Of historical note tea is nearly 5,000 years old and was discovered - as legend has it - in 2737 bc by a Chinese emperor when some tea leaves accidentally blew into a pot of boiling water. In the 1600s tea became popular throughout Europe and the American colonies. Since colonial days, tea has played a role in American culture and customs.
Today American schoolchildren learn about the famous Boston Tea Party protesting the British tea tax -- one of the acts leading to the Revolutionary War. During this century, two major American contributions to the tea industry occurred. In 1904, iced tea was created at the World's Fair in St. Louis, and in 1908, Thomas Sullivan of New York developed the concept of tea in a bag.
All tea comes from the "Camellia sinensis", an evergreen shrub that may grow up to 60 feet in the wild. When cultivated for harvest the tea bushes are kept to a height of about three feet. There are over 3000 varieties of tea each with its own specific characteristics. The naming and growing of teas has many similarities to wine. Just as Bordeaux wine is named after the Bordeaux region in France, Assam is named after the Assam region in India, and Keemun is named after the Keemun region of China. Like wine, tea comes from one bush, and where the tea is grown, the climate, soil conditions, and how the tea is processed, determines the flavor characteristics of the tea.
Tea is harvested after each flush - the sprouting of the top two leaves and bud. The top two leaves and bud are hand plucked and then processed into any of the four types of tea, which are Black, Green, Oolong, and White. Black tea
is withered, fully oxidized and dried. Black tea yields a hearty, amber-colored brew. Some of the popular black teas include English Breakfast, and Darjeeling. Green tea
skips the oxidizing step. It is simply withered and then dried. It has a more delicate taste and is pale green / golden in color. Oolong tea
, popular in China, is withered, partially oxidized, and dried. Oolong is a cross between black and green tea in color and taste. White tea
is the least processed. A very rare tea from China, White tea is not oxidized or rolled, but simply withered and dried by steaming.
The main chemical substances in tea are essential oils, caffeine, and polyphenols (mistakenly known by many people as tannins). The essential oils give us the aroma of the tea, the caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, and the polyphenols account for the much publicized antioxidant and anti-disease properties.
Tea is not to be confused with herbal infusions. Herbal infusions are packaged like tea, infused like tea, and enjoyed like tea, however the herbs do not come from the camellia sinensis bush and therefore are not teas. Herbal infusions are made of grasses like lemongrass, barks like cinnamon, fruits like orange peel, flowers like chamomile and hibiscus, and many other botanicals. TRADE TEASEnglish Breakfast
The prototype of this most popular of all teas was developed over a hundred years ago by the Scottish Tea Master Drysdale in EdInburgh. It was marketed simply as "Breakfast Tea". It became popular in England due to the craze Queen Victoria created for things Scottish (the summer home of Victoria and Albert was the Highland castle of Balmoral).
Tea shops in London, however, changed the name and marketed it as "English Breakfast Tea". It is a blend of fine black teas, often including some Keemun tea. Many tea authorities suggest that the Keemun tea blended with milk creates a bouquet that reminds people of "toast hot from the oven" and maybe the original source for the name.
It should be offered with milk or lemon. (One never serves lemon to a guest if they request milk-the lemon is never used. It would curdle the milk.) It may also be used to brew iced tea. Irish Breakfast
The Irish have always been great tea drinkers, and they drink their tea brewed very strong. In fact, there is a common tea saying among the Irish that a "proper cup of tea" should be "strong enough for a mouse to trot on." Along the same line, the Irish believed there were only three types of tea fit to drink.
The first and best of quality was in China with the Chinese, of course. The second best was sent directly to Ireland. The third and lowest in quality was sent to the English. Irish Breakfast because of its robust flavor is usually drunk only in the morning (except for the Irish who drink it all day).
Usually it is blended from an Assam tea base. Because of its full taste, it is served with lots of sugar (loose is considered correct here-sugar cubes are an English matter) and milk (milk, NEVER CREAM, is served with tea. Cream is too heavy for tea and belongs with coffee. The milk is always served at room temperature, never cold, as it cools the tea too quickly). Caravan
This excellent tea was created in imperial Russia from the teas brought overland by camel from Asia. Because the trade route was dangerous and supplies unsteady, Russian tea merchants blended the varying incoming tea cargoes, selling a blend rather then a single tea form.
It was usually a combination of China and India black teas. Like the Irish, the Russian favored this tea all day long, but modern tea drinkers seem to prefer it at breakfast and with elegant afternoon tea fare. It is served with milk and sugar. Russian are fond of very sweet tea, often adding honey and jam to their national beverage. Lemons studded with cloves may also be offered correctly. Earl Grey
Earl Grey (1764-1845) was an actual person who, though he was prime minister of England under Wiliam IV, is better remembered for the tea named after him. Tea legends say the blend was given to him by a Chinese Mandarin seeking to influence trade relations.
A smoky tea with a hint of sweetness to it, it is served plain and is the second most popular tea in the world today. It is generally a blend of black teas and bergamot oil. BLACK TEAS AND OOLONGDarjeeling
Refers to tea grown in this mountain area of India. The mountain altitude and gentle misting rains of the region, produce a unique full bodied but light flavor with a subtly lingering aroma reminiscent of Muscatel. Reserved for afternoon use, it is traditionally offered to guests plain.
One might take a lemon with it, if the Darjeeling were of the highest grade, but never milk. (Milk would "bury" the very qualities that make it unique.) Oolong
The elegant tea is sometimes known as the "champagne of teas". Originally grown in the Fukien province of China, it was first imported to England in 1869 by John Dodd. Today, the highest grade Oolongs (Formosa Oolongs) are grown in Taiwan.
A cross between green and black teas, it is fermented to achieve a delicious fruity taste that makes milk, lemon, and sugar unthinkable. With such clarity, it is perfect for afternoon use with such tea fare as cucumber sandwiches and madelaines.GREEN TEAS
Makes up only ten percent of the world's produced tea. The Japanese tea ceremony (in which green tea is used), is an art form. Green tea is not generally part of the afternoon tea tradition as appropriate to hotel use. WHITE TEAS
White tea is a very rare, expensive connoisseurs tea that is mainly produced in China in Fukien (Fujian) Province. Once harvested, white tea is not oxidized or rolled, but simply withered and dried by steaming. White tea requires an experienced palate already initiated into the exquisite, subtle flavors of green and oolong teas. Its name, a literal translation from the Chinese, probably comes from the very pale color of its liquor. This tea has a very mellow taste and a hint of sweetness. CHINA TEASKeemun
Is the most famous of China's black teas. Because of its subtle and complex nature, it is considered the "burgundy of teas". It is a mellow tea that will stand alone as well as support sugar and/or milk. Because of its "wine-like" quality, lemon should not be offered as the combined tastes are too tart. TEA TRIVIA
TEA TASTER'S GLOSSARY
- Experienced tea pickers collect up to 70 pounds of tea a day by hand.
- One tea bush will produce tea for at least 50 years.
- It takes years for tea to grow on land where lightning has struck or humans have lived.
- Until the Sixth Century, tea was consumed primarily as a remedy for headaches, kidney trouble, poor digestion, ulcers, and to guard against "the noxious gasses of the body and lethargy".
- A single pound of tea will yield about 180 cups of brewed tea.
- Earl Grey (1764-1845) was an actual person who, though he was prime minister of England under William IV, is better remembered for the tea named after him. Tea legends say the blend was given to him by a Chinese Mandarin seeking to influence trade relations.
Tea tasting is an art form. Many of the terms used to describe certain characteristics of a tea, are similar to terms that are used when tasting wines. Below are some of the terms used when tasting teas.
The Stash Tea Company is a privately-held company headquartered in Tigard, Oregon, a suburb of Portland. Founded in 1972, Stash Tea originally operated out of an old Portland Victorian style house, supplying loose herbal teas and bulk herbs to natural food stores. Starting in 1975, the company broadened its focus to include bagged teas and then began to sell a full line of traditional, specialty blend and herbal teas directly to fine restaurants and through a mail order catalog to consumers. www.stashtea.com
- Aroma: The odor of the tea liquor, also called the nose or fragrance. A complex aroma is often described as a bouquet.
- Astringency: The sensation of astringency is caused by a reaction between polyphenols (tannins) and the protein in saliva. This creates the "puckery" sensation along the side of the taster's tongue.
- Body: The tactile sensation of weight and substance of the liquor experienced in the mouth. May be described as thin, medium, or full.
- Muscatel: Describes a characteristic reminiscent of grapes. Also describes an exceptional characteristic found in the liquors of the finest Second Flush Darjeelings.
- Full: Describes a liquor possessing color, strength, substance and roundness, as opposed to empty.
- Thick: Describes liquor having substance, but not necessarily strength.
- Thin/weak: Describes tea liquor lacking thickness and strength.
- Toasty: Describes the liquor of a tea which has been slightly overfired during manufacture. It may be desirable in some Darjeeling teas.