July 08, 2007

Sugar and Tea

sugarplate.jpgFor the true tea connoisseur, adding sugar to tea is a heresy as it alters the liquor enormously.

The habit of adding sugar to tea didn't come from China. It appeared in the late 17th century in Britain and is thought to have originated as a way to combat the astringency of some of the green teas that were being imported. By the late 18th century, British tea drinkers were consuming 10 times more sugar then their european counterparts. Everywhere the British went to build their empire, the habit traveled with them i.e. America, Africa, Arabia (hence the quantities of sugar that Arabs put in their mint tea).

It is however a habit to unlearn if you truly want to enjoy the fabulous variety of aromas and flavours that tea has to offer.

May 04, 2006

Storing Tea

There are four things that can harm tea: air, light, moisture, or excessive heat. Therefore to best protect your tea, store it in an air-tight, lightproof container away from moisture or heat. The foil bags that loose tea comes in, when you buy it at a good Tea shop, are good temporary storage containers. For longer term storage, the ideal container for Tea is the simple metal caddie with a narrow opening at the top (as illustrated).

With very few exceptions (Pu-Erh being the most famous), Tea is not meant to age. It is best consumed within a year of purchase. The suggestion here is that it's best to buy your tea regularly in smaller quantities.
Be careful about storing you teas with your spices. Dry Tea leaves are extremely absorbent and will absorb the aromas of anything in close proximity.

November 16, 2005

The four types of tea

Tea is harvested after each flush - the sprouting of the top two leaves and bud. The top two leaves and bud are hand plucked and then processed into any of the four types of tea, which are Black, Green, Oolong, and White.
Black tea is withered, fully oxidized (fermented) and dried. Black tea yields a hearty, amber-colored brew. It is the type of tea most consumed in the West. Some of the popular black teas include English Breakfast, and Darjeeling.
Green tea skips the oxidizing step. It is simply withered and then dried (sometimes roasted). It has a more delicate taste and is pale green / golden in color.
Oolong tea, popular in China, Taiwan and Japan, is withered, partially fermented (between 30% and 70%), and dried. Oolong is a cross between black and green tea in color and taste.
White tea is the least processed. A very rare tea from China, White tea is not oxidized or rolled, but simply withered and dried by steaming.
The main chemical substances in tea are essential oils, caffeine, and polyphenols (mistakenly known by many people as tannins). The essential oils give us the aroma of the tea, the caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, and the polyphenols account for the much publicized antioxidant and anti-disease properties.
Tea is not to be confused with herbal infusions. Herbal infusions are packaged like tea, infused like tea, and enjoyed like tea, however the herbs do not come from the camellia sinensis bush and therefore are not teas (see previous article). Herbal infusions are made of grasses like lemongrass, barks like cinnamon, fruits like orange peel, flowers like chamomile and hibiscus, and many other botanicals.

November 15, 2005

All tea comes from a single plant ...

camelliasinensis.jpgAll tea comes from a single plant, the "Camellia sinensis", an evergreen shrub that may grow up to 18 meters in the wild. When cultivated for harvest the tea bushes are kept to a height of about 1 meter (by constant picking). There are over 3000 varieties of tea each with its own specific characteristics. The naming and growing of teas has many similarities to wine. Just as Bordeaux wine is named after the Bordeaux region in France, Assam is named after the Assam region in India, and Keemun is named after the Keemun region of China. Like wine, tea comes from one bush, and where the tea is grown, the climate, soil conditions, and how the tea is processed, determines the flavor characteristics of the tea.