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Why is There Oil in My Tea?

Sometimes when steeping a tea – you may notice a small oil slick floating on the surface of the tea liquor. This is likely to occur when steeping teas that have been pan-fired. The oil comes from the tea-seeds, and is applied to the pan to help the leaves slide around as they are handled as well as to keep the leaves from burning. In Heiss’ “The Story of Tea,” they explain that “the solidified oil is the simple oil expelled from the leaves of tea bushes that are periodically left to grow, flower, and seed. Tea-seed oil is solid at room temperature, so it can be molded into a stick and encased in a tube reminiscent of an over-sized, old-fashioned grease-pen. In this way the solidified oil can be exposed gradually and applied as needed. Artisan tea-firers keep a stick of this handy on the edge of the pan and use it to apply the thinnest possible ‘haze’ of oil.” This is not a sign of good or bad quality, just a friendly reminder that the leaves were processed by hand in a heated pan.