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Tea Basics

Tea garden

Not many know that tea is the second most popular drink after water. That's right. Also, for many nations it is not just a drink but a complex part of the culture and traditions.


Although, known in different forms, shades, flavours, tea is a very simple evergreen plant. Also known as Camelia Sinensis, tea grows two leaves and a bud that gardeners pluck to produce many teas, among which the most common are white, green, oolong and black.


Nowadays, you may find tea sourced from different regions, but its native land is Eastern and Southern Asia, primarily China, Japan and Sri Lanka. 


If you wonder how is it possible for this simple plant to produce such wide variety of flavours, colour and even look of the leaves, here is the answer.

A main process that tea leaves need to undergo is called oxidation. This is the time when leaves are left in a room that has controlled climate to oxidize and turn darker. This is also the moment, when tea producers make decisions on the darkness of the leaves, the tea liquor and even the strength and nuances of the taste of the drink when it is steeped. A good rule of thumb is that the more the leaves are processed, the stronger the flavour is. 

Then, the oxidation process is being stopped by steaming and drying and tea leaves are being shaped following different methods to form a variety of looks and allowing some of the essential oils to come through and enhance the flavours. 


The level of oxidation or exposure to the elements, is what determines whether a tea is white, green, oolong or black.

white tea


As it already probably makes sense to you, white teas are the least processed teas and among the rarest teas in the world. Harney & Sons white tea is hand plucked, unopened silver or white buds that are air-dried and often loaded with downy hairs. White teas brew a subtle blend of sweetness and vegetal flowers and have the least caffeine.




Green tea production methods vary but include oxidation and drying time with a focus to preserve the vivid green colour. Green teas normally have low caffeine content but a bit higher than in white teas.


oolong tea


Oolong tea was developed later than green and black teas. A repeated rolling process brings the tea leaves to the desired level of oxidation allowing darker colour and fuller but still light body. This tea is very fragrant and it has more caffeine than in green tea. 


black tea


Black teas range from mellow Chinese tea to full bodied Assam from India. Often they are served with milk and sugar. Black teas are withered, rolled, fully oxidized and fired in an oven. The process created the characteristic warm, toasty flavour. In the finest black teas, complex flavours similar to honey malt and cocoa develop. 


FUN FACT about HEBAL TEAS - Herbal Teas are not actual teas although we call them this way. The proper term for them is tisanes. 


Don’t be fooled by its light color into thinking that white tea is lower in caffeine than, say, a black tea. Contrary to popular belief, many white teas can actually have higher levels of caffeine than black teas because they contain more tips or buds. Very “tippy” teas, or teas that have a high tips-to-leaves ratio, usually have higher levels of caffeine than teas that do not contain many tips. (That’s what we call a “caffeine tip!”) Also, the caffeine levels in white tea buds are slightly higher than that of green or black tea, which helps protect the plant from predators during early growth stages. There are ways to mitigate the amount of caffeine in your cup of white tea, however, during the brewing process.

 Caffeine levels in tea


Before you steep, always preheat your teapot/tea mug by filling it with boiling water to raise the temperature. Discard that water or use it for something else. Heat water to the correct temperature for the particular tea (see tea packaging for instructions) and fill the teapot/tea mug by pouring it over tea. If you're using loose tea, add 1 teaspoon (5g) of loose tea for every 8 oz cup of tea you're brewing. If you're using tea sachets or tea bags, use one tea sachet or teabag per teacup. Steep for the recommended on your tea package steeping time and discard tea.


 Tea Brewing Instructions




Following the brewing timeline and water temperature, you will be able to bring out the best flavours of the tea. Always ensure that you remove the tea after the steeping time has ended to prevent from becoming too strong. Happy steeping! 

Note: First Flush Darjeeling needs to be steeped at 175° F for 3 minutes.


Tea should be stored in sealed containers such Harney & Sons tea tins and resealable bags, away from light and in a cool place. Because tea picks up flavors and odors around it, keep coffee and spices away from your tea. Even though it is dry, tea can become stale after an extended period of time, so please ensure you consume it in a timely manner. Don't let it get old!


Michael Harney rates many of our teas on three attributes. A rating of 0 indicates the tea has none of the particular characteristic and a rating of 5 indicates that it is a primary characteristic. You will find these ratings on every tea tin and also on our product pages.

Briskness Body Aroma
0-5 0-5 0-5
Refers to a tea's ability to make your mouth pucker, also known as astringency. Some astringency makes tea brisk & desirable. Too much briskness can be a problem, but may be controlled by reducing the brewing time. Refers to whether or not a tea feels thick in the mouth such as Assam or light such as a white tea. Sometimes this body comes from dissolved solids from the leaves like the Assam, and sometimes it is from all the amino acids like Ichiban Sencha. Refers to whether or not the tea has a pleasant smell, often the most prized part of tea. That makes sense, since humans can smell much better than we can taste. Sometimes the pleasant smell is teased out of the tea leaf by a skilled tea maker, sometimes it is blended.


Loose tea vs sachets vs teabags

 Loose Tea Silken Sachets Tea Bags
Connoisseurs almost always choose loose tea, because it makes the ultimate cup of tea. When leaves are smaller, the flavor is more brisk. Large leaf black teas are more mellow and complex. You can choose to buy your loose tea in a decorative, gift-worthy Harney Tin, or by the pound and refill when you'd like. Silken sachets are filled with loose tea or herbs/fruits and are pre-measured for your convenience. The pyramid shape allows for improved water flow and the tea leaves to expand, resulting in a very pleasurable cup of tea. They are available in tins of 20, 30, bags of 50 and individually wrapped. Harney teabags are good for brewing tea on the fly. Each bag provides the ideal quantity for a mug and the broken leaves infuse faster than loose tea. Teabags travel well and mean you can have a comforting cup wherever you go. Available in boxes of 20 and 50.