Merchant X selling Tea A, B, and C (ETS image)

Merchant X selling Tea A, B, and C (ETS image)

Tea – it’s what for dinner. Or something like that. As a general rule, I suspect that most of us who drink tea regularly don’t think much about the makeup of that tea. At least not beyond the fact that it’s black or green or white or whatnot or that it’s brought to us by merchant X or merchant Y.

But exactly what is tea made up of? I guess first and foremost the answer is water. That’s pretty obvious and I only mention it to underscore the importance of using good water for your tea. But of course there’s more to it than that.

I have to admit that this was a bit of an educational experience for me. It’s not like I went into this knowing the answers and wanting to share my wisdom with the reader. As it turns out it seems that there’s been quite a bit of research on this topic. I guess that shouldn’t be surprising, given tea’s popularity. Since this is a short article that seeks to entertain (one hopes) rather than a dissertation, I’ll confine myself to sharing a few highlights.

One listing of the components of black tea reveals that it is composed of catechins, theaflavins, thearubigins, flavonols, methylxanthines (caffeine), phenolic acids and amino acids (theanine) and provides specific details on each of these compounds. For example, you might not have been aware – as I wasn’t – that there are separate and distinct flavonols, such as quercetin, keampherol, rutin or that there are phenolic acids like caffeic acid, quinic acid and gallic acid. None of which sound terribly appetizing but as an avid fan of black tea I can attest to the fact that the parts combine to make a pretty good whole.

Here’s another take on black tea from India’s Upasi Tea Research Foundation. As they note, tea “contains a full complement of enzymes, biochemical intermediates, carbohydrates, proteins and lipids,” which they go on to describe in some detail.

Of course, with green tea being all the rage these days you might wonder what you’ll find in a cup of that. Not surprisingly, given that at all types of tea are derived from the same plant, there are a lot of things in common. For more details on all of this, as well as descriptions of each of the components, look here. This study of the relationship between tea’s components and perceived quality isn’t really geared to the layperson and the full results will cost you but it’s worth mentioning even so.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

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