Q: What is tea?
A: The tea plant is an evergreen of the Camellia family that is native to China, Tibet and northern India. There are two main varieties of the tea plant. The small leaf variety, known as Camellia sinensis, thrives in the cool, high mountain regions primarily of China, India, Sri Lanka and Japan. The broad leaf variety, known as Camellia assamica, grows best in the moist, tropical climates found in Northeast India and the Szechuan and Yunnan provinces of China. The plant produces dark green, shiny leaves (pictured on right) and small, white blossoms. There are four main types of tea - green tea, black tea, oolong tea and white tea.

Q: Is green tea better for you than black tea?
A: Both varieties come from the plant Camellia sinensis and both have similar amounts of antioxidants, minerals and vitamins. The only difference is that black tea leaves are fermented (oxidized) and green is steamed. However, is is better for health because most varieties of green tea contain less caffeine. In the case of Matcha green tea powder there are more nutrients because the entire green tea leaf is mixed into your beverage.

Q: Why is Matcha green tea powder healthier than other green teas?
A: More nutrients are ingested because you mix the entire green tea leaf into your beverage. For nutritional details see Matcha health benefits.

Q: What is Oolong tea?
A: Oolong tea is semi fermented. Therefore, it produces a tea which is not quite black or green. It is somewhere in between the two and quite tasty.

Q: What is White tea?
A: White tea is not oxidized. It is a rare form of green tea buds or blossoms harvested only during the three day blossoming season of the tea plant. See white tea.
Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is herbal tea?
A: Herbal teas are not really tea. They are properly know as tisanes derived from the Greek, via the Latin "ptisana".Tisanes are made from pieces of dried fruit, flowers and berries. They naturally have no caffeine content.

Q: How popular is tea drinking?
A: Tea drinking is a pastime that is identified closely with the English. According to national statistics, every man, woman and child in Great Britain consumes at least four cups a day, and there is almost no occasion where a nice cup of tea is not appropriate. Tea consumption worldwide is the second only to water.

Q: Who is the largest producer of tea in the world?
A: In 2004 China (835,000 tons) overtook India (820.000 tons). Because of the popularity of tea, world production is at a all time high.

Q: Does Tea Contain Caffeine?
A: Yes. Tea contains less caffeine than coffee and even less is found in white, silver needle and decaf varieties. See ther effects of caffeine and caffeine chart.

Q: Why is tea praised for its health benefits?
A: Tea contains antioxidants known as polyphenols, flavonoids, fluoride, no cholesterol, no fat, no sugar, natural vitamins, mineral and in the case of Matcha, fiber. Tea contains the polyphenol ECGC (epi-gallo-catechin gallate) know to inhibit the rapid growth of cancer cells without harming healthy cells. In a 1997 study, researchers from the University of Kansas determined that EGCG is twice as powerful as resveratrol, which may explain why the rate of heart disease among Japanese men is quite low, even though approximately seventy-five percent are smokers. Additionally, 3.5 ozs. of Matcha contains Vitamin A: 16,000IU, Vitamin B1: 0.6mg, Vitamin B2: 1.35mg, Vitamin C: 60mg Vitamin E: 35.9mg, Proteins & Amino Acids: 30.7% and Fiber: 10%.

Q: What are antioxidants, flavonoids, polyphenols and catechins?
A: Antioxidants bind harmful oxygen-containing molecules in your body called free radicals and peroxides that otherwise could damage your DNA, cell membranes, and other cell components. The process of breaking down food for energy creates free radicals in your body everyday. Naturally occurring antioxidants found in most plants including fruits and vegetables help your body keep free radicals in check.

Flavonoids are nutrient antioxidants found in most plants and many foods common in the human diet. There are 12 types of flavonoids, and one plant species may contain hundreds of different flavonoids. Polyphenol is a broad class of antioxidants including flavonoids and catechins. Catechins are a type of flavonoid contained in the leaves of tea. Catechins are very strong antioxidants, even more powerful than vitamins A, C, E and beta-carotene at combating harmful free radicals and protecting fragile DNA.

Q: How do antioxidants work?
A: When a free radical releases or steals an electron, a second radical is formed. This molecule then turns around and does the same thing to a third molecule, continuing to generate more unstable substances. The process continues until termination occurs -- either the radical is stabilized by a chain-breaking antioxidant such as beta-carotene and vitamins C and E, or it simply decays into a harmless product.

Q: Does green tea contribute to weight loss?
A: Yes - especially green tea extract. See our green tea extract.

Q: Does the addition of milk reduce the antioxidant value?
A: The addition of milk does not appear to affect the bioavailability of the tea flavonoids, but does increase calcium intake.

Q: Do green and black teas come from different plants?
A: No, they both come from the same plant known by its botanical name Camellia sinensis.

Q: How many varieties of tea are there?
A: Tea Council estimates about 1,500 varieties of Camellia sinensis plant which are of the evergreen family.

Q: How do you brew green and herbal teas?
A: Green Teas: Steep a tea in a cup of almost boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Normally, oversteeping of green teas can make them bitter, however, our green teas are very mild and have little bitterness, so you can steep them longer, according to your taste. Herbal tissanes need to be steeped for 10 minutes or longer in boiling hot water to extract the benefits, but will not get bitter. See brewing tea.

Q: What is Rooibos Tea?
A: Rooibos (meaning red bush is African) is a natural herb containing no caffeine and extremely healthy. Rooibos is grown only in a small area 250km north of Cape Town in the Cedarberg area of South Africa. It contains more antioxidants than tea and has anti aging properties. It is also a very relaxing and flavorful beverage.

Q: How long can you safely store tea?
A: Although each type of tea has a different shelf life, it's best to use or tea within 6 to 12 months of purchase. Green teas perish the quickest and begin to deteriorate within a year of harvest. Oolong and black teas retain their characteristics for several years. This is only true if the tea is stored in a cool dry place in a sealed container away from light.

Q: Why does tea refresh you in hot weather?
A: It simply raises the body temperature momentarily, you perspire and the perspiration on your skin creates a cooling effect. In the case of iced tea, it lowers body temperature.

Q: What are the different types/kinds of tea?
A: Tea is known by the terms white, green, oolong and black. All four types come from the same plant species, the only major differences between them are a result of the different processing methods they undergo, mainly the amount of oxidation. Oxidization is stopped at certain stages in the manufacture in order to produce the different types. Black teas undergo hours of oxidation in their preparation for market; oolongs receive less oxidation, and green and white teas are not oxidized at all. Of course there are many different varieties of tea within each of these four main types.

Q: How is tea manufactured?
A: The first step in the manufacture of tea is the harvest. Most harvesting or plucking is still done by hand. Some growers have had success using a vacuum-like machine, that pulls the leaves off the branch. The latter method is typically used for the cheaper/lower grade varieties of tea, as the machine is not capable of discriminating between the high-quality tip leaves and the coarser leaves toward the bottom of the branch.
The harvested leaves are then processed in one of two ways:

  • CTC - which stands for "crush, tear, and curl", is used primarily for lower grade leaves. CTC processing is done by machine which rapidly compresses the withered tea leaves, forcing out most of their sap, and then tears the leaves and curls them tightly into balls that look something like instant coffee crystals. The leaves are then "fired" or dehydrated.

Most tea experts and connoisseurs are not very interested in CTC processed tea, since it doesn't allow for the careful treatment that high grade leaves merit. But CTC has an important and legitimate role in the tea industry. Since it is a mechanized process, it allows for rapid processing of a high volume of tea leaves which otherwise would go to waste. It is also good for producing a strong, robust flavor from leaves of medium to low grade, in fact, for many varieties of leaf, CTC is the preferred processing method.

  • Orthodox - which is a bit more complex than CTC, and is mainly done by hand. The Orthodox method differs for black, green, white, and oolong teas. The basic steps in the manufacture of black tea are withering, rolling, oxidation or fermentation, and firing.


  • First, the leaves are spread out in the open, preferably in the shade, until they wither and become limp. This is done so they can be rolled without breaking.

- Rolling is the next step. This step is rarely done by hand any longer, more often it is being done by machine. Rolling helps mix together a variety of chemicals found naturally within the leaves, enhancing their oxidation. After rolling, the clumped leaves are broken up and left to oxidize.

- Oxidation or fermentation, which really starts during rolling, is allowed to proceed for an amount of time dependent on the variety of leaf. Longer oxidation usually produces a less flavorful but more pungent tea.

- Finally, the leaves are heated or "fired", in order to end the oxidation process, and dehydrate them so they can be stored.

- Oolong tea is produced just like black tea, except that the leaves are oxidized for a shorter time. Green and white tea are not left to oxidize at all. Some tea varieties are not even withered, but are simply harvested, fired, and shipped out.

Q: Where does tea come from?
A: Tea has been a traded commodity for over three thousand years. It was first cultivated and brewed in China, and many of the best varieties still come from China. Taiwan grows some of the world's finest oolongs and Japan produces a major portion of the world's green tea, alot of which is consumed domestically. Once the British got hooked on tea drinking, they began cultivating the native tea plants in India in order to have more control over the trade. Thus India, Sri Lanka, and many other South Asian countries also became major producers of the world's tea harvest. Currently there are upwards of 50 tea-growing countries around the world.

Q: How much tea should I use?
A: The traditional rule has always been "one teaspoon for each person, plus one for the pot". However, this rule doesn't specify how big the cups are or if the teaspoon is level or heaping. For loose leaf tea we recommend you use about 2.5 grams (.1 oz.) for every 228 ml (8 fluid oz.) of filtered or bottled water. The amount of tea to use does depend on many variables. If you plan on adding milk and sugar you should probably use more leaves. If you are brewing fresh, high-quality leaves, you can proably use fewer leaves. And if brewing in your tea cup, its size has a huge impact on the amount to use. The ultimate guide though is your personal taste, so the best recommendation is that you experiment to find the right amount of tea that best suits your tastes.

Q: Should I drink tea with or without milk?
A: The consumption of tea with or without milk is strictly a personal preference. There is no "right" way to drink tea and it is the choice of each individual tea drinker to consume their tea in the manner they most enjoy. The addition of milk does alter the pH balance of the tea and tends to make the tea smoother by reducing its acidic nature.

Q: Is tea good for you?
A: Studies undertaken in the last 10 years have found that black and green tea are rich in polyphenols which are antioxidants. Antioxidants are known cancer fighters and the studies have shown that people who consume 4 or 5 cups of tea per day have exhibited up to a 50% lower probability of contracting specific types of cancer such as breast and colon cancer. Also in the last 2 or 3 years initial study results are showing that there is a lower incidence of heart disease among those who consume 3 or more cups of tea per day.

Q: What is the difference between green and black tea?
A: Oxidation or fermentation. Green tea is not oxidized whereas black tea is oxidized. Oxidation takes place after processing and before drying and gives a tea strength and body resulting in a stronger brew. Green tea is dried immediately after processing and tends to be somewhat weaker and has a more vegetative character than black tea, due to it not having gone through the oxidation process.

Q: How long does tea stay fresh?
A: As a general rule, the more oxidized or darker the tea is the longer it will keep. Oolong tea lasts about 2-4 months if stored well, while black tea can remain in good shape for a year or more. Green tea on the other hand has a much smaller window of freshness, only about 3 months. Many green teas are rolled into pellets or pearl-sized balls to increase their shelf life. However, green tea can retain its freshness for up to a year if vacuum-packed and stored unopened in a cool, dry place until ready to drink. Once your green tea is opened though, it is best consumed regularly until it is gone. Trying to keep good tea too long simply turns good tea into not-so-good tea. If you find your tea is losing some of its flavor, just use a little more tea per cup and try to use it up as quickly as possible. You should also remember too, that proper storage can definitely help keep your tea as fresh as possible for as long as possible. To guard against any negative influences, tea should always be kept sealed in a clean, odor-free, airtight container and opened as little as possible to minimize the leaves' exposure to air.

Q: What is herbal tea and is it really tea?
A: Over the years, hundreds of different herbs have been used in beverages. They are sometimes called "herbal teas", but they are not really tea. Tea professionals and connoisseurs alike prefer to restrict the name "tea" to real tea (e.g. black, green, white and oolong), any other hot beverage that is made from herbs or flowers may be called a "tea", but the following two names are more appropriate when describing herbal tea:

  • "Herbal Infusion" - which simply means a drink made by steeping an herb in hot water. Tea itself is an infusion of tea leaves.
  • "Tisane" [pronounced tee-ZAHN] - which in French means any herbal drink

Common herbs used in herbal tea are peppermint, chamomile, rose hips, lemon verbena, and fennel. Some herbs have generally recognized benefits, such as rose hips which contain vitamin C, chamomile which helps many people relax, and peppermint which has a soothing effect on the stomach. Many companies today now offer herbal blends or teas that also contain dried fruit. These blends have become very popular and make a great cup of "tea" or better yet an excellent glass of "iced tea".

Q: Should I use filtered water or can I just use regular tap water when brewing my tea?
A: Some tea drinkers use filtered water, particularly in areas with unpleasant or unhealthy tap water. Although this can improve the quality of the final product, some filtration systems that filter the water and then store it in a reservoir often yield flat, odd-tasting tea. This may be because these systems produce de-oxygenated water. Therefore, if using filtered water it is recommended using the water immediately after it has been filtered, or re-oxygenating the water by pouring it vigorously between two glasses about five or six times. Another problem with filtered water is that it is usually very "soft" water, lacking the minerals normally found in well and spring water. This can also affect the flavor of your brew. One way of increasing the mineral content of filtered water is to simply add a pinch of salt.

Q: How is tea flavored?
A: Throughout its history, the flavor of tea has been enhanced by a variety of aromatic substances. In modern tea processing, there are three methods whereby tea is flavored: "scenting", actual "flavoring" and a form of blending with aromatics. Scenting a tea, literally means all that is added to the tea is a scent. Tea leaves are picked, processed, and dried. Using jasmine tea as an example, the leaves are then "layered" with jasmine flowers, i.e. stacked in thin layers of tea leaves and jasmine flowers separated by screens. For high quality teas, such as Jasmine Pearls, the flowers are changed several times and the scenting process can last up to a week. Flavoring teas is a much simpler process. In the case of Earl Grey, oil of bergamot, a Mediterranean citrus fruit has been added to the tea. The third method, which is a form of blending, involves mixing the aromatic material directly into the tea leaves. An example is chai, which is made by adding different spices to the tea.

Q: How hot should the water be when brewing tea?
A: The general rule is for black tea the water should be at the boil (200 to 212°F), for oolong tea the water should be just off the boil (180 to 200°F), and for green and white tea the water should be just steaming (170 to 180°F). In general, the closer a tea is to green, the cooler the water should be. For black and oolong tea you may want to place a tea cozy over the teapot during infusion in order to avoid any heat loss, and for green tea, don't use a tea cozy and you may want to leave the lid off the pot in order to let some heat escape. As always, experiment to find the best outcome for the type of tea you are using along with your preferred tastes.

Q: Should I be letting my kids drink tea?
A: Yes, tea is great for healthy children on a balanced diet. Make them some iced tea or better yet popsicles with one of the many delicious Herb & Fruit Teas out on the market.

Q: Why is tea sometimes bitter?
A: Tea contains tannins and if allowed to steep too long, more of the tannins are released causing what some people call a bitter taste. A dash of sugar or the addition of milk can help reduce the bitterness, as this will reduce the pH levels in the tea.

Q: I like the bagged tea I buy at the grocery store. What's all the fuss about First Flush, Super-Fine, Fancy,
A: Golden Tippy, Flowery Pekoe, Estate tea?
The whole point of drinking tea is to enjoy it and if you like the tea you're drinking now, then that's all that needs to be said. It can be fun, however, to try a new fancy tea. If you like tea in general, why not? This may entail using a teapot and/or a strainer, since bagged tea does not come in as many varieties as loose leaf. Who knows? You may actually find a new tea that you absolutely love. Check out some online tea shops who sell sample-size packs of the more expensive teas. That way you can test them out first without making a big investment up front.

Q: What are the health benefits of tea?
A: Scientific research suggests that tea is beneficial to one's health in many different ways:

  • Cardiovascular - Epidemiological studies have shown a correlation between drinking black and green tea and the lower incidence of heart disease. This is probably due to the polyphenols in tea that prevent the peroxidation of low-density lipoproteins (LDL or "bad cholesterol"), which is the precipitating factor in the development of arterial plaque which can cause strokes and heart failure.
  • Anti-Cancer - Although epidemiological studies remain inconclusive, laboratory studies strongly suggest that tea inhibits tumor growth. It has definite antioxidant properties, although there may be other reasons for its effect. Most research regarding the consumption of tea has focused on the prevention of lung, throat, and gastrointestinal cancers, but evidence also suggests a positive effect on skin and liver cancer.
  • Nutritional - The consumption of tea has been shown to lower cholesterol levels. Tea may also protect teeth, as it can contain fluoride, as well as inhibit glucosyltransferase, the enzyme that helps bacteria adhere to teeth, which leads to tooth decay. 

Q: What's the difference between loose leaf tea and tea bags?
A: Higher quality tea is usually sold as loose leaf tea. Tea in bags usually consists of lower grade tea and has a tendency to go stale much faster due to its greater surface area (and hence greater exposure to atmospheric oxygen). Bagged tea also has a tendency to pick up other odors and/or flavors from surrounding foods so be careful where you store it. Tea bags can be very convenient, especially if you are preparing tea away from home. So to help keep your bagged tea fresher longer, it may be a good idea to store it in a tightly closed metal or opaque glass container.

Q: How long should I steep my tea?
A: As a general rule, most premium high grown teas are best steeped 3-5 minutes. However, this can vary depending on the type of tea used. As a guide, start with 4-5 minutes for black tea, 3-4 minutes for oolong tea, and 2-3 minutes for white and green tea.

Q: How seriously should I take the time limits?
A: Somewhat seriously. If you've ever tasted oversteeped tea, you know that it is bitter and astringent - an all-around unpleasant experience. There is a little margin for error, but if you put the tea on to brew and forget it for half an hour or more, we recommend you start over.On the other hand, there are people who prefer their tea steeped for 10-15 minutes. Often it is because they drink their tea with large amounts of milk and sugar and therefore want to make sure they'll be able to taste the tea. Again the best recommendation is that you experiment to see what times best suit your tastes.

Q: How should I store my premium loose leaf tea?
A: Tea has many enemies, the most significant of which are: light, air, moisture, odors, and, of course, time. Thus proper storage of tea is essential. Tea should never be stored in a refrigerator. When tea comes out of a tea dryer it contains less than 3% moisture and if not stored properly it can quickly absorb moisture and ruin the quality. Thus the cold of a refrigerator would encourage water condensation, which in turn would ultimately ruin your tea. If your tea does happen to get damp, you can spread it in a pan and dry it in a low temperature oven.Tea should be kept dry and out of the light. Storage in an airtight, opaque container (metal is ideal) in a cool, dry, well ventilated place is optimal. Clear glass jars are acceptable but only if you are keeping them in a closed cupboard away from light. Over time light strips tea leaves of their color, but more importantly, the refined flavor in the leaves is also lost. The container itself should be as small as possible in order to keep the total amount of air in contact with the leaves to a bare minimum. If you buy in bulk, keep most of the tea in a large container and use a smaller one for everyday use to limit the air contact with the tea leaves.Tea also absorbs other odors easily. If you reuse containers, avoid using materials that retain odors, and be sure to let them air out completely before refilling with a different tea in order to avoid transferring any scents. Also try to avoid storing your tea near spices or aromatic foods. Once tea is tainted by an outside odor, it cannot be salvaged. When properly stored, your favorite loose leaf teas can remain untainted, fresh, and enjoyable.

Q: What about decaffeinated tea?
A: There are some brands of decaffeinated tea on the market, but unfortunately their quality is rarely very high. It is very difficult to remove caffeine from tea without degrading its quality. On the other hand, it is possible to prepare ordinary tea so as to remove most but not all of the caffeine from the finished product. Caffeine is very water-soluble, more so than many of the flavor components in tea. So a very brief infusion can remove much of the caffeine while still preserving the tea's flavor. Simply boil enough water for twice as many cups as you intend to drink, pour the normal amount of water over the leaves, and infuse for twenty to thirty seconds. Pour off the resulting brew and discard, retaining the leaves. Bring the water to a boil again and pour it over the same leaves, this time infusing them for the normal three to five minutes. This infusion is the one to drink.

About F&W

Forbes & Walker was set up in 1881 as a partnership between James Forbes and Chapmen Walker. Although there is no actual record of the date on which it was established the very first cash book, still in the possession of the Finance Director, indicates the brokerages were earned from 1st August 1881. In Sir Thomas Villiers' book “Mercantile Lore” the date of establishment of Forbes & Walker has been put down      Read More...

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