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Tea 101 by Preston Powell

I’m new to tea. Where does tea come from?

All teas (black, green, oolong, white and pu-erh) come from the camellia sinensis plant, which grows mainly in tropical and sub-tropical climates. What makes each tea different is how they are grown, harvested, processed and oxidizied.

There are 3 principal varieties of the camellia sinensis plant that are used to cultivate tea : camellia sinensis typically is used to make green and white teas (China, Japan), camellia sinensis assamica typically is used to make black and pu;erh tea (India, Sri Lanka), and camellia sinensis cambodiensis which is used less frequently. And from these main varieties, there are thousands of sub-varieties and sub-styles.

Are herbal teas actually tea?

Technically, any “tea” that does not come from the camellia sinensis plant isn’t actually a “tea” at all. These herbs fit into their own categories. For instance, Rooibos, or red tea, comes from a South African bush. Rooibos, just like most herbal hot water infusions, is naturally caffeine free, yet it contains many of the same beneficial properties associated with tea and is part of the legume family.

Will tea go bad?

The shelf life of tea and strength of the flavor is largely dependent on how the tea is stored. Keeping your teas away from light, heat and moisture will ensure the highest quality and long shelf life. If stored properly tea is good for one year.

What is the best way to store my tea?

Teas are best stored dry out of direct sunlight and away from heat and kept as air tight as possible. Tea will absorb any surrounding aromas and also can be damaged by UV light. Storing teas in metal tin canisters are ideal for at home and pocket wooden bamboo canisters work well to store your tea on the go.

What can I do with used tea leaves?

After you steep tea, you can compost it back into the garden or use it as a room deodorizer. Plants also love used tea leaves. Try it for yourself—you and your plants will be thrilled.

Preston Powell is the founder of Teagevity, a local company that sells over 65 varieties of organic loose tea, herbs, tisanes and tea gear. Teagevity is available weekly at the Nyack Farmer’s Market in Nyack and the NEW Playhouse Market in Nyack, and also can be purchased online. For more information, contact 353-8505 or visit

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