Tea is made from the young, tender leaves of the tea tree. The differences among the many kinds of tea available are based on the particular methods used to process the leaves. The key to the whole process is the roasting and fermentation. Through fermentation, the deep green leaves become reddish-brown in color. The longer the fermentation, the darker the color of the tea becomes. Depending on the length of the roasting time and degree of fermentation, the fragrance can range from floral, to fruity, to malty.
To make a good pot of tea, one must pay close attention to the quality of the water, water temperature, the amount of tea leaves used, and the type of teapot. Soft water (water with a low mineral content) that is clear and fresh is required to steep tea; hard chlorinated water should always be avoided. The correct water temperature required varies from tea to tea; for most fully fermented and moderately fermented kinds it should be near boiling; and this may be lower at 90°C or less fermented or green teas.
The proportion of tea leaves to water depends on the type of tea leaves used. The teapot may be filled from one-quarter to three-quarters full with tea leaves, depending on how tightly curled the tea leaves are as a result of the rolling and roasting processes. The teapot is then filled with water. The steeping time starts at one minute, but this varies for each tea. The time required for subsequent brews must be proportionally longer. The best kind of teapot to use for most fermented teas is the purple-clay ceramic pot. The size of the pot must be in the correct proportion relative to the size of the cups. Ideally, the cups should have white interiors, to facilitate accurate assessment of the color of the tea.
Tea contains vitamins, tea derivatives, essential oils, and fluoride. It is a diuretic, with the properties of improving the eyesight and increasing alertness, thus Chinese in general believe that frequent tea drinkers enjoy an increased life span. Its medical properties and benefits to the human body are been scientifically proven, and tea has slowly come to be recognized as a natural health food.