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All about tea (or at least a little).
ďIt's always tea-time.Ē
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Chinese people are believed to have enjoyed tea drinking for more than 4,000 years. They claim that it takes more than a lifetime to sample and discover all the tea from the countryís tea gardens.
The story of tea began in ancient China over 5,000 years ago. According to legend, Shen Nung, an early emperor was a skilled ruler, creative scientist and patron of the arts. His far-sighted edicts required, among other things, that all drinking water be boiled as a hygienic precaution. One summer day while visiting a distant region of his realm, he and the court stopped to rest. In accordance with his ruling, the servants began to boil water for the court to drink. Dried leaves from the near by bush fell into the boiling water, and a brown liquid was infused into the water by the wayward leaves. As a scientist, the Emperor was interested in the new liquid, drank some, and found it very aromatic and refreshing. And so, according to legend, tea was created. (This myth maintains such a practical narrative, that many mythologists believe it may relate closely to the actual events, now lost in ancient history.)
A very similar version says that a Chinese emperor was sitting under a tree when leaves fell into the pot of water he was boiling. He drank the water and found, to his surprise, that it made him feel uplifted and revitalized. He concluded that the leaves had caused this and so brought some back for further experimentation. This small incident triggered the beginning of tea drinking in China and in the world.
Yet another legend has it that Yan Di, one of three rulers in ancient times, tasted all kinds of herbs to find medical cures. One day, as he was being poisoned by some herb he had ingested; a drop of water from a tea tree dripped into his mouth and he was saved. For a long time, tea was used as an herbal medicine.
Further, a Chinese legend, which spread along with Buddhism, Bodhidharma is credited with discovery of tea. Bodhidharma, a semi-legendary Buddhist monk, founder of the Chan school of Buddhism, journeyed to China. He became angered because he was falling asleep during meditation, so he cut off his eyelids. Tea bushes sprung from the spot where his eyelids hit the ground. Sometimes, the second story is retold with Gautama Buddha in place of Bodhidharma.
Whether or not these legends have any basis in fact, tea has played a significant role in Asian culture for centuries as a staple beverage, a curative and a symbol of status. It is not surprising its discovery is ascribed to religious or royal origins. The fact is that the Chinese have enjoyed tea for centuries: Scholars hailed the brew as a cure for a variety of ailments, the nobility considered the consumption of good tea as a mark of their status and the common people simply enjoyed its flavor.
While one variety of tea may contain less caffeine than another, all teas do contain caffeine. The average cup of black tea contains 50-75 mg of caffeine, less than half the amount found in coffee. The average cup of green tea contains 30-50 mg of caffeine. White is around 5-15mg and most tisanes are caffeine-free.
When decaffeinated at a factory, typically, either a Co2 or chemical process is utilized. In our personal opinion, we are exposed to an abundance of chemicals in or daily living without the necessity of voluntarily submitting ourselves to more. Also, in some taste comparisons we have found that the Co2 process alters the taste ever so slightly. Isnít taste and quality what drinking loose leaf tea is all about?
There is a popular myth that 80 to 90% of the caffeine comes out in the first 30 to 45 seconds of brewing. It has been determined that it actually take 15 minutes of steeping time to remove the caffeine. However, while the caffeine is removed during this period, the tannic acids are released, not making a very pleasant cup.
Four ways to judge tea
1) By the look; The shape of the leaf, and the color. The shape varies for different kinds of tea. The unbroken tea leaf is always preferable. Good green teas in general are smaller, more delicate buds and leaf, and oolongs are a bigger leaf where the 'created' edge is obvious. Broken leaves are also a sign of machine-harvested tea. However, some tea, especially black tea, is cut to provide for stronger taste. Also, many oolongs are deliberately 'bruised' or abraded to give flavor and improve appearance. Both the dry leaves and wet leaves should be examined (wet leaves when they are fully opened). There is a lot to be learned from the wet leaf, like how the leaf was oxidized. With green teas, hand fired leaves will be a little bit yellow, steamed tea has the look of a leafy green vegetable, like spinach and baked green tea will be a very dark green. Upon brewing the tea it should become close to the color it was when it was picked. Age will affect the color of the tea water, causing it to be brown or very murky green. The color of black tea water should be bright reddish gold and should leave a ring in the cup. With oolongs the dry tea leaves can be anywhere from bright green to dark green/brown dependant upon processing.
2) By the smell; Generally, there are two smells to consider, the dry smell and the wet smell. The dry smell should be obvious. If there is no smell to the dry leaves they are very suspect. Green tea should have a light, fresh, soothing fragrance, from a light orchid to a chestnutty smell. Black tea should have a sweet, floral fragrance, and the smell should not be easily lost. The aroma of dry Oolongs can range from peach to floral to sweet corn. In judging scented tea, the aroma should be maintained over multiple infusions. If a scented tea loses it's smell quickly, the quality is poor. The fragrance of a tea is just as important in judging a tea as its taste.
3) By touch; Determine if the tea leaves are smooth or coarse, whether or not it crumbles easily, and whether it is heavy or light. A good green tea feels smooth, not coarse, and the wet leaves should be tender. Others varieties may be heavy and dense. Wet tea leaves from these will generally be tender, almost like silk, but also sturdy. Whatever the tea, it should not crumble easily; if it does, it has been baked too long or is too old.
4) By the taste; The best way to judge a tea, of course, is by the taste. Green tea should taste fresh, not stale, and should not be too astringent. Black tea should be full bodied and fresh. In general, good tea has a sweet aftertaste and should feel very slippery going down the throat. The aftertaste should linger for a noticeably long time, like the feeling you have after listening to music, when a good tune lingers. Remember that tasting tea is like tasting wine: slurp it to aerate it, let it slide down the middle of the tongue in one sip, and down the sides of the tongue in the next, followed by the whole tongue with big slurping. Pay attention to the subtleties and the complexity of the tea. A large part of learning to appreciate tea is learning to slow down and pay attention to the subtleties.
Tea Description Abbreviations
CTC: Cut, tear & curl
BP1: Broken Pekoe, largest size part. (primary grade)
PF1: Pekoe Fanning particles slightly smaller than BP-1.(primary grade)
PD: Often black and finer than PF-1.(primary grade)
D1: Made up of the smallest particles.(primary grade)
F1: Fanning, mixture of blacks, quite useful in tea bags. (secondary grade)
D: Dust, tiny bits of broken leaves, produces very colory liquors. (secondary grade) (orthodox)
BMF: Broken Mixed Fanning, fibrous lots with very little trace of black teas. (secondary grade)
P: Pekoe, the youngest bud, shaded and tender- with white downy hairs- underneath the top two leaves. Largest of the leaf grades, demanded more for itís quality appearance than for the cup quality. (orthodox)
FP: Flowery Pekoe, neater and more even than pekoe, curly and free of stalk and flax. (orthodox)
FOP: Flowery Orange Pekoe, Elongated, whole leaves with some bud content. The highest grade of orthodox picked tea. Demanded more for appearance than the liquors. (orthodox). FOP can be modified with adjectives like: Tippy, Golden, Super Golden flowery, Finest Tippy, etc. What these all mean usually depend on where the tea was grown.
OP: Orange Pekoe, fancy looking containing tightly rolled leaves, contains no tips and is thin and light in liquors. (orthodox)
BOP: Broken Orange Pekoe, contains good amount of tips and smaller particles with both good appearance and cup qualities. (orthodox)
BOPF: Broken Orange Pekoe Fanning, smallest of all grades giving it good strong flavor and colory liquors. (orthodox)
Orthodox Method: Means that humans went out into the tea gardens and picked the leaves.
O: Orange - (as in Flowery Orange Pekoe) refers to the Dutch royal dynasty of Orange and means a royal tea, (i.e., a tea of the highest quality).
NOSB: The National Standards Board of the USDA
NOP: National Organic Program
Tippy: Means there is a high bud content to the tea.
How to Brew a Great Pot of Tea
Preparation of you tea is actually rather quite simple. No matter what type you choose, any tea or herbal the method will remain the same, the difference will be the water temperature and length of steeping time. Remember it is all a matter of taste preference. Donít be afraid to experiment and let your palate be the guide. With a little practice youíll be off and making what you consider your perfect cuppa!
1. Bring fresh cold water to a full boil (almost to a boil for white or green teas and tisanes).
2. Warm your teapot with several ounces of hot water for about 30 seconds and then empty. It is important to preheat the pot or cup in which the tea will be steeped. If hot water is poured into a cold vessel, the temperature of the water will drop too quickly and the full flavor of the tea will not be extracted.
3. Add 1 tsp. of tea for each 6 - 8 oz. cup you are making (depending upon how strong of a cup you like). Since different teas have widely varying leaf size, it is important to adjust the amount of dry leaves accordingly. With lighter weight teas use more, with tightly rolled leaves use less.
4. Rinse the leaves. Pour water over the leaves and allow to set just a few seconds. Pour the tea out.
5. Fill your pot again with water. Cover and let steep for recommended times. The time it takes for tea to brew depends on the leaf size. The smaller or more delicate the leaf, the faster the tea infuses. Until familiar with a particular tea, steep for a minute or two, then taste. Pay attention to the taste rather than the color. Most green, oolong and white teas are good for multiple infusions. Just add fresh hot water to the pot and increase the steeping time slightly for each subsequent infusion. Repeat until the flavor starts to fade.
Tips for a Perfect Pot of Tea
1. Use fresh cold water. The best tea is only as good as the water with which it is prepared. We recommend using filtered or bottled spring water with a natural mineral content that is neither too hard nor too soft. Distilled water is not recommended since water purified of its mineral content produces a flat tasting infusion. The freshness of the water is important as fresh water contains more oxygen, which enhances the taste of the tea.
2. Water drawn from the hot water supply or water that has been previously boiled and re-heated will have a lower oxygen level. This will result in a flat and dull tasting tea with little aroma.Oxygen is important for the release of flavors in your tea.
3. If your water supply is highly treated with chemicals (most tap water), you might consider filtering it to remove some of the chlorine and other contaminants, or use bottled water.
4. Like stronger tea? Add more tea leaves rather than using a longer steeping time. Letting your tea steep too long can give a bitter taste. A longer steeping time will add a bitter taste because too many tannins are released.
5. When trying a new tea, make one cup at a time and taste it at the lowest steep time and then at each one minute intervals. Some teas/tisanes will taste optimal with less brewing, some with more.
6. Keep in mind all recommendations on amounts and lengths of steeping times are general rules. Water temps don't have to be measured. Your tastes and preferences will be established with experimenting with amounts and times. With practice, your friends and neighbors will be calling you for recommendations on how to brew tea!
TEA WATER TEMPERATURE STEEP TIME
180* (when air bubbles start to form) 1-3 min
180* (when air bubbles start to form) 2-3 min
Oolong 195* (just under a full boil) 2-4 min
212* (full boil) 3-5 min
Herbal Tisanes 180* (when air bubbles start to form) 3-7 min
Note: These directions in general, refer to loose leaf tea. Most tea that is pre-packaged in tea bags are "crumbs left over" of higher grades of tea leaves. Does this mean you can't get a higher quality tea to brew in a tea bag? No. It just means 'most'. The fine pieces of tea leaves are meant to give a 'quick brew' and are noticeably weaker on multiple infusions.