Tea information & reviews

Tea information & reviews

Tea is an aromatic beverage commonly prepared by pouring hot or boiling water over cured leaves of the Camellia sinensis, an evergreen shrub native to Asia. More »

 

What is Tea?

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What is tea?
That’s a good question! Tea is the second most consumed drink in the world, surpassed only by water. An often-surprising fact to tea novices is that all teas (Black, Green, Oolong, White, and Pu’erh) come from the same plant. The scientific name of this versatile plant is Camellia sinensis (it’s actually related to the lovely camellia flowers seen in botanical gardens and landscapes). Camellia sinensis is a sub-tropical, evergreen plant native to Asia but is now grown around the world. The tea plant grows best in loose, deep soil, at high altitudes, and in sub-tropical climates. So, in short, “tea” is anything derived from the Camellia sinensis plant. Anything else, while sometimes called “tea”, is more accurately referred to as an herbal tea or tisane. Tisanes include chamomile, rooibos and fruit teas. We’ll learn about those in a minute.

Tea refers to the agricultural product of the leaves, leaf buds, and internodes of Camellia sinensis, prepared and cured by various methods. “Tea” also refers to the aromatic beverage prepared from such cured leaves by combination with hot or boiling water and the colloquial name for the Camellia sinensis plant itself.

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Tea is the most widely-consumed beverage after water. It has a cooling, slightly bitter, astringent flavor.

The four types of tea most commonly found on the market are Black Tea, Oolong Tea, Green Tea and White Tea, all of which can be made from the same bushes, processed differently, and in the case of fine white tea, grown differently. Pu-Erh Tea, a double-fermented tea, is also often classified as among the most popular types of tea.

The term “herbal tea” usually refers to an infusion or tisane of fruit or herbs that contains no Camellia sinensis. The term “red tea” either refers to an infusion made from the South African Rooibos plant, also containing no Camellia sinensis, or, in Chinese and other East Asian languages, is a term for black tea.

 

What is in tea?
The three primary components of brewed tea (also called the “liquor”) are:
1. Essential Oils – these provide tea’s delicious aromas and flavors.
2. Polyphenols – these provide the “briskness” or astringency in the mouth and are the components that also carry most of the health benefits of tea.
3. Caffeine – found naturally in coffee, chocolate, tea and Yerba Mate, caffeine provides tea’s natural energy boost.
How the leaves are processed will determine their final classification as black, green, etc. We’ll discuss these styles of tea in the next lesson.
Although tea is one of the most enjoyed beverages worldwide, its culture can be very “local.” For example, most tea drinkers in Darjeeling, India have never had (or even heard of) a Taiwanese Pouchong. In China, most people do not drink black tea. The centuries-old Japanese tea ceremony uses powdered, rare Matcha tea, which most folks in black tea-loving Sri Lanka have never tasted. Tea is a truly special, uniting thing, especially when you imagine how so many tea-drinking cultures developed all on their own. America’s own newly found tea culture is unique because we actually enjoy all types of tea (white, green, oolong, black and pu’erh). No other country can claim that distinction. The amount of knowledge to be shared and tea to be enjoyed is tremendous. TeaClass seeks to help in this process by providing accurate and insightful tea knowledge.

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How is it grown?
The tea plant, which grows naturally in the wild throughout much of Asia, is cultivated in a variety of settings from small family gardens to giant estates covering thousands of acres. The best tea is usually grown at higher elevations, and often, on steep slopes. The terrain requires these premium teas to be hand-plucked, and it takes around 2,000 tiny leaves to make just one pound of finished tea. If that sounds crazy, keep in mind these methods have been around for several millennia. Many of the teas produced for large scale commercial production are grown on flat, lowland areas to allow for machine harvesting. However, it should be noted that some of the finest, hand-plucked teas in the world come from flat fields and lower altitude. So, how the tea is grown is just one of many factors to be considered.

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Teas which are processed in the traditional fashion are called Orthodox teas. Orthodox teas generally contain only the top two tender leaves and an unopened leaf bud, which are plucked carefully by hand and then processed using five basic steps, creating the thousands of varieties of tea we know and love today (note: While tea plants do have small flowers, the “buds” tea people refer to are the young, unopened leaves, not flowers). Most Orthodox tea production these days involves a unique combination of age-old methods, such as bamboo trays, to allow the leaves to wither on, and modern, innovative machinery, like leaf rollers carefully calibrated to mimic motions originally done by hand. A true art form, the tea is handled by artisans with often generations of training from the moment of plucking to when the tea is finished. For some teas, one batch can take several days of work.

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The other way of making tea is the Unorthodox method, of which the most common type is CTC (crush-tear-curl). This much faster style of production was specifically created for black tea. These teas may or may not be plucked by hand. For commercial production, large machine harvesters are used to “mow” the top of the bushes to get the new leaves. CTC production uses a leaf shredder which macerates the leaves (crushing, tearing, and curling them, hence the name) into fine pieces. They are then rolled into little balls. The result looks quite a bit like Grape Nuts cereal, actually. These teas will brew very quickly and produce and a bold, powerful cup of tea. Crush-tear-curl is usually used primarily in the tea bag industry, as well as in India to create Masala Chai blends (due to their strength and color).

What is White Tea?

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How to Properly Brew and Enjoy White Tea

White tea (白茶) is the uncured and unoxidized tea leaf. Like green, oolong and Black Tea, white tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant. White tea is fast-dried, while Green Tea is roasted in an oven or pan (while kept moving for even curing). Oolong and black teas are oxidized before curing.

White tea often contains buds and young tea leaves, which have been found to contain lower levels of caffeine than older leaves, suggesting that the caffeine content of some white teas may be slightly lower than that of green teas.

White tea is a specialty of the Chinese province Fujian 福建. The leaves come from a number of varieties of tea cultivars. The most popular are Da Bai (Large White), Xiao Bai (Small White), Narcissus and Chaicha bushes. According to the different standards of picking and selection, white teas can be classified into a number of grades, further described in the varieties section.

White tea is an especially gentle, delicate tea, and therefore requires special preparation to fully enjoy it’s potential. To begin with, because of the especially light nature of White Teas, only the purest water should be used. Filtered or purified water with plenty of oxygen is best. Using the best quality water that you can ensures a quality cup of white tea. Never use hard water, or water that has been sitting in your kettle for a day or more.

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Add more tea leaves if you are brewing loose leaf white tea. Because white tea leaves are much less dense and compact than other types of tea leaves, you will probably want to increase the amount of dry leaves you use to brew your white tea. Typically 2 teaspoons per 8 ounces is adequate, but you should consult the instructions that came with your white tea for the perfect measurement.

When brewing white tea leaves, the most important thing is the temperature of the water. Most people agree that the ideal temperature to brew white tea leaves in is 170 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit (around 80 degrees C). You may heat the water to that temperature and then pour it on top of the dry tea leaves, however to get an optimal flavor you may even wish to heat the water to a rapid boil, then allow the boiled water to cool to 170-180 degrees before adding it to the tea leaves.

The second most important thing when brewing white tea is steeping time. Most tea companies will indicate on the packaging how long you should steep the tea leaves for, although in general 3-5 minutes is adequate for white tea. If you do not brew the tea leaves long enough, you will be a left with a very weak brew that tastes mostly like hot water. If you brew the leaves too long, white tea leaves can easily become very bitter. Make sure you remove the leaves before the brew becomes bitter!

Sugar and/or milk products should not be added to white tea as they can easily overwhelm the brew and take away most of the flavor, as well as losing a lot of the health benefits of white tea. Overall you should use your own experimentation along with the above guidelines to prepare a cup of white tea that is truly delicious!

Brewing

Generally, around 2 to 2.5 grams of tea per 200 ml (6 ounces) of water, or about 1.5 teaspoons of white tea per cup, should be used. White teas should be prepared with 80°C (180°F) water (not boiling) and steeped for 2 to 3 minutes. Many tea graders, however, choose to brew this tea for much longer, as long as 10 minutes on the first infusion, to allow the delicate aromas to develop. Finer teas e3xpose more flavor and complexity with no bitterness. Lower grade teas do not always stand this test well and develop bitter flavors or tannins. On successive brews (white teas produce three very good brews and a fourth that is passable), extend the time by several minutes per. The third brew may require as long as 15 minutes to develop well. Temperature is crucial: if it is too hot, the brew will be bitter and the finer flavors will be overpowered.

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