Tea - your favourite beverage

Tea basics

Did you know that one out of two people throughout the world are tea-drinkers? This makes tea the second most consumed drink in the world.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, 3 200 000 tonnes of tea were produced worldwide in 2004 with India, China, Sri Lanka and Kenya being the major producers.

Tea is made by processing the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, a relative of the Camellias found in many domestic gardens.

In brief, raw, green, tealeaves as picked from the bush have to undergo some degree of fermentation (oxidation) to make them palatable as a drink. The amount of fermentation allowed depends on the type of tea that is required.

Once this is carried out, it then has to be dried. This process may be done in a number of ways such as heating in ovens, in hot pans or drying on sun patios.

Sometimes, to alter the balance of flavour, refinements are made by the adding herbs, spices and even fruits.

Our tea is now ready to be enjoyed by brewing with the addition of boiled water.

On the downside, tea is a natural source of caffeine and theophylline; but on the upside, it has a cooling effect on hot days and after hot / spicy meals.

All varieties of this popular product, such as green, oolong and black tea etc. are harvested from the same basic species, but are processed differently.

The bushes grow wild in subtropical monsoon climates, often to a height of 5-15m. With wet and hot summers and relatively cold, dry winters, they can even reach up to 30m.

However, commercial cultivation is based in both tropical and subtropical regions.

The best conditions are in the latter regions, at higher altitudes, with plants not allowed to grow quite so tall as in the wild.

This control is important, as tea-leaves are hand picked by farm workers who, in the interest of efficient farming, must be able to reach them with ease.

India, China, Kenya, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Taiwan (Formosa), Japan, Indonesia, Nepal and Bangladesh are the major producing countries.


Terrace Picking group Picking individual

This is when descriptive terms such as 'green', 'semi-green' and 'black' begin to take on some meaning.

These refer to the amount of oxidation that the leaf has been allowed.

Let me explain in the simplest terms ...

If dried very quickly then it will retain its natural greenness and so the description 'green'. However, if the leaf is allowed to dry a little slower, then it will begin to ferment and turn 'semi-green'. A stage further from this will see it turn darker as further oxidation occurs, giving birth to the term 'black'.

Simple, wasn't it?

Well, yes but would not life be boring if we did not expand a little on this.

So now that we know tea is classified by the amount or period of oxidation that has been allowed to occur during the curing process. The following will make far more sense.


Processing

White / Pai Mu Tan leaf tea

These are the youngest leaves that have not been allowed to oxidise. The newly grown buds are shielded from sunlight to prevent formation of chlorophyll and hence retain a very light colour.

White tea is produced in very small quantities and so is more expensive than tea from a similar plant that has been processed differently.

It is relatively unknown outside China, although it has now gained some cult popularity within the Western world's tea elite.


Green leaf tea

By heating the green leaf in Japanese style with steam or in Chinese style by drying in hot pans, a short period of oxidation is allowed to take place.

The tealeaves may be left to dry 'au naturale', forming natural curls or rolled into small pellets; either way the tea is processed within one to two days of harvesting.


Green

via our on-line shop.


Oolong semi-green leaf tea

As the name implies, oxidation is stopped somewhere between the green tea and black tea stages. The oxidation process takes two to three days.


Oolong Semi-green


Black / Red leaf leaf tea

This stage is when the tea leaves are allowed to completely oxidize, taking between two to four weeks.

Westerners call it black tea because the tealeaves used to brew it are usually black, while the Chinese call it red tea because of the colour of the tea liquor it produces.

Black tea is further classified as either orthodox or CTC (Crush / Tear / Curl) referring to the production method.

Pure black teas are recognised by the growing estate, their year and the flush such as first, second / autumn.

Orthodox and CTC teas are graded by the Orange Pekoe system (see Classification below).


Black /red


Pu-erh leaf tea

Two forms of pu-erh teas are available, raw / green and cooked.

  1. Raw / green pu-erh can be enjoyed young or matured to enhance the flavour due to further fermentation.
  2. Cooked pu-erh is the same as above but has been artificially oxidized to quickly duplicate the flavour of the natural aging process, hence enhancing the flavour.

Pu-erh tea is usually compressed into various shapes including bricks, discs, bowls, or even mushrooms.

This compression ages / matures the tea, enhancing the flavour further.

Pu-erh can be aged for many years to further improve its flavour, between 30 to 50 years for raw pu-erh and 10 to 15 years for cooked pu-erh.


via our on-line shop.


Yellow leaf tea

This classification is given to higher quality tea processed similarly to green tea but allowed a slower drying period.


Kukicha leaf tea

A tea made of twigs and matured leaves pruned from the tea plant during its dormant season.

Normally dry-roasted over a fire, for obvious reasons it is sometimes called winter tea.

You will often see descriptions such as F.T.G.F.O.P., Souchong, Congou or similarly perplexing text after the name of the tea.

Have you ever wondered what these mean?

Expressed simply they are a descriptive classification of the leaf and / or its size.

Armed with the following basic descriptions, you will have more than enough understanding of your favourite drink:

  1. Orange Pekoe (O.P.) - describes the largest size wiry, thin black tea leaves.
  2. Pekoe - describes the basic grade, slightly smaller than O.P.
  3. Broken Orange Pekoe (B.O.P.) - is used to describe, obviously, a smaller size of thin black leaf tea than Pekoe.
  4. Pekoe Fannings (P.F.) - a slightly smaller leaf than B.O.P., the smallest leaf that is used in our teabag range.
  5. Fannings - is the smallest leaf grade, you’ll be lucky to find this in cheaper teabag ranges.
  6. Dust - the siftings that are used in most cheap teabags.
  7. Congou - is generally used to describe large narrow black leaf teas from China.
  8. Souchong - is the description given to the broad black leaf teas from China.

The descriptions are enhanced by such expressions as:

  1. Finest (F.) - a further refined description for the finest available.
  2. Flowery (F.) - referring to the presence of fine flower buds from an early picking.
  3. Golden Flowery (G.F.) - refers to the inclusion of flower buds from an early picking.
  4. Tippy (T.) - referring to the presence of fine golden tips from the budding tea leaf.

Sometimes a digit "1" or "2" is added to the grade, signifying the first or second flush: e.g., "FTGFOP1". Only the first two flushes are used to make graded tea.

The only reasons for blending tea are:

  1. To obtain a uniform flavour throughout the year(s).
  2. To alter the flavour of the liquor.
  3. To gain a price advantage with a more expensive and better tasting tea masking the inferior taste of a cheaper one.

Blending may be of teas of only a particular region; alternatively, teas from many areas may be blended to achieve the desired effect.


Blending experiment Blending commercial machinery

For maximum flavour, always purchase the largest leaf tea available.

Store all teas in sealed containers; yes even teabags, well away from ultra violet light and strong smelling substances.

Remember by following our guides, using approximately one rounded tea caddy spoon of tea will give you around 4 cups, irrespective of leaf size or type of tea.

Just don't forget that ... the smaller the leaf size then the stronger the colour.

Infuse according to the minimum brewing time guide below:

  1. Orange Pekoe - 7 to 8 minutes.
  2. Pekoe - 5 to 6 minutes.
  3. Broken Orange Pekoe - 4 to 5 minutes.
  4. Pekoe Fannings - 3 to 4 minutes.
  5. Fannings - 2 to 3 minutes.
  6. Dust (contents of most cheap teabags) - Why waste your time on siftings?
  7. Semi green - 4 to 5 minutes.
  8. Green - 3 to 4 minutes.
  9. Congou - 7 to 8 minutes.
  10. Souchong - 5 to 6 minutes.
  11. Exotic flavoured (black) - 7 to 8 minutes.
  12. Exotic flavoured (green) - 3 to 4 minutes.
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