TEA TUTORIAL, OVERVIEW
❀ Tea comes from two distinct varieties of flowering plants in the family Thaceae: Camellia sinensis var. sinensis (indigenous to western Yunnan in China) and Camellia sinensis var. assamica (indigenous to the Assam region of India, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and southern China). Tea has been cultivated for many centuries, which has resulted in a great number of hybrids. Some teas are named after the region in which they are grown, other teas have specific names. In most regions, the best-quality tea is plucked by hand (workers who harvest the leaves by hand are called "pluckers").
❀ The so-called "orthodox method of tea processing" includes five basic stages. The freshly plucked leaves may undergo one or more of the following processes:
Withering: Fresh, green leaves and buds are softened by withering. Withering can take from 10 to 24 hours, or only about 4-5 hours when white tea is processed. Without withering, tea leaves produced an unpleasant, bitter taste.
Rolling: After withering, the leaves are rolled, either by machine or by hand (rare). This serves to twist the leaves and crush them, releasing the sap and exposing it to oxygen, which stimulates fermentation.
Oxidation (fermentation): During the oxidation, the colour of the leaves changes from green to copper, and the aroma, flavour, and colour of the tea are determined.
Drying, or desiccation: The oxidized leaves are dried with hot air (85-88 degrees Celsius). Copper-coloured leaves turn the dark brown or black. Note that drying time is critical. If the leaves retain too much moisture they are subject to mold, if they are allowed to dry out too much, they produce tea that tastes burned or flavourless.
Grading, or sorting: The dried tea leaves are separated into different leaf grades, depending on the size of the leaf particles.
❀ Tea Legend: Prince Bodhidharma devoted his full attention to the meditation of Buddha, and vowed to meditate without falling asleep for many years. After five years, he was desperate to keep himself awake. In search for a cure, he pulled leaves off a nearby bush and began chewing on them. Fortunately, the leaves came off a tea bush and revived him immediately. He used the leaves of this shrub over and over again, until his 9-year vow was complete. He introduced the tea shrub to the monks of the temple to help them stay awake during long periods of meditation. The History of Tea began. This is one of the most famous legends about the discovery of tea and, like many other legends, it has endless variations. Reference: Laura Martin, The Drink That Changed The Wold.
❀ Grades of Black tea are whole leaf, broken leaf, fannings, and dust. In general, whole leaf, which includes the tender tips and buds, produces the finest-quality tea, while fannings and dust are generally used to make the quick-brewing teas used in tea bags.
❀ Quality of Tea, Whole Leaf:
OP - Orange Pekoe is the most basic or first grade of whole-leaf black tea. "Orange" does not refer to colour or flavour, but to the Netherlands' House of Orange.
FOP - Flowery Orange Pekoe.
GFOP - Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe.
FTGFOP - Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe.
SFTGFOP - Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe, the highest-quality FOP.
FBOPFEXS - Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe Fancy Extra Special.
P - Pekoe, is low to medium quality.
FP - Flowery Pekoe, leaves rolled into a round or ball shape, is medium quality.
PS - Pekoe Souchong, has coarser leaves, is medium quality.
S - Souchong, has large leaves rolled lengthwise, is used to make China smoked teas, medium to high quality.
Broken leaf (BOP): are not inferior to whole leaf teas, they just make the tea stronger.
Fannings (BOPF): small, flat pieces of broken OP used to make strong, robust teas. These teas are not as high quality as whole or broken leaf.
Dust (D, or CTC): the dregs left over from the tea processing, bits of broken leaves. Dust is produced by the orthodox method, while CTC is the result of a mechanized process. CTC tea, called an unorthodox tea, takes its name from the mechanical "crush, tear, and curl" process used to get cheap, uniform, but inferior tea. It brews quickly, in two to three minutes. CTC us often viewed as the best tea for making Chai.
❀ Pu-erh is a "Living" Tea. There are two types of tea we in the West commonly refer to as Pu-erh: Raw Pu-erh (Sheng tea) and Ripe Pu-erh (Shou tea). The difference is in the aging process. Raw Pu-erhs are typically fermented very slowly by being stored in cellars and aged for up to 25 years. Raw Pu-erh vintages are characterized by warm tones of earth, damp moss and oak that shift and shape during the aging process. On the other side of the coin is Ripe Pu-erh, processed according to a method developed at the Kunming tea factory in 1973. The Kunming factory devised the method in an effort to make Puerh teas available to ordinary tea drinkers in China. When making Ripe Pu-erh, the tea is fermented over a matter of weeks under heavy wet blankets. During fermentation, the tea develops characteristics very similar to that of aged Pu-erh. The leaf is then pressed into a cake-like form, wrapped, dated and shipped to market. Certainly, extremely small quantities of White Pu-erh had been produced in the past, but these were generally scooped up by the cream of Chinese society, government officials or tea loving high rollers in Hong Kong and Macau. This all changed with the democratization of the Chinese economy. This development saw a rise in the overall standard of living in China and with it, new interest rare specialty teas. These rare teas, White Pu-erh among them, are generally only produced for the internal market. From time to time however, they can be purchased and brought over to the West. Pu-erh Mandarins: Besides the obvious fact that the tea is packed in an mandarin (tangerine), the care of craftsmanship used to get it in there cannot be underestimated. From the careful plucking of centuries old tea bushes, to the rolling on wide wicker baskets to the natural wood fires used to flash heat the mandarin orange peel, everything is done entirely by hand. One of the China's most interesting and uniquely rare teas. - Reference: The Metropolitan Tea Company Ltd.
❀ Chai is a sweet concoction made from black tea, milk, sugar, and spices, including cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, clove, bay leaf, nutmeg. Bubble tea: is a cold infused tea with tapioca pearls and various sweet flavourings. Tapioca pearls is made from the root of cassava mixed with brown sugar or caramel. Bubble tea is enormously popular in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Sherpa is a blend of oolong and Darjeeling teas that can be brewed even with lower water temperatures. This makes it great for brewing at high elevations such as the Himalayan home of Sherpa people where it is difficult to get water to boil. Rooibos: Red tea or read bush tea is made from the leaves of a plant native to South Africa, Aspalathus linearis. It is known that rooibos is high in antioxidants, less than in green tea, but more than in black tea, and it has no caffeine, so it can be consumed in larger quantities without a side effect.
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