All the world's varieties of tea are produced from one species of evergreen shrub. Most of the differences among varieties are the results of growing conditions and modifications in processing techniques.

As in the case of coffee, different regions produce teas of different quality and flavor characteristics. Most of the tea consumed in North America is imported from India and Sri Lanka (Ceylon).

Variations in processing produce three categories of tea. Black tea is fermented by allowing the freshly harvested leaves to oxidize in a damp place. Green tea is dried without fermenting. Oolong tea is partially fermented to a greenish-brown color. Specialty teas and flavored teas are also available.

Black teas are graded by leaf size according to a rather complicated system.This is important to remember because most people think of orange pekoe as a variety of tea, whereas it is actually a specific leaf size of any black variety.

After grading, teas are blended to ensure consistency and uniformity. A blend may contain as many as 30 individual teas.

Many excellent blends are available from many purveyors. A smart food service operator would do well to shop around rather than serve the same mediocre blend the competition serves.

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