To celebrate Afternoon Tea Week this week, we are stardust has interviewed the wonderful Sally Gurteen at JING Tea to bring you five facts you should know about tea. Make a brew, pick up a cucumber sandwich or a mini Victoria sponge and have a read...
1. Tea is mostly grown in Asia
The predominant tea growing regions are within Asia due to the climate and diversity of terroir, but the popularity of African teas is on the rise for example, and we've even heard rumours that it's being grown in Scotland. Essentially, tea can be grown in most places but to really get wonderful taste, you have to source from areas where tea has long been part of the culture and agriculture, nurtured by special terroir and refined skill.
2. Tea is best harvested in Spring and Autumn
Tea can be picked all year around but it's really in the Spring and the Autumn where you get the special flavours. Spring is the most exciting time of the year in China, especially before the rainy season when the buds of the tea plant are sweet and delicate - tasting of the very essence of the season. There's a saying in China that the best tea doesn't leave the country, such is the culture of gifting the finest leaves to friends, family and special people. Depending on the tea type - white, green, yellow, oolong, black or pu erh - it then undergoes processing that will cultivate and determine its final form.
3. All tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant (processing creates the different varieties)
Terroir, cultivar and processing all play a part in how the tea plant, Camellia sinensis, is used to create so many different varieties of tea
The terroir (the land and climate where the tea is grown) will have its own unique conditions each year. What is the soil like? How is the weather? Is the tea grown in an area of biodiversity? At what altitude? All of these factors contribute to the quality and unique properties of the tea.
The cultivar. Within the six types of tea - white, green, yellow, oolong, black or pu erh - there are again thousands of different varieties of cultivar. Think like apples: granny smith, pink lady, golden delicious. It's the same for tea.
The processing. On the subject of apples, this also helps me explain the key difference between tea types: oxidisation. What makes a tea white or black is the level of oxidisation:
- White tea is barely oxidised: picked whole and withered slowly in the sun.
- Green tea is partly oxidised: gently bruised to elicit the enzymes that then react with oxygen for a short time before being heated quickly - by pan, by baking, by roasting or, in Japan, by steaming - to halt oxidisation and lock in all of the delicious flavour.
- Black tea is fully oxidised: like an apple, white tea is that first fresh and delicate bite, green tea is as you go back for the rest, and black tea is an apple that has been bitten and left until it is brown and the flavours are richer and treacle-like.
All of these factors, including the ways in which oxidisation is halted and the unique traditions and techniques of the tea master, contribute to the thousands of different varieties of tea.
4. Tea contains tasty flavonoids and relaxing amino acids
The predominant flavonoid in tea is 'catechins' which is an antioxidant that helps to detoxify the body. Tea is reported to have many health benefits across its different types (aged white tea in China is especially regarded for its medicinal properties) but we are individuals and so these will benefit us each in different ways owing to personal contributing health factors. The best place to hang your hat when it comes to tea and health is on the fact that it is hydrating (and delicious), and that the levels of caffeine uplift you gently without the crash that coffee gives you. This is because of an amino acid - theanine - that bonds with the caffeine and releases it more slowly into your bloodstream, giving you a sustained feeling of alertness, while relaxing you at the same time. Said with certainty though, the best tea for you is the one that you enjoy the most.
- The new we are stardust tea cards celebrate the tasty flavonoids in tea
5. The perfect cup of tea is easy to achieve
- Use great loose tea. Buy the best quality whole leaf loose tea you can, from a company that focuses on taste.
- Use a small vessel. Small teapots allow you to control the infusion of the tea. If you're making tea for you only, use a teapot which is no larger than 300ml.... and weigh the leaf. Decide on the amount of tea to use by weight and not volume - around 5g for a 300ml teapot.
- Use good water at the right temperature. Get the water temperature right for the tea you are drinking. Green teas and white teas taste best with 60°C-80°C water. Black teas and oolong taste best with near boiling water.
- Use a Brita filter: you'll get so much more flavour from your tea and you won't get the horrible smell of chlorine or white scum floating on the surface of your cup.
- Infuse for 3 Minutes - the perfect amount of time for a balanced infusion.
- Pour all of the infusion from your tea pot into your cup. Don't leave any tea infusing because it will become bitter.
Prefer using teabags? Loose leaf always tastes better but teabags are completely fuss-free and delicious, too. Be sure to buy good quality tea bags containing whole leaf tea, not dust.
Happy Afternoon Tea Week!
How do you take your tea? Let me know in the comments.
The tea of choice for the world’s leading chefs and hotels – including over 80 Michelin-
starred restaurants - enjoy discovering tea at its best with JING.
JING, which means ‘essence’ in Mandarin, was founded by Edward Eisler in 2004. After
years of travelling across Asia he was inspired by how deeply tea culture ran within
society, and the ceremony with which it was approached; refined and celebrated over
thousands of years. Most of all he was amazed by the incredible taste that thousands of
teas had to offer – far beyond the British cuppa.
Edward and the team have since been on one mission with their tea and specially
‘We want to revolutionise tea culture - away from dull, tasteless and commoditised tea
towards great tasting tea leaves that express the unique taste of their origin and tea
maker. We believe that sourcing and selling tea which provides the best taste
experience for consumers and the best future for the people and places that make the
tea is the only way to truly enjoy tea at its best.’
- E . Eisler Edward Eisler Founder & CEO
- Painting tea plants - 'From the sketchbook' vlog
- Tea greetings cards celebrating the Camellia sinensis plant - interview for The Cup of Life blog