A Spot of Tea, Perhaps?

Although more of a coffee drinker myself, I have been known to take a cup of tea. Tea also holds a special spot in the food culture. Coffee may be more of a go to in terms of just about anytime of the day, tea on the other hand is more of a ritual. It can be taken at the end of a meal as well, and a lot of the same rules apply. In addition there are a number of special occasions were tea is the highlight. Everything from afternoon tea to high tea, which is more of high society luncheon comprised of cute sandwiches and pastries. Lets look at the history, production and service of teas.

History

The tea plant originated in the region encompassing today’s Southwest China, Tibet, north Myanmar and Northeast India, where it was used as a medicinal drink by various ethnic groups. An early credible record of tea drinking dates to the 3rd century AD, in a medical text written by Hua Tuo. It was popularised as a recreational drink during the Chinese Tang dynasty, and tea drinking spread to other East Asian countries. Portuguese priests and merchants introduced it to Europe during the 16th century. During the 17th century, drinking tea became fashionable among the English, who started to plant tea on a large scale in India. Tea drinking may have begun in the region of Yunnan, where it was used for medicinal purposes. It is also believed that in Sichuan, “people began to boil tea leaves for consumption into a concentrated liquid without the addition of other leaves or herbs, thereby using tea as a bitter yet stimulating drink, rather than as a medicinal concoction.”

Production

Tea plants are propagated from seed and cuttings; about 4 to 12 years are needed for a plant to bear seed and about three years before a new plant is ready for harvesting. In addition to a zone 8 climate or warmer, tea plants require at least 127 cm (50 in) of rainfall per year and prefer acidic soils. Many high-quality tea plants are cultivated at elevations of up to 1,500 m (4,900 ft) above sea level. Though at these heights the plants grow more slowly, they acquire a better flavour.

Two principal varieties are used: Camellia sinensis var. sinensis, which is used for most Chinese, Formosan and Japanese teas, and C. sinensis var. assamica, used in Pu-erh and most Indian teas (but not Darjeeling). Within these botanical varieties, many strains and modern clonal varieties are known. Leaf size is the chief criterion for the classification of tea plants, with three primary classifications being: Assam type, characterised by the largest leaves; China type, characterised by the smallest leaves; and Cambodian type, characterised by leaves of intermediate size. The Cambodian-type tea (C. assamica subsp. lasiocaly) was originally considered a type of Assam tea. However, later genetic work showed that it is a hybrid between Chinese small-leaf tea and Assam-type tea. Darjeeling tea also appears to be a hybrid between Chinese small-leaf tea and Assam-type large-leaf tea.

Tea is generally divided into categories based on how it is processed. At least six different types are produced:

  • White: wilted and unoxidized;
  • Yellow: unwilted and unoxidized but allowed to yellow;
  • Green: unwilted and unoxidized;
  • Oolong: wilted, bruised, and partially oxidized;
  • Black: wilted, sometimes crushed, and fully oxidized (called 紅茶 [hóngchá], “red tea” in Chinese and other East Asian tea culture);
  • Post-fermented (Dark): green tea that has been allowed to ferment/compost (called Pu’er if from the Yunnan district of South-Western China or 黑茶 [hēichá] “black tea” in Chinese tea culture).

Tea Service

  1. Boil water.
    Different types of tea require different water temperature to brew. Check the tea packaging to see the recommended water temperature.
  2. Warm up teapot.
    This step is a detail that takes your tea to the next level and almost no one does it. But they should. Take some of the boiled water and fill half the teapot and give it a few swirls then throw out the water. We’re warming the teapot so that when the hot water for tea goes in, the water temperature won’t drop too much.
  3. Put tea into teapot and add hot water.
  4. Cover teapot and steep tea.
  5. Set the timer on your phone to steep it to the correct amount of time. The steep time is different for each kind of tea so check the tea package to see what is recommended. Usually it’s no more than 5 minutes.
  6. Strain tea solids and pour hot tea into tea cups.

In Conclusion

Tea has a special place in my heart, it was my first caffeinated beverage as a child, taken with my grandparents. my grandmother even read the leaves…spooky! It was as I mentioned above, a ritual of sorts. Usually brewed with loose gunpowder (oolong) tea pellets. Along with the tea, came sandwiches, cookies and squares. This was a bedtime ritual that brought everyone to the table…a social thing. Anyway, that’s all I have on tea. Tomorrow I will delve into Indigenous foods & culture, my way of celebrating Thanksgiving. I don’t personally observe this as a holiday, not to say I don’t enjoy the festivities, I just don’t recognize the historical significance. I think you know what I mean. Cheers, and have a great Friday!