The growth of interest in quality tea has been nothing short of phenomenal since 1990 and all indications point to the continuation of this trend.
Unprecedented interest prompted many entrepreneurs to enter the market with offerings never heard before. There are now many specialist shops offering exotic bulk teas at much higher prices than rare coffees, such as Jamaica’s Blue Mountain, Colombian supreme, Hawaiian Kona, just to name a few.
Tea smells and tastes are more complex and delicate than coffee. Nuances are many and intriguiging.
More than 5000 years ago, a Chinese emperor, while hunting, discovered by accident that the leaf of a certain plant (camellie sinensis) gave a pleasant flavour to boiling water. Ever since, Chinese have been savouring tea from sunrise to sunset and beyond.
The sister plant (camellia assamica) grows in India and Sri Lanka.
The small-leafed camellie sinensis thrives on high altitudes and yields more nuanced , albeit less than large-leafed Indian brews.
Small plantations employing traditional techniques of harvesting and processing produce higher quality than large companies managing thousands of hectares of plantations.
The leaves are processed differently to produce a range of styles from delicate to dark, green to oolong and black teas. Strawberry-coloured silver tea is made from green tea and may be jasmine-flavoured.
White is the least processed of all, and is harvested before the buds open and while the leaves are still covered with silky white smooth hairs! They possess very delicate flavours and exude sweet fruity aromas. Many now claim white to be the healthiest of all teas due to their high antioxidant content.
Green teas preferred by Chinese and Japanese, is a little more processed than white. The leaves are dried (fired) as soon as they are plucked to prevent oxidation, and preserve polyphenols (flavouring agents). Green teas smell grassy and of vegetables,
Both white and green teas contain less caffeine than dark teas. A cup of dark tea contains halt the amount of a cup of coffee.
Oolong teas taste more intricate. After picking, the leaves are rolled to induce a controlled oxidation Taiwan is well noted for its expensive oolong teas. The colour of oolong teas ranges from green to black and is highly recommend with spicy dishes to smoothen their burning effect.
Darjeeling is a black tea from northern Indian highlands.
Southern China’s Yunnan is famous for its fermented black tea.
Black tea, most popular in the Arab world, is dried, fermented, fired, rolled and broken. Generally, black teas are strong in flavour, and dark coloured.
Some black teas are packed in blocks after fermentation and aged for many years to increase their pungency and flavors.
Fruit- and botanical infused teas have their aficionados. Mango, raspberry, mint and jasmine flavored teas are available in special tea stores
Brewing tea requires the proper quality of water, right temperature and a porcelain teapot. Recommended water temperature is 80 – 95 C.
Place the tea in a warm pot, pour water over leaves to cover and let it seep for a few minutes and then pour the rest of the water into the pot.
For delicate teas, use two teaspoons per cup of tea, and black, one teaspoon.
Premium teas are sold loose and must be stored in a dark, airtight container to retain flavor.
Orange pekoe tea comes from the tips of leaves and is more flavourful.
Sri Lanka is the world’s biggest tea producer.