If tea is new to you, don't be overwhelmed. Although there are about 2,000 varieties of loose leaf tea available today, all teas come from one species of plant, the Camellia sinensis. The way in which the leaves are processed gives us 5 basic types of tea, from delicate to robust.
White Tea - Made from tips of emerging buds picked at the beginning of harvest season, this type of tea is rare and expensive. The buds are withered naturally and then dried. They have a silvery appearance and give a very pale brew.
Green Tea - These leaves are quickly dried to stop oxidation shortly after being harvested. Green teas can also be scented or flavored with flower petals, fruits and/or essential oils.
Oolong Tea - For oolong, the leaves are left to wilt naturally, but to reduce their moisture content until only the outer edges of the leaves have dried. The tea is then fired to stop this oxidation, rolled and dried. This tea offers a nearly infinite spectrum of colors, aromas and flavors.
Black Tea - Whether machine picked or hand picked, the process for black teas undergoes the longest oxidation process, about two hours. During the final processing of black tea, flower blossom petals, whether whole or pounded into a powder, can be mixed with the tea leaves. For fruit-flavored black teas, essential oils and dried fruits are used.
Pu-erh Tea - A variety of fermented and aged dark tea produced in the Yunnan province of China. It undergoes a secondary oxidation and fermentation and is prized for its medical qualities. Pu-erh teas can be loose leaf or compressed into cakes.
|Use 1 tsp (2.2 grams) of tea per cup or 4 tsp per teapot.|
Water temperatures are important in obtaining the perfect cup. Different types of tea require different water temperatures. The following guidelines are offered:
Tea in teabags generally does not consist of leaves, and is referred to as “dust” or “fannings”. Because of these small siftings, tea bags produce an infusion far more quickly, with more astringency and with more caffeine than loose leaf tea.
Teabags are a popular choice, especially when time or convenience is a concern. However, purchasing higher quality loose leaf tea and making your own “teabag” by using tea filters or tea pillows, allows you to enjoy quality and convenience.
Tea is vulnerable to air, heat, light and moisture. Store your tea in air-tight, sealed containers or ceramic canisters.
The original site of tea cultivation has been debated for years, but it is generally agreed that the first tea garden was in the monsoon region of southeast Asia, then unclaimed by any nation, and now lying in an area that includes both China and India.
The tea plant
The tea plant (Camellia sinesis) is a sub-tropical evergreen plant native to Asia and now grown around the world.
Left alone, it grows up to 30 feet and bears fragrant white flowers.
The wonder and history of tea
Far more than just a beverage, tea has a rich and important history that goes back nearly 5,000 years.
According to legend, the year was 2737 BC and Chinese Emperor Shen Nung was boiling drinking water over an open fire, a regimen he followed because he believed those who drank boiled water were healthier. A few leaves from the branches of a Camellia sinensis plant fell into the pot of water. The first documented reference to tea came in 350 AD when a Chinese scholar wrote about a medicinal beverage "made from the leaves by boiling".
By the 5th century AD, tea became a major bartering tool for China, along with vinegar, rice, noodles, cabbage, fruits, and dried meats.
By the 8th century, commercial cultivation of tea has spread throughout the Chinese provinces and thereafter, into Japan, brought by a Buddhist priest after returning from his studies in China.
In the early 17th century, the first Chinese tea reached Russia by way of camel laden caravans along the silk routes.
Portuguese and Dutch traders were the first to import tea from China. The first tea reached England in 1645. Imported at a dear price from Holland, the drinking of tea was limited to the upper class, consumed at only the most elite gatherings.
Realizing the profit that the Dutch were making on England's desires for the Orients' silks, teas and spices, England charted the East India Company and began cultivating tea in India and Ceylon.
By 1670, the East India Trading Company imported tea directly to England making it possible for the working classes to enjoy this delicious new drink.
Most likely, tea came to America with the Dutch when they settled in New Amsterdam (which became New York) and it quickly spread throughout the colonies.