As author Mary Lou Heiss once wrote, “A simple cup of tea is far from a simple matter.”
On the one hand, tea is pretty straightforward: combine some tea leaves (or the herbal tea blend of your choice) and water, steep, and drink. On the other hand, tea is a beverage that has plenty of tricks up its leaves — er, sleeves.
Most importantly, tea is far from boring. Ready to be amazed? Here are some fascinating and tea-riffic facts that are bound to make for some great tea party banter:
All Tea Comes From the Same Plant
Here’s a mind-blowing fact: all tea — be it black, green, oolong, white, or yellow — comes from the same plant, the camellia sinensis. Of course, this excludes herbal teas and tisanes, which are technically not “true” teas but are permitted to live in the tea universe thanks to how they’re brewed and the spirit in which they’re consumed.
It may be hard to believe that very different-tasting teas like Big Heart Tea’s Edith Grey and Malawi Roasted Green come from the same type of plant, but they do. The real magic of making different teas is all about how they’re processed, from what leaves are picked and when to if they’re oxidized or not and for how long. For instance, black tea leaves are oxidized, which darkens the color and deepens the flavor. Green teas are immediately heated to halt oxidation, which keeps the leaves green and grassy/vegetal-tasting. Oolong teas are semi-oxidized, which gives them a smooth and light quality that can lean more toward black or green depending on how they’re made.
Tea is Really, Really Popular
Aside from water, tea is the most-consumed beverage in the world. In case you’re not impressed by that fact, let’s look at the numbers:
- It’s estimated that three billion cups of tea are consumed globally per day. Considering there are just shy of eight billion people in the world, that’s a pretty high ratio.
- In 2020, global tea consumption topped 6.3 billion kilograms (nearly 14 million pounds).
- The global tea industry was estimated to be worth $207.1 billion U.S. dollars in 2020; it is forecasted to be worth $266.7 billion by 2025.
Panda Dung Tea is a Thing
Gross, right? But don’t worry. You don’t have to consume poo (at least, not directly) to enjoy this tea.
So-called panda dung tea is made using panda poo as an eco-friendly fertilizer. This method is said to retain more nutrients than non-panda-poo-fertilized tea and to yield a tea that’s fragrant and smooth.
However, indirectly consuming panda poo comes at a cost. When the tea first came to market, it was among the world’s most expensive teas, with about 16 cups’ worth fetching roughly $3500.
Bug-Bitten Tea is Also a Thing
To keep the weird-but-true-tea thread going, let’s take a moment to explore bug-bitten teas.
More often than not, farmers (whether of tea or vegetables or fruit) see bugs as the enemy. But some tea farmers welcome bugs with open arms.
Bug-bitten teas are made when tea plants don’t contain any insecticides. This acts as an open invitation for bugs to come and munch awhile. Their lilliputian bug bites trigger a chemical reaction that releases biosynthetic building blocks called terpenes. These terpenes give the resulting tea a honey-like and naturally sweet flavor. Dongfang meiren (also called Eastern Beauty tea) is a famous example.
Also a Thing: Color-Changing Tea!
Want to really impress your friends? Dress up like Mr. Wizard, grab some butterfly pea tea and lemon juice, and get ready to make SCIENCE.
So-called color-changing tea is a cool science trick that involves altering the pH levels of naturally-blue butterfly pea tea. All it takes is the introduction of an acidic ingredient — say, lemon juice — and the mixture will turn bright purple. It makes for some cool mixology if you feel like fancy-ing up cocktails, but it also makes for a fun craft activity with kids or an easy way to make tea time a little bit more magical.
Some Herbal Tea Has Caffeine
While most plant-based teas are caffeine-free, there are a few exceptions.
First up is yerba mate, a South American tea that’s made from a member of the holly family. Depending on how it’s brewed, it can be as strong or stronger than coffee. It also has a very strong flavor that’s vegetal, bitter, and unlike anything else.
Yaupon tea, also called cassina, is from the same family of holly. It also contains caffeine — about one-third the caffeine of a cup of coffee. This was once a popular pick-me-up for indigenous North Americans. It has an earthy, grassy flavor.
Another tea with caffeine? Coffee berry tea. This tea is made from the dried skins of coffee berries (the seeds are coffee beans). It doesn’t contain as much caffeine as coffee, but it might give you a little more verve, than say, mint tea.
The REAL Story Behind British Tea-Time
In Britain, afternoon tea time is a time-honored tradition. But did you know it was really just the result of a hungry society lady?
As the story goes, in 1840 or so, Anna Russel, the Duchess of Bedford, found herself languishing every afternoon between lunch and dinner. Instead of popping a granola bar, she dreamed up something far grander: a light meal with tea that could double as a social affair.
The custom proved successful, and it caught on. These days, tea time is still enjoyed in Britain and beyond. It can come in many shapes and forms. Whether you enjoy an afternoon cup of your favorite Big Heart Tea blend or go all out with multiple teas, scones, clotted cream, and finger sandwiches, consider adding an afternoon tea break to your routine.
Americans Really Need to Expand Their Palates
Americans might be adventurous about some things … but tea isn’t one of them.
According to the Tea Association of the U.S.A. (yes, that’s a thing), 84% of the tea consumed in America is black tea — of that, 75-85% of the tea is served as iced tea.
No shade on iced tea — after all, the stuff was born in St. Louis! — but still, let’s get with it! Be better than the iced-tea-drinking drones out there — try something new. Start your next tea adventure here.
High Tea Doesn’t Equal High-Class
Most Americans refer to fancy tea as “high tea.” But they’re wrong.
The term “high tea” actually originated to refer to the height of the tables where it was served — bar tables in working-class joints that catered to the working classes looking for tea and a meal after their shift. It was a nice custom, but not a high-class one.
Low tea, on the other hand, was traditionally a lower-elevation, sit-down affair. The fare tended to be more sophisticated, with all the yummy stuff you probably associate with fancy tea service.
So next time someone refers to a fancy-pants tea event as “high tea,” get up on your high horse and say “Actually…” — you’re bound to make plenty of new friends this way.
It’s OK to Slurp, Sometimes…
Here’s one more for the road! While slurping is generally seen as bad manners in the U.S., it’s not the case in China. Loud slurping is not only OK in China, but it can be considered a show of respect. Take that, Emily Post!
Are You Not Tea-Tillated?
You are now armed with 10 incredible and fascinating facts about tea. What are you waiting for? Call all your friends, schedule a tea date, and prepare to impress them with your newfound knowledge. Check out Big Heart Tea Co.’s collections now!