Tea-Tea 101

Did you know that tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world? Water is number 1.

There are 6 different classes or types of tea – white, yellow, green, blue, red and black. The ones we use the most are green and black tea. Each type is simply determined by the colour of the liquid when the tea is brewed. This logical system of classifying tea was developed early in China during the Ming Dynasty (1368 -1644).

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

All tea comes from the same species of tea plant known as Camellia sinensis. It begs the question then that if all tea is derived from the same specie of plant how come there are different types of tea? The answer is two-fold; various climates, soils etc., combine in different ways to create a plethora of distinctive tea leaves, and secondly, how the leaves are processed/manufactured determine the individual characteristics of the tea.

ELEMENTS OF TEA PRODUCTION

There are 8 stages through which the leaves are processed before it reaches our cup. It is the 5th stage – manufacture – that determines the finished tea: white, yellow, green, blue, red or black. Manufacture refers to the methods employed to oxidize, ferment, heat, cut, curl, roll or shape the tealeaves. At times it is a combination of methods and at other times it is the single application of a method.

Stage 1: Plucking

Stage 2: Sorting

Stage 3: Cleaning

Stage 4: Primary drying/withering

Stage 5: Manufacture

Stage 6: Final drying

Stage 7: Sorting

Stage 8: Packing

GREEN TEA

Green tea is made from tea leaves that are air-dried for a short period of time to prevent oxidation (the darkening of the leaf) in order to preserve the green colour and its flavour. The ‘manufacture’ of green tea varies as there are several sub-categories of green tea and each application of ‘manufacture’ yields a different flavour of tea. The flavour of green tea will also vary depending on where – country and region in which the it was produced.

BLACK TEA

Black tea is made from leaves that have been oxidized before being heated and dried. In other words, the fresh leaves have been left to air dry for an extended period of time that results in the leaves darkening and turning black. This initial drying process is to remove some of the excess moisture from the leaves to facilitate twisting, bruising and rolling, all part of the process of the ‘manufacture’ of black tea.

After the first stage of natural drying or withering, the leaves are further dried, this time, chemically. The chemical drying sets in motion the biochemical changes necessary for high quality of tea when brewed. In other words, the chemical conversion of the juices inside of the leaf’s cells transforms into more complex liquoring compounds.

EARL GREY

We could not talk about tea and not mention one of the more popular teas around – Earl Grey. Earl Grey is a blended black tea. It does not fall into one of the original classes of tea. A blended tea is one that is made up of one of the main teas and another ingredient, such as an herb or fruit. Bergamot, a citrus, is the fruit with which black tea is blended to create Earl Grey. It is in the rind/peel of bergamot where all the essential oils are found.

All Earl Grey tea are not created equal and they differ from one blend and brand to the other. Some blends are strong with more black tea and light on bergamot while others are light on black tea and strong on bergamot.blk loose teaBUYING TEA

Leaves or Bags?

Tea leaves are far superior in flavour and quality and when you buy the leaves, well, you are actually buying the tea. On the other hand, the tea found in tea bags are made up of small pieces of cut leaves and what is known as tea fannings or tea dust. They are quick to brew but lack the full flavour and subtleties of leaf tea (tea leaves).

Branded Tea

The tea mostly available to many across the world is branded tea. That is what we buy in the supermarket. You know, the favourite box you reach for every time you cruise the tea aisle.  There are many well-established companies that have built their reputations on purveying acceptable leaf tea and have been doing so for generations. The reason these teas are branded is so that these companies can market a consistent product at a competitive price. It is the reason some of us swear by only one brand and one type of tea.

STORING TEA

Whether you buy leaves or bags, store your tea in an airtight tin, somewhere cool and away from direct sunlight.

MEASURING TEA

For leaves, average 1 teaspoon for every teacup (6 fluid ounces)

For bags, average 1 bag for every teacup (6 fluid ounces)

WATER TEMPERATURE FOR BREWING

Green tea = 170 – 180 degrees F

Black tea = 190 – 200 degrees F

STEEPING TIME

Green tea = 2 to 3 minutes

Black tea = 3 – 5 minutes

MILK & SUGAR?

We at Cooking Sense believe you should have your tea the way you like it. Add milk and sugar, or one, or neither.

COOKING SENSE

Cover tea as it is steeping, especially when using tealeaves. The steam gets to circulate at the top of the liquid allowing the leaves to open and bloom, releasing their flavour.

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Cynthia Nelson

Journalist, Cookbook Author, Lecturer, Photographer. I write about food and life in the Caribbean. My interest is in food and how it shapes our identity.