Friday, January 25, 2008

A Tea Primer

Organic Paimutan from The Good Leaf Gourmet Tea Company

I think I'll open this blog with a little info about tea. Here goes:

Legend has it that tea was first discovered almost 5000 years when a tea leaf fell into a Chinese emperors water and he decided to drink the brew. Today, tea is the second most popular beverage in the world; right after water, and in the USA, where coffee and soft drinks have ruled the non-alcoholic beverage market, enthusiasm about tea is on the rise. Experts in the industry attribute this renewed interest to the wide variety of flavorful and high quality teas now available to the sophisticated and health conscious consumer.

Many people are surprised to learn that all true tea comes from one plant, the Camellia Sinensis, and that not everything that is commonly referred to as tea is really tea. Black tea, green tea, oolong, and white tea are all correctly referred to as tea, but herbal tea and red tea are actually herbal infusions or tisanes.

The difference between black, green, oolong and white tea is the way it’s processed. In general, white tea is completely unprocessed and yields a delicate and subtle cup, green tea is minimally processed and often has a vegetal flavor, and black tea is purposefully exposed to air (oxidized) during processing, which allows the leaves to darken and take on different flavor characteristics. Oolong teas are partially oxidized, yielding teas with characteristics in common with both green and black teas.

In addition to differences in processing, teas also have different tastes because of where they were grown, the size of the leaf, and other factors. For example, green tea from Japan will taste different than green tea from China and black tea from the Assam region of India will taste different from black tea from the Darjeeling region. Some teas are sold as a single variety, which means that they come from a single tea garden or region; some, such as English Breakfast, are blends of different teas, and other teas are flavored with fruit, nuts or spices. Chai is a popular flavored tea typically made from black tea blended with a variety of spices and served sweetened and with milk.

Popular tisanes include chamomile, mint, hibiscus, rose hips, lavender, ginger, and rooibos, which is commonly called red tea. While all teas contain caffeine, most herbal infusions are naturally caffeine free. An exception to this is Yerba Maté, a popular herbal beverage that does contain caffeine.

New posts coming soon will cover tea and health, loose vs bagged tea, how to brew a good cuppa tea, cooking with tea, and using tea to lose weight.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We had the delightful experience of spending some time at The Good Leaf Tea Company this past weekend -- or as I like to call it, the oasis at the warehouse. We drove up from Manhattan to surprise Michelle and sample a few of her special teas that she brews with the passion and precision of an executive chef. It was great hanging around for the good conversation, convivial people and of course, the delicious teas. No wonder regulars kept popping in to see what's "brewing" at The Good Leaf. It was great fun for us - and we'll make the trip again. Arlen