Tea Education

 

THE BASICS OF TEA

Oolong tea leaves - character for tea in Chinese

Let’s start at the beginning with the basics of tea… It is important to know that all tea comes from the same plant, Camellia Sinensis. While there are numerous varieties of this plant, the plant category is one and the same. All teas start with the fresh green leaf. It is the manufacturing and handling of the plucked leaves and buds that determine if the tea is to become black, oolong, green, white or yellow.

Although there are many steps in the manufacturing of tea, basically it’s the level of oxidation that determines the final type of the tea produced. Oxidation is the process of increasing the levels of oxygen resulting in a change of molecular structure. In visual terms; picture an apple cut in half and left on the table. As the oxidation takes place the apple turns brown and begins to wither. The process can be stopped by applying heat: steaming the apple, baking or sauteing. Similarly, for black tea the leaf is allowed to fully oxidize, while green teas are non-oxidized and oolongs are partially or semi-oxidized, resulting in a wide range on oxidation.

The oxidation process creates its own changes in flavor and resulting character of the tea. The art of creating memorable tea lies in knowing exactly when enough oxidation has occurred for the tea type desired. The method of applying heat, and the source of heat, also influences the final tea product. Most teas in Japan (Japan produces only green teas) are steamed, while in China most tea production includes heating leaves over coals or wood fire often times in a wok. Each method creates a different overall flavor. Next time you’re in, try two green teas side by side: one Japanese and one Chinese. Notice the differences in color, aroma, body and taste!

Why Whole Leaf Artisan Teas?

Whole leaf manufacture allows for the entire leaf to be brewed, releasing the flavor, vitamins, minerals and health benefits from the entire surface area of the leaf. This results in a more complex and subtle flavored tea. Processing is done in small batches by experts who manage each step to perfection.

There are 8 major steps involved in all tea producing: plucking, sorting, cleaning, withering, manufacturing, final drying, another sorting and packaging. The manufacturing step determines the type of tea to be produced (black, oolong, green or white).

Manufacturing can include anywhere from 5 to 18 steps of its own depending on the type of tea to be made. Each step must be completed expertly as any error can result in a ruined batch of leaves and an unpleasant cup of tea!