- Tea Notes
Perhaps you may have heard by now that tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world. Second only to water, consumers across the globe are brewing, steeping, and sipping tea every day. So what is it about tea that consumers are drawn to? Why is tea continuing to grow in popularity in the United States, and globally?
Many people are surprised to learn that all teas are made from the leaves of the same plant called Camellia Sinensis, which was first cultivated in China and later introduced to the other part of the world. While the varietal of the particular Camellia Sinensis plant as well as the weather conditions and soil contribute to the final taste of the tea, the significant differences of tea type develop in the processing of the leaves.
There are two original varieties - Sinensis (smaller leaves) and Assamica (larger leaves). Another variety called Cambodia is thought to be a hybrid of Sinensis and Assamica but it is rarely used to make high quality tea.
There are many different sub-varieties of tea, each unique not only in color, but in flavor.The difference is simply that if a sub-variety is cultivated by propagation (taking cuttings of the plants to ensure an identical genetic make-up) then we tend to call it a CULTIVAR (CULTIvatedsubVARieties). This has a huge influence on the flavor and qualities of the tea.
Tea processing is five basic steps; some teas don't utilize all of these steps, while other teas repeat them several times. Basic processing is Plucking, Withering (allowing the leaves to wilt and soften), Rolling (to shape the leaves and wring out the juices), Oxidizing (see below) and Firing (i.e. Drying).
The most crucial part, what defines the categories of tea, is Oxidizing. Oxidation occurs when the enzymes in the tea leaf interact with oxygen, after the cell walls are broken apart. This can happen quickly, through rolling, cutting or crushing, or more slowly through the natural decomposition of the leaf. Actually, you see the same process in a piece of fruit. Left to sit, an apple will slowly turn brown. Cut or bruise the apple, and it will brown much more quickly.
NOTE: "Oxidation" is still referred to by some in the tea industry as "fermentation." This stems from an earlier belief that what was happening to the tea leaves was similar to fermentation of grapes into wine. Everyone now knows this is actually oxidation, but because of its long history, fermentation is still used. This is actually quite common to hear from very expert tea professionals in India, for example. (and it would be considered quite rude to correct someone from a tea-growing country otherwise)
All tea comes from the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant. Altering the shape and chemistry of the leaf, by processing produces the types or varieties of tea.The five basic styles of tea are White, Green, Oolong, Black and PuErh.
White Tea is essentially unprocessed tea. The name is derived from the fuzzy white "down" that appears on the unopened or recently opened buds - the newest growth on the tea bush. White tea is simply plucked and allowed to wither dry. That's it, really. If the weather isn't cooperating, the leaves may be put into a gentle tumble dryer on very, very low heat to assist. But the leaves are not rolled, shaped, etc. Some minimal oxidation does happen naturally, as it can take a full day or two to air-dry the tea leaves. This is why some white teas, like the classic White Peony, show leaves of differing colors (white, green and brown). White teas produce very pale green or yellow liquor and are the most delicate in flavor and aroma.
Green Tea is plucked, withered and rolled. It is not oxidized because during the rolling process, oxidation is prevented by applying heat. For green tea, the fresh leaves are either steamed or pan-fired (tossed in a hot, dry wok) to a temperature hot enough to stop the enzymes from browning the leaf. Just like blanching vegetables, really. Simultaneously, the leaves are shaped by curling with the fingers, pressing into the sides of the wok, rolling and swirling - countless shapes have been created, all of them tasting different. The liquor of a green tea is typically a green or yellow color, and flavors range from toasty, grassy (pan fired teas) to fresh steamed greens (steamed teas) with mild, vegetable-like astringency.
Oolong Tea is one of the most time-consuming teas to create. It utilizes all of the five basic steps, with rolling and oxidizing done repeatedly. These teas are anywhere from 8% oxidized to 80% (that's measured roughly by looking at the amount of brown or red on the leaf while the tea is being made). The leaves are gently rolled, then allowed to rest and oxidize for a while. They'll be rolled again, then oxidized, over and over. Over the course of many hours (sometimes days), what is created is a beautiful layering or "painting" of aroma and flavor. Oolongs typically have much more complex flavor than Green or White teas, with very smooth, soft astringency and rich in floral or fruity flavors. Because of their smooth yet rich flavor profiles, Oolongs are ideal for those new to tea drinking.
Black Tea also utilizes all five basic steps, but is allowed to oxidize more completely. Also, the steps are followed in a very linear form; they are generally not repeated on a single batch. The tea is completely made within a day. The brewed liquor of a Black tea ranges between dark brown and deep red. Black teas offer the strongest flavors and, in some cases, greatest astringency. Black teas, particularly those from India and Sri Lanka, are regularly drunk with milk and sugar and are the most popular bases for iced tea.
puerh Tea is a completely different art. It first undergoes a process similar to Green tea, but before the leaf is dried, it's aged either as loose-leaf tea or pressed into dense cakes and decorative shapes. puerh is a fermented tea (and the use of 'fermentation' is correct here, although not the type which produces alcohol). Depending on the type of puerh being made (either dark "ripe" puerh or green "raw" puerh), the aging process lasts anywhere from a few months to several years. Very old, well-stored puerhs are considered "living teas", just like wine. They are prized for their earthy, woodsy or musty aroma and rich, smooth taste.
Today, tea bags make up about 95% of all tea sales in the US. These bags, however, usually contain the cheapest tea available, producing little more than a brown-colored liquid. With this as the popular standard, it's not surprising that tea's popularity has faded.
The truth is that tea bags are a relatively new invention. When the first leaf fell in ShenNung's cup, did it have a labeled string attached? We think not. For centuries, tea was enjoyed in loose form, employing a variety of different methods to separate the leaves from the water.
The first tea bags were inadvertently made from hand-sewn silk muslin bags. Thomas Sullivan, a tea and coffee merchant from New York City, tried to cut sampling costs by sending loose tea in small silk sacks (instead of costly tins, which was what most merchants used at the time). Potential clients, confused by this new packaging, threw the tea in hot water-- bag and all. Thomas started getting many requests for these "teabags" and realized that he had struck gold. The quick and easy clean-up of the leaves (due to the fact that they were still contained in the silk bag) made it enticingly convenient. Teabags first began appearing commercially around 1904, and quickly shipped around the world.
Unfortunately, this convenience came at a high price: flavor. Using bags created the problem of improper expansion of leaves. In order for a tea leaf to fully release its flavor, it needs a great deal of room to expand. Because teas in teabags had less leg room, the quality was diminished. What was the solution? Smaller leaves. This way, they needed less room to enlarge. Due to the fact that they were hidden behind a silk screen anyway, little concern was paid to this fact.
With this decision, the slippery slope of tea began. Because size no longer mattered, merchants could purchase much cheaper grades of tea known as "fannings" or "dust." These are the lowest rankings that tea can achieve, found at the bottom of the tea barrels. This "tea" will certainly add color to your cup, but not nearly as much flavor. After this, companies began to wrap the "leaves" in paper filters, a much cheaper alternative that didn't allow water to flow through to the cup as easily, further reducing quality.
This state of tea mediocrity has now plagued the West for several decades. Most supermarkets still offer only a bottom-of-the-barrel tea product, leaving most consumers to believe that there is nothing better available. But this is a far cry from the abundance of flavor and intoxicating aroma found in a cup of full-leaf premium tea.
A complete renovation of the Western mindset on tea may seem like a long shot, but remember this: there once was a time when your choices in coffee were all canned, instant and stale. Most folks are no longer drinking instant coffee. As they begin trying loose-leaf teas, they'll push out old, stale teabags in favor of premium-quality full-leaf tea.
Hence, we at TEALEAF only sell full loose leaf tea ensuring the ultimate flavor and aroma on your tea drinking experience. Please stay away from tea bags because you deserve better tea than those found at market in tea bags.
Whether you’re new to tea or have been sipping for years, it’s important to be able to identify high-quality loose leaf tea. Simply relying on four of your senses will help you on your path to becoming a tea connoisseur. Here’s what to note each step of the way.
Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of tea processing: CTC (cut, tear, curl) and Orthodox. In the CTC method, tea leaves are sent through a machine that cuts, tears and curls them into small pellets. CTC processing is suitable for teabags and delivers a dark strong brew quickly, though sometimes at the expense of the more subtle aromas of tea. In the Orthodox (or “long leaf”) method, tea leaves are delicately handled to ensure minimal breakage. Orthodox-prepared teas are rolled, preserving the leaves’ aromatic compounds and retaining the tea’s complex flavors. Therefore, high-quality loose leaf tea should look, well, like tea leaves. Avoid loose leaf tea that looks crumbly or appears to contain a lot of stalks and woody fragments, as it will be less flavorful and complex. As you steep the tea, the leaves should unfurl slowly.
In general, high quality dried tea leaves should feel how they look: smooth, whole and sturdy. It should also have a slight heft in your hands; if your tea feels feather-light, it may be an indication that it was over-dried or is getting old. High-quality loose leaf should not crumble or disintegrate with gentle handling. Steeped tea leaves should feel slippery and smooth to the touch.
No matter what kind it is, high quality tea will have a distinct aroma. If you inhale deeply and are getting only trace amounts of scent, this could be a sign that the tea is low quality or getting old and stale. Green tea should smell grassy, light and fresh, while black tea should smell earthy, floral and sweet. When steeped, excellent tea should be deeply aromatic and amplify the unique scents of the dry tea leaves.
Great tea will have a strong, recognizable taste. Sip slowly, allowing the tea to roll over different parts of your tongue; you should be able notice different flavor notes and aftertaste. The best-tasting green tea will feel and taste smooth, bright and refreshing; while black tea has a deeper, more intense taste. Regardless of what type of tea you’re sipping, excellent tea will activate different flavor sensations on your tongue as you drink. Flavors that are barely noticeable, overly astringent or unpleasantly chemical-tasting are an indication that you are drinking low-quality or old tea.
The Tea Journey is kind of exploration and experience. It requires Tea enthusiast to soak up sensory and cerebral information in order to make connections and build expertise. Therefore, while buying tea please ask us more information about the tea we present to you, we love to talk more about it. Here are few thing you can pay attention while selecting and buying tea.
S: Season (when it was produced)
C: Cultivar (what variety of the tea plant)
O: Origin (where is it produced)
O: Picking and Processing (how is it made)
E: Elevation (how high was it grown)
Next time when you drink teas from TEALEAF, be sure to run through these four senses: sight, touch, smell and taste. The more tea you’re able to try, the easier it will become for you to tell quality and difference of our teas. Leave us a comment or send us your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org and social network pages.
No matter how expensive the tea you buy, if you brew it wrong, it's awful.
This is a lesson many beginners learn the hard way. Many people who claim they "don't like the taste" were actually repelled by an incorrectly brewed cup of tea. This can create a terrible misconception that can last a lifetime... and can also be easily avoided with better brewing techniques.
Many restaurants, cafés and households that serve tea try to cut corners by simply throwing all teas into the same temperature water and serving visitors without any direction. This makes about as much sense as opening a premium wine bar and serving white wines at room temperature, or opening a prime steakhouse and serving all steaks well done.
Steeping good tea does not take a PhD, but it is also not as simple as chucking it into boiling water and letting it stew. There are easy ways, however, to steep the perfect cup.
The trick to steeping tea correctly comes in five parts: water, weight, temperature, time and equipment.
Perfect water isn't necessary, but if your water "tastes funny", so will your tea. If your water tastes great (or does not taste at all depending on your perspective), you should be in pretty good shape. Great water will have around 150 parts per million (PPM) of balanced mineral content. For perspective, extremely hard water in several major U.S. cities is around 900+ PPM. To correct this issue, a conscientious tea shop will usually use a rather expensive reverse osmosis filtration system and a calcium carbonate cartridge to introduce the proper amount of mineral content to the water. At home, you can use a simple carbon filter water pitcher to remove the extra mineral, as well as any contaminants like chlorine.
Water that is too hard (too many minerals) will extract extra astringency from your tea and give you a harsh brew. Water that is too soft will not extract enough of the polyphenols that deliver astringency, health benefits and taste. Fresh water is also best. When water boils, oxygen is released. The Chinese call water that has been boiled "dead water". You can't get the best cup of tea from water that has been repeatedly re-boiled.
Using too much tea will make your tea bitter and your wallet empty. Too little tea will bring a weak cup and a sense of longing. The volume that is considered the "golden ratio" of leaves to water is one teaspoon of most tea leaves (approx. 3 grams) per 8 ounce cup of water. Please note this is for a traditional 8 ounce cup. Most mugs are around 10 to 12 ounces. Here's where it gets a little complicated. A large, open leaf tea like a White tea or some Oolongs may require two or more teaspoons to equal 3 grams. Broken or tightly rolled teas like Gunpowder may pack significantly more into a single teaspoon. At the end of the day, perfection is less important than keeping an eye on the leaf size and adjusting based on your taste preferences.
Some like it hot. The ideal temperature depends on the tea. Use boiling water (100c or 212f) when preparing Black, dark Oolong and Herbal teas. These teas are tough, they can take the burn, and even require it in order to break down the leaf and release the flavor. However, it's important to use cooler water when steeping more delicate teas, such as Green, Oolong and White teas. Water that is too hot will cause a delicate tea to taste overly bitter or astringent. Water that is too cool will cause a tea to taste flavorless and weak. If you don't have a thermometer or a kettle that lets you gauge temperature, you'll typically find that boiling water that is allowed to sit for 5 minutes will have dropped to roughly 82c / 180f.
They say that "time heals all wounds." However, it also makes most teas turn bitter. The rule of thumb is 3-5 minutes for most black teas (depending on your preference for strength) - any longer, and they'll become overly astringent and pucker. Dark Oolong and White teas, on the other hand, are much more forgiving. These teas will taste best when steeped for 3-5 minutes but will still be drinkable if steeped a little longer. For light Oolong and green teas, steeping for only 2 minutes, if you're looking for a strong cup- 3 minutes.
The proper equipment is also very important in the steeping process. When hot water is added, tea leaves can unfurl up to 5 times their dry size. So to make a great tea you need to give your leaves some leg room. If using an infuser basket, use as broad and deep of a basket as possible for the pot or cup you're brewing in (some barely extend a quarter of the way below the surface of the water). Commercial tea bags are not recommended, due to inadequate expansion room and low quality tea.
Which brings us to our final point. It almost goes without saying that, to make the perfect cup of tea, there is one more prerequisite: good tea. Buy the best that is within your budget. It will make a noticeable difference.
The perfect cup is out there... just brew it.