tea leaves are wetted first to break up intercellular plant tissue. Then the tea is put into a kind of pressure chamber in which pressurized CO2 streams through the tea, taking with it the caffeine, but leaving behind other flavor components. The extracted caffeine is then filtered out of the CO2 and is reused in other applications.
On the other hand, herbal teas are not tea in the true sense at all. Instead they are leaves, stems, roots, flowers and peels of any of a variety of plants or fruits which are chosen for flavor, medicinal qualities and for appearance. They contain no tea leaves (camellia sinensis), and usually contain no caffeine. The one notable exception to this is the herb mate which actually contains twice the caffeine of a cup of tea when brewed as an herbal tea. The term tisane is actually a more accurate term for any herbal infusions. However they are defined, herbal teas have become an important category of beverage particularly in the U.S. But the herbal concoctions have a history certainly as old or older than that of tea itself.
Although many herbal teas still have medicinal healing properties, much herbal tea is sold simply for its refreshment value. Pungent and flavorful herbs like chamomile, rose hips, carob, and peppermint can act alone as robust tisanes, or be blended with tea itself to augment the tea’s character. Herbal teas have become firmly entrenched as an important option available to the modern tea drinker. The fact that herbal teas can generally be brewed longer without becoming bitter, have no caffeine and retain a light “tea-like” character, further enhances their appeal. Not unlike the choices the contemporary coffee drinker must confront in lattes, espressos, cappuccinos and decafs, the tea drinker can choose from green, oolong and black, flavored, decaffeinated and herbal teas.
Davidson’s product line consists of nearly half herbal teas. Rooibos and Honeybush from South Africa, Tulsi from India, Chamomile and Hibiscus from Egypt, and Carob and Chicory from Eastern Europe form the bases of many of our herbal blends. These herbs, along with many others, are all certified organic, grown by primarily small farmers all over the world. Back to Top
Tea & Flavors
The practice of flavoring and scenting teas has enjoyed a very long tradition, beginning with early efforts in China to cover up the flavor of raw boiled tea leaves. Today the additions to tea include flavorings, sweeteners, fruit juices, herbs, spices, tartness enhancers, freeze dried fruits, and essential oils.
Herbs and spices in particular have secured their place among the flavored tea-blender’s tools. Salt was perhaps the first spice used in tea blends in ancient times, although its use was probably to offset the of the early tea preparations. Thanks to advances in cultivation and processing, we no longer need to mask tea’s character, but rather use herbs and spices to compliment its natural flavor. Scented teas, containing botanicals such as rose petals, jasmine flowers and lavender were known to exist as early as the 10th century, so the manipulation of the basic teas flavor has a very long history.
Modern tea flavors consist of liquid flavors, “spray dried,” “encapsulated” and “plated.” Liquid flavors are generally applied to either tea leaves or to herbs and spices present in tea blends. The application can be as simple as sprinkling the flavor over the leaf, or as complex as spray systems which coat the tea with fine mists of flavor. Most tea flavors are available in natural and artificial styles, the former being derived from the original fruit or spice, and artificial being synthesized flavor. By U.S. law, a flavor which is manufactured chemically (even if it’s chemical composition is identical to the original flavor) must be labeled as artificial. Similarly, flavors labeled as natural must derive from the original source as it occurs in nature. A third category called WONF (which stands for “with other natural flavors”) are considered natural, but may be compromised if a variety of flavors are used to create the dominant one. A WONF cherry flavor, for example, might be a combination of real cherry, almond, and grape flavors and as such is natural, but not wholly derived from cherries.
Modern “flavor technology” is a complex and subtle alchemy. Ultimately the quality of a flavored tea must be judged by the individual according to preference. The current plethora of choices in the flavored tea market allow the consumer to find the “just right” apple, peach, raspberry, or even mango that suits them. The flavor manufactures have responded to this need with equally extensive varieties of flavors from which tea companies must choose. It is not uncommon for the modern flavored tea blender to sample a dozen or more lemon flavors before finding the right “flavor profile” for the blend, be it sour, tart, sweet, bitter, floral etc. or some combination of these sensations. Ideally the flavors will compliment the tea itself, thereby providing a more complex taste experience. Unlike the earliest tea blenders, the modern tea blender seeks a symbiotic relationship between the tea and its accompaniment.
Davidson’s uses only organic and organic-compliant flavors, insuring purity and guaranteeing a GMO-free product.  As most conventional flavor manufacturing involves a corn-based sugar carrier, GMOs from the corn will be present in most non-organic flavored tea. Our organic processing and organic tea requires only GMO-free ingredients as per National Organic Program (NOP) guidelines. Back to Top
Tea Brewing Instructions
While some general rules apply to tea brewing, at the same time, personal tastes play a role, as well. Some people like their tea a little stronger, some a little weaker, and that’s perfectly okay. Always use pure, filtered water, as chlorine will adversely affect the taste of the tea. You can remove some of the chlorine by boiling water for at least five minutes. Below is a guide for tea brewing instructions:
TEA BAG (per 8 fl. oz cup):
Green Teas (1 teabag): 2-3 mins. with water just under boiling point
White Teas (1 teabag): 3-5 mins. with water just under boiling point
Herbs/Herbal Teas/Red Teas (1 teabag): 5-7 mins. with boiling water
Black/Oolong Teas (1 teabag): 3-5 mins. with boiling water

LOOSE LEAF BULK TEA (per 8 fl. oz cup):
Green Teas (1 rounded tsp.): 2-3 mins. with water just under boiling point
White Teas (1 rounded tsp.): 3-5 mins. with water just under boiling point
Herbs/Herbal Teas/Red Teas (2 rounded tsp.): 5-7 mins. with boiling water
Black/Oolong Teas (1 rounded tsp.): 3-5 mins. with boiling water

3 tablespoons of cocoa powder & 8 fl. oz of milk or dairy alternative. Measure cocoa into your favorite mug. Stir in enough cold milk to make a thin paste. Heat the rest of the milk to just under boiling, then pour the hot milk into the mug, stirring thoroughly until fully blended.

Bring fresh water to a boil. Add 1 large brew bag (1 quart size) or equivalent amount of loose leaf tea (appx. 12 grams) to heat proof container. Pour equivalent amount of water and steep (see timings below). Remove teabag/strain tea leaves, and let infused tea cool to room temperature. Serve over ice or chill. Discard unused iced tea after 48 hours. Multiply proportions of iced tea brew bags or loose leaf tea to make larger quantities.

Green Teas: 2-3 mins. with water just under boiling point
White Teas: 3-5 mins. with water just under boiling point
Herbs/Herbal Teas/Red Teas: 5-7 mins. with boiling water
Black/Oolong Teas: 3-5 mins. with boiling water Back to Top
Tea Brewing Preferences
Tea bags offer great convenience for brewing tea. But if you prefer loose tea, any number of infusing methods will work. Try t-sacs (large disposable paper infusion bags), tea infusers or even the pot-to-pot method (brewing the tea in one pot, then straining it into another).
All tea is biodegradable, and can go right into your compost pile, if you want. This includes our tea bags and tea leaves in t-sacs.According to your taste, you can add milk to black or some herbal teas such as Rooibos or spicy herbal blends.  Sweeten tea, or not, to taste, with honey, maple syrup, stevia or organic sugar. You can ice just about any tea, again, according to your personal preference. Lemon and other citrus juices, or a touch of sparkling water can brighten the flavor of iced tea.
Have fun experimenting with your brewing likes and dislikes, as your personal tea culture evolves! Refer to our Tea Recipes for exciting and refreshing ways to enjoy our teas. And feel free to share your thoughts and ideas with us. We’d be happy to hear from you. Back to Top