The 6 Categories of Tea
White Tea: These are very rare and
found outside China. The little buds that form on the variety of plant
that grow there, are covered in silvery hairs and these give the baby
curled up leaves a white look. They are picked by hand, dried in the
sun, or steamed in a pan to evaporate the water. Then they are packed
in air-tight containers. When brewed, white teas give hardly any colour
at all and infuse a very delicate flavour into the water.
Green Tea: This is
the most popular type of tea drink in China, Japan and Taiwan. It is
green because it is unfermented, keeping its natural green colour and
freshness. The way in which green teas are produced vary from country
to country. In China, smallholder farmers still make batches of tea by
hand, while in factories, they use machines. A healthy drink, it is low
in caffeine has significant amounts of vitamin C, minerals and
Gunpowder tea: Rolled
into little round pellets, looking like lead shot is an example of
green tea, a tea best drunk ‘Chinese Style’ using a few leaves only.
Brew very lightly. 1 teaspoon per 6 cup tea-pot and infuse for 5
Oolong Tea: Oolong teas give a light golden-red liquor with a
gentle, sometimes peachy aroma and a light delicate flavour.
A semi-fermented tea
coming mainly from China and Taiwan. The leaves must be neither too
young nor too mature, so the time of picking is crucial for the
production of quality oolongs. The preparation includes wilting in the
direct sunlight for 4-5 hours or in warm air inside the factory to
remove some of the water content. They are then shaken, allowed to
bruise, and the edges of the leaves gently broken to allow the natural
juices to react with oxygen in the air. After a process that allows
oxidisation, the leaves become darker.
Black Tea: A good example of Black Tea is English Breakfast
blend. This is a tea to awaken, refresh and to get your day off to a
good start. It is a rich beverage and in select tea houses such as
Whittard of Chelsea, 3 fine teas are blended to provide a correct
balance of strength, colour and rich flavour.
The Chinese refer to this
as red tea because of the colour of the liquor it produces.
The process vary from
country to country, but there are two basic methods, orthodox and
C.T.C. (Cut, Tear and Cure). All black teas, orthodox and C.T.C. go
through four basic stages: withering, rolling, oxidation and firing
.The leaves are plucked by hand or by mechanical harvester and brought
to a mustering point by the pickers. The pickers are paid according to
the amount of leaves gathered every day, so the leaves are weighed
before they are transported to the factory (on or near the plantation).
The general rule of
brewing black tea is that the smaller the pieces of black leaf, the
quicker the tea brews. The larger tea leaves of orthodox tea
require 4 or 5 minutes to release their full flavour and colour into
the boiling water.
Darjeeling Tea is often
described as the champagne of teas. It is in fact a leaf from
Darjeeling that can be produced as a green or black tea. Darjeeling is
a small town in North India that lies 6000 feet above sea level in the
foothills of the Himalayan mountains. This almost heavenly
atmosphere helps produce the champagne of teas that is lighter than
Assam or Ceylon teas
Darjeeling is picked 7
times. The first picking is known as the first flush. This is
done once the first snows are melted. First flush produces the
very finest delicate flavour and commands the highest prices at Indian
auctions. Darjeeling tea is served at, that mecca of afternoon tea, the
London Ritz, an elegant heritage of Edwardian London. You will find tea
lovers seated at marble tables sipping their Darjeeling or Earl Grey in
the Palm Court, while nibbling on fine smoked salmon or cucumber
sandwiches and fresh strawberry tarts.
English Breakfast is a
blend of three small leaf teas, which allows quicker brewing and fuller
flavour. Drink with milk and sugar as desired.
Earl Grey Tea is a blend
using Black China Keemun and pure Darjeeling tea flavoured with
Bergamot. This gives a clear taste and refreshing drink for breakfast,
afternoon tea or dinner. This tea, served black is delicious
lightly brewed or stronger with milk.
This tea is made by packing
green, oolong or black processed tea leaves tightly together into
balls, cakes or bricks. All these are available in different sizes and
shapes. The cakes crafted into shapes of birds’ nests, individually
wrapped and the bricks usually have a Chinese design on one side, and
on the other side, markings that divide the slab into portions, rather
like a bar of chocolate.
Flavoured Tea: These are made with leaves of the tea plant - Camellia
Sinensis and have added fruits, flowers spices and herbs. Tea easily
absorbs other aromas. Today the Chinese produce flavoured tea using
green, pouchong or black teas scented with orchids, jasmine flowers,
rose petals, honeysuckle, magnolia and many others. Jasmine flowers are
picked during the day and put into the tea at night when the flower
opens. In the Arab world, green and black teas are often
flavoured with mint, while the Indians make chai by boiling black tea
leaves with cardamoms and other spices, sugar and milk.
Fruit infusions (also called Tisanes) are
made with other plants and herbs. Chamomile, fennel and summer fruits
Let’s not forget ROOIBOS TEA.
This is exclusively grown in South Africa
Western Cape, mainly in the Clan-William area. It is made from the fine
needle-like leaves of the wild ‘Aspalathus Lineans’ bush. Rooibos
or Redbush is colour, preservative and additive free, containing no
caffeine or calories. It is rich in nutrients which include iron,
potassium, magnesium and many others.
The preparation is to boil freshly drawn
water. Add leaves, about 5-10 ml per cup. Pour boiling
water into the cup and allow 4 minutes to infuse. Enjoy this with
or without milk, sugar, lemon or honey.
Honey Bush Tea - the country cousin: Lowly, unknown, honey bush tea has emerged with all
the making of star quality as it takes on Rooibos, its more famous
cousin in the export markets of the world. Also exclusive to the
Western Cape, it is grown in the Langkloof around Joubertina. It
too is caffeine free and contains many nutrients such as calcium,
potassium, magnesium and others. This makes it highly desired to
extremely health-conscious nations like the U.S., Japan and Germany.
SORTING & GRADING
This is the
last stage of all tea manufacture. Unwanted stalks and woody stems are
removed and then the tea is graded. It is graded into
different-sized pieces of leaf. Finished tea is sorted into ‘leaf’ and
‘broken leaf’ grades known as ‘pekoe’ and ‘broken pekoe’ with many
subdivisions to denote size, appearance and colour. Broken grades
include ‘Fannings’ or ‘dust’, which are found in tea bags.
THE ROLE OF THE TEA TASTER
factories, broking houses, blending and packing companies employ a team
of tea tasters. Tasters are superbly skilled and can taste all aspects
of the tea process - even as some tasters joke, the state of the tea
manager’s marriage. Poor quality tea they presume is produced by a
manager whose mind is elsewhere.
The Tea Bag Revolution or loose-leaf tea
A touchy subject amongst tea
true that loose-leaf tea will almost always give a better cup of tea
than tea bags.
Tea bags were invented by accident. An
merchant, Thomas Sullivan, sent out samples of tea to his customers in
neat little silk bags - obviously a man of style. Instead of opening
the bag as intended, the recipients steeped the entire bag in boiling
water. They much preferred the clean and easier way, rather than
getting rid of infused leaves, and he had great numbers of orders, and
they wanted it in bags. They could have solved this problem by using
what we today call an infuser, small gadgets which hold just enough tea
for the pot or cup and can be lifted out without any fuss or mess. Silk
gave way to gauze and ultimately to the familiar string and tag format
(to allow the manufacturer to advertise its brand name). Traditional
tea bag papers are made from manila hemp - ideal for use in high-speed
A tip for tea bag users: never squeeze a
as it releases tannin.
How to Make a Perfect Cup of Tea
Remember ‘BREW DON’T STEW’
Tea stews when the leaves stay too long in the brew. Perfect tea should
brew from 3-5 minutes to get the full flavour. Use of an infuser allows
the leaves to be removed after the correct brewing time has lapsed.
on the strength/size of the leaf use the appropriate quantity.
Start with one level teaspoon of loose tea per cup of water.
2)Bring freshly drawn water to a rolling boil for approximately 10
3)Pour boiling water over the tea leaves.
4)Infuse (steep) black tea for a minimum of 5 full minutes, unless
otherwise instructed. TIME IT - TIME IT - TIME IT. Remove the leaf from
the brewing tea and enjoy.
Green Tea or Semi Black Tea:
on the strength/size of the leaf use the appropriate quantity.
Start with one level teaspoon of loose tea per cup of water.
2) Bring water to rolling boil for approximately 10 seconds. Remove
kettle from heat. Infuse green tea for 2 minutes, semi black for
7 minutes unless otherwise instructed Remember to TIME-IT. Remove
the leaf from the tea liquor and serve immediately.
The Essentials of Good Tea Brewing (or
the best out of tea)
1) Clean Equipment.
Keep all equipment, cups, saucers, jugs,
tea pots spotlessly clean at all times. Tea pots should be rinsed in
fresh running water after use and stored with the lid ajar. Soap and
detergents should never be used on cups or tea-pots, except to remove
stains. Ensure that all traces of detergents are removed before
2) Good Water
Good water must be
free from any foreign taste and odours. It must be freshly drawn
and oxygenated, so previously boiled water should be avoided. Sometimes
it is necessary to use only filtered water for brewing.
3) Proper Temperature
The water should
be as hot as possible, so it should be used as it comes to the
boil. Water which boils continuously, as is the case with open
urns, becomes de-aerated and flat.
4) Pre-heat the Tea Pot.
The need to
properly pre-heat the tea-pot cannot be over stressed. The
brewing time for tea of between 3 and 5 minutes is of little value if
the temperature of the boiling water is reduced by using a cold
tea-pot, that can absorb as much as 8°C - 10ºC. This results in
an under-developed taste. It is no use using a small amount of
water to pre-heat a tea-pot. The standard measure of a quarter
full tea-pot of water is considered to be ideal. Swirl the hot
water around for not less than 10 seconds. Pour some of the hot
water through the spout, so that it too becomes pre-heated.
5) Best Quality, Fresh Tea.
Poor quality tea is coarse tasting and
it even has a bitter taste. It is dull and has an unappetising
appearance in the cup. Good quality tea on the other hand is clean and
pleasantly astringent without any bitterness. It is bright and
appetising in the cup.
6) Storing Tea.
Tea should be kept
in glass jars with metal lids or dry airtight containers, out of direct
sunlight, such as in a closed cupboard. Tea absorbs moisture from the
air and any odours that are present. So avoid storing it in the
vicinity of soaps, detergents, curry powder and other strong smelling
Answers to Age Old
Q. 1 teaspoon per
person and one for the pot - true or false?
A. There is
an historical answer. Teas that used to be made in England were very
bad teas. They liquored up poorly and had little flavour.‘1 for the
pot’ was a way of increasing the colour and hopefully the
flavour. However it does not help. It simply creates
stronger bad tea. With a good quality tea, one normally uses a level
teaspoon per cup as a starting measurement, and leave the rest to
Q. Do different
cups made of different materials cause a change to the taste?
A. Yes, it does!
Cups can be made of porcelain, ceramic, unglazed clay, glass, terra
cotta, leaded crystal, gold or silver pewter or aluminium. All of
these will produce different flavours from the same tea from the same
pot. A good quality bone china is best and ideally the cup should be
A. There are chemical
changes at play. Some materials are porous and others are not,
and this creates a bonding between tea and material. (The chemical
changes originate between tannin compounds and the material itself.)
Q. When to add the milk?
A. One of the most vexed and debated
questions is, should the milk be added before or after the tea has been
poured into the cup? There is a whole chemical process taking
place in the pot, which in bad tea can cause bitterness.
The question of whether
to add milk to the tea, or tea to the milk revolves around how the
order affects the anti-bitterness process. Some suggest that the
milk should be put in first. Again because of a chemical process,
one avoids the phenomenon of ‘scalding the milk’. Others argue that
only by adding the milk afterwards, can one get the strength
The ‘milk first’ argument
may have its origins centuries ago when putting milk in first, stopped
the hot tea from cracking the finest china cups. Add milk first,
because milk dissolves better in hotter liquid.
The debate rages on and
Hopefully this will not
deter you from finding what suits you best, from the choice of tea,
tea-pot, cup or order of milk and tea. Find the right balance, sip,
savour and enjoy a fine cup of tea from early morning to late evening.