Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tea - tracing its flavorful journey - Part Three

All teas come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. 
The best of them grow at high altitudes and in damp tropical regions. 
The way and length of time tea is processed is what makes teas different.
 Fine teas, like fine wines, come from many regions, the best from one or another particular producer and from one or more growing places referred to as tea plantations or tea gardens.
 As with wines, different years produce different tea qualities, and different soil and the kind of water makes a difference. 
Freshly drawn spring water makes the finest tea.
With the exception of one variety, tea does not improve with age, as does wine. 

Storage in a tightly sealed tin is best. 
Though some say tea stored that way can last a year or so, be advised that tea less than six months old is better because fresh leaves make better tea.

Tea leaves are picked three or more times a year. 

How they are handled makes for differences as does whether the leaves are sprayed, the types of fertilizers used, how the leaves are picked, and how the four-part oxidation processing is done.
Tea leaves must be carefully dried and withered. 

Then they can be rolled, and are fermented, heated, or fired at near 200 degrees Fahrenheit to reduce their moisture content to about five percent. 
After that processing, whole leaves can be broken further. 
They are then graded and sorted. 
The color of tea is known by the color of the leaf in the Western world. 
In China, tea is discussed by the tint of the brewed infusion.

Teas are brewed at different temperatures and for different amounts of time. 

Some suppliers put instruction labels on their teas to help novices do it right. 
Others assume that they know or that it is not important, so they leave it to chance. 
Some labels are illustrated (and can be seen in the hard copy, thanks to the Imperial Tea Court), so that you can learn from them.

Most tea in the United States is made using a tea bag. 

More recently, large quantities of tea are consumed as beverage in a can or a bottle. Almost all of these are black teas made by crushing, tearing and curling fully oxidized tea leaves. 
Only about two percent are made from green tea leaves or from loose leaves that were plucked by hand; more than a thousand needed for a pound of tea. 
Incidentally, brewing tea leaves became popular in China during the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644 CE) when an Imperial edict said loose tea is a sign of offering tribute.

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