I can guarantee you at this moment somewhere in the world someone is brewing or steeping some right now. Maybe even you have one sitting by your elbow as you read this. I just finished one and am contemplating making another; the rain is hitting the window and there is a damp chill in the air, it is just the thing needed in those circumstances. I’ll just take a moment to put the kettle on, shall I?
T is for tea. I never drank tea until a few years ago. I was visiting with another mother and she brewed me this enormous cup of black tea without asking. Not wanting to be rude, I drank it, and it wasn’t too bad. My mother had always drank tea, my father not so much, he preferred coffee. I remember trying weak tea as a child when I had been ill, but it wasn’t to my taste. As I grew older (and wiser) my taste buds matured and I found I didn’t mind black tea if it was weak (only introduce the teabag to the water kind of weak) and I discovered lemon juice really made it more palatable.
Later, I discovered green tea, then white tea and finally oolong tea. It is rare for me to have a cup of black tea (usually when I have a headache I’ll sip some), but I drink pots of green tea. Now I start my day with white tea (no lemon required), green tea for lunch and snack (with a squeeze of lemon) and perhaps an herbal “tea” after supper.
Tea is a “drink made from infusing the dried leaves of an Asian bush in boiling water; (or the) leaves used to make this drink.” Like so many great discoveries, tea was discovered completely by accident and under a tree. In 2737 BC, Chinese emperor Shen Nung, sat under a tree with a cup of boiled water. Some leaves fell from the tree and landed in his cup. He tried it and the drink was born. The tree was Camellia sinensis and remains the source of all tea.
Tea, as a commodity, has shaped history, rebellions have steeped, unfair taxation has boiled over into dissent, and oaths were taken to drink only tea. Now, the health benefits of tea are being studied.
The colourful names of tea, refers to the fermentation process and how much oxidation has taken place. Less oxidation results in a gentle and light taste, the most oxidation results in the deepest colour.
Green tea is unoxidized, which allows the leaves to keep their green colour. These leaves are heat processed or pan-fried to prevent oxidation. The tea’s colour is not a true green, rather more of a straw colour. Green tea should be brewed in water around 175F.
White tea is the least processed tea. It is harvested when there is a “white down” on the tender shoots. The shoots are then allowed to wither before being dried. Having no oxidation ensures the white tea has the most delicate flavour. It should be brewed at 185F.
Oolong tea, meaning “Black Dragon” is a semi-oxidized tea. The mature leaves are oxidized and then fired. Oolong tea has the widest variety of flavour, and using the same tea to steep multiple cups delivers different flavours with each steep (around 190F).
Black tea is fully oxidized and is the most common tea. In China, black tea is called red tea. This tea has different names indicating the region it was grown in, for example Darjeeling. Black teas are often blended to ensure a specific flavour profile and can be brewed at boiling.
Finally, there are herbal teas, which of course are not really teas, as they do not originate from the Camellia sinensis plant. These are actually infusions or a tisane, created by brewing a herb or plant in boiled water. Rooibos tea is an infusion. And herbal teas tend to be caffeine free with specific benefits, chamomile, for instance, to help with relaxation.
Tea-time comes at our house between 2:30 and 3:00 in the afternoon. The cat even partakes, having a snack at the same time. We brew a pot of tea and enjoy muffins, cheese, crackers, fruit, nuts and sit around the table until it is time to start preparing the evening meal. It is a chance to catch up on the day or investigate the answer to a query. But most importantly it is an opportunity to enjoy a cup of tea with good company.