All the tea info you never knew you needed!
There are literally thousands of types of tea in the world. However, these myriad varieties of tea can be broken up into a few major categories, which are commonly referred to as “tea types.” These types are mainly distinguished by their processing, but each specific cultivar, harvest season and origin can also play into how teas are categorized. The main tea categories are black tea, green tea, oolong tea, white tea and pu-er tea. Beyond “true teas” (teas made from the Camellia sinensis plant), there are also botanicals, which include rooibos, yerba maté and other “herbal teas.”
Tea originated near the modern-day border of China, Burma, Tibet and India. Today, much of the world’s tea is produced in Asia, but tea production has also spread to Africa, South American, Europe and even America. In discussing high-grade tea, these are the main origins you’ll encounter:
China – The birthplace of tea and tea culture. Chinese tea-producing provinces include Anhui, Fujian, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Yunnan.
India – The origin of Assam, Darjeeling and Nilgiri teas, most of which are black teas.
Japan – The origin of most steamed green teas and matcha, many of which are from the Kagoshima, Shizuoka and Uji prefectures.
Sri Lanka – Formerly known as Ceylon. Home to tea regions Dimbula, Kandy, Nuwara Eliyah and Uva.
Taiwan – An island known for its world-class oolongs. Formerly known as Formosa.
How to Store Tea
The key to tea storage is the avoidance of five factors: light, heat, moisture, air and odor. We recommend storing your tea in one of our signature tea canisters. Keep your tea canisters away from hot locations (like above your stove) and from odiferous locations (like next to your spices).
Fun Facts About Tea
All true teas come from the same plant – Camellia sinensis (or “Chinese camellia”). Like the flavor of wine, the flavor of tea is greatly influenced by when, where and how it was grown and processed. One type of tea (pu-er) can actually improve with age. When stored correctly, its value increases and its flavor becomes smoother and richer with each passing year. There are thousands of types of tea in the world.
Each day’s tea harvest is akin to a year’s wine production. The flavor can change drastically from one batch to the next.
Tea, Health & Beauty
Tea has a number of traditional and scientifically proven uses for health and beauty. Here are a few traditional beauty remedies involving tea:
Brewed, cooled green tea has been used for a range of beauty applications, including a facial astringent and a natural mouthwash. Matcha can be mixed with cocoa butter or lotion for an antioxidant-rich face masque or skin cream.
Cooled teabags are fantastic for soothing tired, puffy eyes.
Chamomile makes a great rinse for blonde hair. Similarly, strong-brewed black tea can be sprayed onto graying hair as a temporary tint. Strong-brewed, cooled black tea can be sprayed onto skin as a light, natural self-tanner, or used as a soak for sunburned skin.
Here are a few links to more scientific information on the tea and health:
Harvard Women’s Health Watch says green tea is more powerful than vitamins C and E in halting oxidative damage and it reduces risk for several cancers. The publication also says green and black teas reduce the risks for heart disease and hypertension.
The Tea Association of the United States of America has pooled a large body of tea research and come to the conclusion that tea has a number of benefits involving cardiovascular health, cancer, immune function, oral health, obesity, kidney stones and osteoporosis.
The University of Maryland says green tea may lower cholesterol, prevent or inhibit certain cancers, reduce inflammation associated with IBS and much more.
At American Tea Room, our goal is to find the most delicious, fragrant, beautiful teas out there. We always keep an eye out for organic teas that meet our exacting standards. Of the teas that have no rating, we make sure we use the best ingredients and source from tea estates that we trust. Of our certified teas, we currently offer two types:
USDA Organic Teas – Teas that meet the United States standards for organic production, which includes specific certification processes and restrictions on the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Japan Agriculture Standard Organic Teas – Teas that meet the strict organic standards set by the Japanese government, but are not necessarily certified organic by the US Department of Agriculture. According to some studies, organic tea is higher in antioxidants than conventionally grown tea.
Afternoon Tea – A heavy snack or light meal usually consisting of tea and foods like finger sandwiches, scones, muffins, crumpets, toast, cakes, petit four, and trifles. Afternoon tea is typically consumed between three and five in the afternoon.
Anhui – A province in Eastern China known for its smooth, malty Qimen (or “Keemun”) black teas.
Antioxidants – Nutrients that slow or prevent the oxidation of other chemicals and limit cell damage by neutralizing free radicals. Polyphenol antioxidants are naturally occurring in tea, rooibos and yerba mate.
Assam – A tea-producing region in Northeast India. Assam teas such as our Maharajah, Mokalbari Estate and Hajua Sessa are prized for their malty, rich flavor.
Autumnal – Teas plucked during the autumn season. This term is usually applied to Taiwanese and Indian teas.
Bancha – Tea from Japan that was plucked after the springtime. Bancha is thought of as an “everyday green tea” in Japan. We offer Organic Bancha and our Extreme Vanilla in made from Bancha.
Black Tea – The most popular type of tea in the U.S. and Europe. Black tea is rolled (to break its cell walls and release its essential oils), exposed to air (to oxidize the cells and change their flavor) and then dried (to seal in the flavor and keep the tea fresh for a longer period of time).
Body – The fullness and strength of a brew. “Thin” teas are teas without much body.
Brick Tea – A type of pu-er that is shaped like a brick. In ancient China, brick tea was used for barter across long trade routes.
Brisk – A lively flavor profile characterized by a refreshing astringency.
Caffeine – A naturally occurring alkaloid stimulant found in tea, coffee, chocolate, yerba maté and other substances. A cup of yea has less caffeine than a cup of coffee, and is balanced by a compound only found in tea, theanine.
Camellia sinensis – The type of camellia used to make white, green, oolong, black and pu-erh teas. Although it will grow into a small tree if left untrimmed, it is usually maintained at a height of three to five feet for easy plucking of the newest and most flavorful leaves.
Catechins – A type of polyphenols (antioxidants) found in tea. Catechins EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), EGC (epigallocatechin), ECG (epicatechin gallate) and EC (epicatechin) are abundant in green teas.
Ceylon – Sri Lanka, or tea from Sri Lanka. Most Ceylon teas are black teas, but they exhibit a breadth of flavor ranging from our citrusy Ceylon Single Estate to our smooth, spicy Kenilworth Estate OP.
Cha – The Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese and Tibetan word for “tea.” It is used in Japanese words and phrases like “cha do” (the way of tea) and “chanoyu” (the Japanese matcha tea ceremony), as well as Chinese expressions like “gong fu cha” (high skill tea).
Chai – The Hindi, Russian, Farsi, Arabic, Bulgarian, Swahili and Urdu word for “tea.” Chai is also the American name for “masala chai” (Indian spiced tea). Our Masala Chai is a classic example of masala chai, and our Cape Town Chai is a caffeine-free chai variation.
Chamomile – A widely consumed herbal infusion made from the dried flowers of the chamomile plant. Our caffeine-free Organic Chamomile Blossoms are known for their calming properties.
China – The origin of tea cultivation and processing, as well as the home to thousands of types of tea grown in over a dozen different regions, each with its own distinct terroir and processing methods.
Coppery – The bright, “new penny” color of a high quality black tea’s brew.
Darjeeling – A tea-growing region in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains known for its muscatel-tinged second flush black teas (like our Puttabong). It is often referred to as the “Champagne Region of Teas.”
Dimbula - A tea-growing region in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon). It’s known for full-bodied black teas.
Earl Grey – Usually, a black tea flavored with citrusy bergamot essential oil. Our Earl Grey Shanghai is made the authentic way, with a Chinese black tea base. Variations include our Earl Grey Sencha, Earl Grey Darjeeling and Earl Grey Lavender.
English Breakfast – A classic, full-bodied blend of black teas from Africa, India, Sri Lanka and/or China. Our English Breakfast blends include Kensington and Notting Hill, both blends of Chinese and Indian teas. We also offer an Irish Breakfast tea (a malty blend of Assam and other Indian black teas) called Celtic Breakfast.
Estate – A piece of property used for growing tea (and, sometimes, other crops). It may be a single garden or multiple gardens in the same area.
First Flush – The first tea of the growing season. The slow growth of the first flush produces a nuanced, rich flavor profile, and is the most sought after tea.
Flavonoids – A type of antioxidant found in fresh fruits and vegetables and in tea. Flavonoids have been shown to provide a range of health benefits, including increased immunity and improved blood vessel function. Green tea and white tea are especially rich in flavonoids.
Formosa – Taiwan, or teas grown in Taiwan. Formosa oolongs like our Oriental Beauty and Bao Zhong Royale are famous for their complexity and quality.
Fujian – A tea-producing region in China. It is home to stellar white teas (such as our Organic Silver Needles), jasmine-scented teas (like our Organic Jasmine Pearls) and oolongs (like our Big Red Robe from Wuyi Mountain).
Grade – An evaluation of tea leaves by their leaf or particle size and (in the case of black teas) the presence of tips. The lowest categories (dust and fannings) are usually used in teabags. Broken leaves are used in teabags and lesser quality loose-leaf teas. We offer the highest grade (whole leaf teas) at American Tea Room. Indian and Sri Lankan teas will sometimes use a grading system of letters. The highest grade a tea can get is S.F.T.G.F.O.P.1 (Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe First Flush).
Green Tea – Teas that are steamed or pan-fired shortly after plucking to stop oxidation from occurring. Most green teas are from China (such as our Organic Long Jing) or from Japan (like our Honyama Sencha and our Premium Organic Matcha).
Gyokuro – A shade-grown Japanese green tea known for its oceanic, umami-rich flavor, deep green color and thick texture. Gyokuro is labor intensive and our Yame Gyokuro is one of our best-selling teas.
Herbal Tea – Any "tea" from plants other than Camellia sinensis. With rare exceptions (yerba maté, guayusa, cola, and of course coffee) all herbal teas will be caffeine-free, naturally. “Herbal teas” are also known as herbal infusions, botanicals, or tisanes.
High-Elevation Tea – Tea grown at over 1,000 meters above sea level. Also known as “high mountain tea,” “high grown tea” or “high altitude tea,” high-elevation tea has an intensely rich, smooth flavor.
Infusion – A method of extracting flavor and nutrients from tea or herbs. It involves pouring hot or boiling water over the tea or herbs and allowing them to steep. It is different from “decoction,” which is the boiling of herbs or tea to extract their flavor and nutrients.
Japan – A tea-producing country known for its green teas. Most Japanese green teas are steamed and some are shade grown. Distinctive Japanese teas include Matcha, Genmaicha and Sencha.
Jiangsu – A tea-producing province in China. It is best known for its lush Bi Luo Chung green tea.
Kandy – A tea-growing region in Sri Lanka (a.k.a. “Ceylon”). Most black teas from Kandy have a strong flavor and a dark color.
Kenya – A huge producer of tea in the world, and one of the biggest exporters. Most Kenyan tea is basic quality black tea.
Kettle – A vessel used to heat water. Generally, these are different than teapots, which you actually make tea in. Stovetop kettles are common, but electric kettles have become the norm.
Matcha – A powdered green tea that is traditionally used in the Japanese tea ceremony. It can be whisked into a verdant green tea or used as an ingredient in tea lattes, tea smoothies and baked goods. We offer a Premium Organic Ceremonial Matcha, a superb Artisan Ceremonial Matcha.
Mouthfeel – The sensation a tea (or other consumable) creates on the tongue and in the mouth. The type of tea and its processing has a lot to do with overall mouthfeel. Generally, teas that are fresher, with richer nutrients have richer mouthfeel.
Nilgiri – A tea-producing region in Southern India. Nilgiri teas like out Thiashola Carrington Estate are prized for their perfumey fragrances and light, exotic flavors.
Oolong Tea – A semi-oxidized tea. Many oolongs are plucked, withered, bruises and then alternately rolled or twisted and fired for hours before they are dried. The best oolong teas come from the mountains of Taiwan and from Wuyi Mountain in Fujian, China.
Organic Tea – Tea produced without the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers. We offer USDA Organic teas and teas that follow stringent Japanese organic production standards.
Oxidation – A chemical reaction in which tea leaves’ natural enzymes react to exposure to the oxygen in the air. After the leaves are plucked and rolled, their aromas, flavors and colors change and deepen as their components are altered by oxidation. Green teas are un-oxidized, whereas oolongs are semi-oxidized and black teas are heavily oxidized.
Polyphenols – A type of antioxidant found in tea, as well as in red wine, berries, chocolate and other foodstuffs. They may prevent cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and other age-related diseases.
Pu-er (Pu-Erh, Pu’er, Puerh) – A type of fermented tea. Pu-er may be “ripened” (treated with heat and moisture) or slowly aged to achieve a smooth, rich flavor profile. Microbes and bacteria help to break down the tea leaves in the aging process and are what contribute to pu-er's signature flavor. Our aged pu-er teas include Organic Antique Pu Er and 1992 Vintage Pu Er.
Rolling – A process in which tealeaves are twisted to rupture their cell walls and expose their enzymes and essential oils to oxygen for oxidation.
Rooibos – An antioxidant-rich, caffeine-free herbal infusion from South Africa. It is harvested from an evergreen shrub and either dried as green rooibos or oxidized and dried to make red rooibos. Blended rooibos is very popular; Choco Latte and Martinique are amongst our best sellers.
Sencha – The most popular and most produced green tea in Japan. The best Sencha green teas come from Shizuoka and Uji. First Flush Sencha is known as Shincha. Sencha may be Asamushi (lightly steamed), Chumushi (medium-steamed), Fukamushi (heavily steamed) or a blend of these types.
Shizuoka – The largest tea-producing region in Japan. Shizuoka is known for its First Flush Senchas (like our double steamed Fukamushi Shizuoka Shincha).
Tannin – A type of polyphenol found in tea. Tannins are thought to provide a range of health benefits. Tannins are the source of much of tea’s flavor, particularly the astringency found in black teas. Tea does not contain tannic acid; tannins have a different chemical structure from tannic acid.
Tea – The leaves of the camellia Sinensis plant and the infusions made from those leaves. Infusions of other herbs are also sometimes referred to as “herbal teas,” but many people prefer the term “herbal infusion” or “tisane” to describe these (usually caffeine-free) herbal beverages.
Tea Bowl – A shallow, bowl-shaped or cup-like vessel used to whisk and sip matcha. Flatter, wider tea bowls are used in summer. Narrower, taller, thick-walled matcha bowls are used in winter. Called chawan in Japanese.
Tea Caddy – A tea canister, tin or jar. Several hundred years ago, most tea caddies were lockable. Today, many are double-lidded for freshness. One elegant type of tea caddy is the Japanese natsume, which is used to hold matcha during chanoyu tea ceremonies.
Teapot – A vessel used to steep tea in. Different than a kettle, which is used to heat up water. Most teapots will have a strainer of some sort for easy steeping of tea. They can be made from clay, porcelain, glass, or stainless steel.
Tea Room (Tearoom) – A dining establishment focused on afternoon tea or a teashop in which you can purchase and enjoy tea. Although many people associate tearooms with British tea traditions, American Tea Room curates a collection of teas and teaware from around the world for a style that is distinctly American.
Tea Scoop – A spoon used to measure tea. Japanese tea scoops are often made from cherry bark, ivory, bamboo or other wooden materials. Chinese and Japanese tea scoops are often bamboo. European tea scoops are typically metal. Tea scoops may be utilitarian or decoratively embellished. Called chashaku in Japanese.
Terroir – The flavor characteristics imparted upon tea, wine, coffee and chocolate by the place in which they were produced. Terroir is determined by climate, elevation, sun exposure, soil type, plant variety and other factors.
Theaflavins – A type of antioxidant polyphenol found in black tea, pu-erh tea and (to a lesser extent) oolongs. Theaflavins are associated with longevity and the reduction of cholesterol.
Theanine – An amino acid that is found only in tea and in a rare type of Asian mushroom. Theanine has been shown to have tranquilizing, anti-stress and cortisol-controlling benefits. Theanine is the compound that balances the caffeine in tea and allows to be both stimulating but relaxing. Matchas and other Japanese green teas are exceptional sources of theanine.
Tippy – Teas with an abundance of white, silver or golden “tips” or “buds” (the newly formed leaves of the tea plant that have yet to unfurl). Generally, the higher the concentration of tips or buds, the higher quality the tea. A few rare teas are comprised only of tips and buds, such as Silver Needle or Golden Needle Yunnan.
Uji – A tea-producing region in Japan. It is known for its exceptional Matchas (like our Artisan Hekisui Matcha) and Gyokuros. It is also home to Kyoto, where many of Japan’s chanoyu traditions originated.
Umami – Also known as the "fifth taste", umami is a rich, savory flavor associated with Japanese green teas (like our Honyama Sencha and Kyoto Imperial Matcha) as well as oysters, mushrooms, and cheese.
Uva – A tea-growing region in Sri Lanka (Ceylon). Its black teas are far subtler than most Ceylon black teas.
Varietal – A specific biological variety of tea plant. Single-varietal teas have distinctive flavor profiles based on their genetics, terroir and processing.
Vegetal (Vegetative) – A plant-like or grassy flavor found in some green teas and oolongs, like our Earl Grey Sencha and Genmaimatcha.
White Tea – An antioxidant-rich form of tea that is traditionally made in Fujian, China. Some white teas (like our Organic Silver Needles) are made entirely of downy buds, while others (like our Organic Ancient Moonlight) are comprised of buds and leaves. Other regions outside of China have begun to produce stellar white teas as well, such as in Darjeeling, India.
Wiry – A term used to describe a tealeaf that is long and twisted. Some oolongs and black teas are wiry. See our Ceylon and Organic Formosa Plum for examples of wiry leaves.
Yerba Maté – An antioxidant-rich, caffeine-filled herbal infusion from South America. Yerba Mate may be unblended or blended.
Yunnan – A tea-producing province in China, near Vietnam, Laos and Burma. It is known for its black teas (like our Grand Yunnan Imperial and Organic Yunnan Golden Needle) and its pu-erhs (like our Organic Pu-erh Imperial and 1992 Vintage Pu-erh). In Yunnan, you find exceptionally old tea farms, tracing their origins back over 1,000 years.
Zhejiang – A tea-producing province in China. It includes the famous Long Jing region, which is home to our Organic Long Jing.