Introduction into the world of Tea
By Martin Murmel
Introduction into the world of Tea
What is Tea?
Most of us appreciate a wholesome and vitalizing cup of tea.
What is tea, and where does it come from?
This article is only about real tea, not herbal or fruit infusions from other plants (like peppermint or hibiscus).
All tea comes from the same plant: Camellia Sinensis.
There were originally just two variations. One is from the Southwest of China (camellia sinensis sinensis) and the second one from the Indian Northwestern province of Assam (camellia sinensis assamica).
All tea we drink today comes from hybrids or cultivars. They are crossbred to suit the environment (soil, location, altitude, etc.), the climate (rainfall, sun hours, weather conditions, etc.) or the desired end product (flavours, components, etc.).
The types of Tea
The traditional teas are divided into
The most common type in the Western world.
For black tea, the leaves undergo a process called oxidation.
The harvesting leaves are withered to reduces the moisture content. The limp leaves are now ready for the rolling.
This process breaks open the cell structure and allow the enzymes to react with the oxygen in the air.
Once the oxidation is complete, the leaves are heated to finish the production process. At this stage the brown leaves turn black - hence the name.
The above process is called the orthodox method.
Commercially relevant is also the "CTC" method. It stands for Crush-Tear-Curl and describes a shorter production mostly used for tea bag production.
Here the withered leaves are cut into smaller pieces (no rolling) and go straight into the oxidation drums.
This method only produces broken grades of low to medium quality.
India is the biggest producer of black teas, followed by Sri Lanka and Kenya.
Most people in Asian countries drink green teas.
The harvested and withered leaves are fired (mainly Chinese method) or steamed (usually in Japan) to stop any oxidation. It keeps the green appearance and fresher, more delicate aromas.
Afterwards, the leaves are rolled or shaped and dried.
Depending on country, region or tradition, there are countless variations of this process which result in various shapes, colors and tastes of green tea.
Biggest producers are China, Japan, Taiwan and Vietnam.
The least processed of all teas.
The leaves are harvested in spring, withered, dried and graded. Some natural oxidation occurs during the drying, which turns the leaves or parts thereof into a brown color.
Most white teas come from the Southeast of China, but other areas like Darjeeling in Northern India or Nepal produce now excellent white teas as well.
Oolong Tea (Wu-Long)
This type is called semi-oxidized and sits between black and green teas.
The withered leaves are shaken or rolled to allow some oxidation to occur (between 10% and 70% depending on the desired outcome).
To finish the processing of the leaves, they are rolled or shaped and dried.
Mainly Taiwan and China produce outstanding Oolongs. Nowadays, regions like Thailand, Vietnam and Darjeeling (India) catching up and turn out some unique versions of this beautiful tea.
Pu Erh Tea
It takes its name from the market town of Pu Erh in Yunnan, Southwest China.
There are two versions: raw and cooked.
For the raw Pu Erh, the production starts similar to green tea. After the withering and pan-frying the leaves are rolled and dried to mature for months, years or even decades.
To "cook" Pu Erh is a shorter process. The withered leaves are piled into heaps, moistened with water and treated with particular bacteria. The bacteria cause the leaves to ferment, and at the same time, some oxidation will occur. Therefore Pu Erh is also called post-fermented.
Due to this unique production process, Pu Erh is the only tea that needs maturing and becomes better with age.
Traditionally Pu Erh is pressed into various shapes and bricks. It made it easier to transport and store the teas.
Tea has a wide range of health properties:
- Powerful anti-oxidant
- Strengthens immune system
- Helps to reduce "bad" cholesterol (especially Pu Erh)
- Combats heart diseases
- The caffeine stimulates the central nervous system which increases focus and concentration without getting jumpy
- Acts as a germicide
- Contains fluorine which health
- Is an effective digestive
- Drinking (good quality) tea improves overall mood
- Tea is a natural remedy. To derive health benefits, you need to consume it regularly.
Besides good leaf tea, you need clean water, the right water temperature and the suitable brewing time for a flavourful cup of tea.
Different types of tea require different brewing temperatures:
- Black teas need boiling water or just below (like Darjeelings or Chinese black teas): 203°-212°F / 95°-100°C
- Green and white leaves should only be brewed with 160°-175°F / 70°-80°C hot water.
- Oolongs and Pu Erh are best around 194°-203°F / 90°- 95°C.
To get it right, a temperature-controlled kettle or a thermometer is ideal.
Here are a few brewing tips:
- Start with a pre-heated pot or cup if you can.
- Use only fresh cold water.
- Use one teaspoon (about 0.07oz or 2g) of leaves for one normal-sized cup. Always read the label for detailed instructions.
- Bring water to the required temperature and pour over the leaves.
The brewing time depends on the tea:
black requires 2-4 minutes,
green/white 1-2 minutes and
Pu Erh 3-10 minutes (see the tea label for further details).
Rinse the teapot only with hot water (no detergent).