A recent article by the gentleman who invented the coffee capsule stated the he regretted having done so.
The reason? The environmental impact of millions of used capsules, some aluminium, some plastic.
While producers claim that they are recycled, with the best of intentions, most end up in waste refill!
The same goes for the so called silken or silk pyramid bags (they are actually nylon) – a gimmick which leads to millions of used teabags which are virtually non destructible.
While some are biodegradable they do take a very very long time to break down. Test them yourself if you must!
The traditional paper teabags do break down easily and their contents can be recycled as compost.
Used coffee capsules, nylon pyramid tea bags and discarded cigarette filters, all indestructible – do we really need them in our fragile planet?
Most of the tea produced in the world is from countries which border the Indian Ocean (Sri Lanka, Kenya, and India to name a few).
High seasonal rainfall caused by monsoonal weather patterns have been vital for agricultural pursuits in this region – going back centuries.
The monsoon was a regular and expected occurrence, leading to seasonal agricultural activities such as seeding, planting, cropping, harvesting etc.
However, over the past decade the monsoons have not been as predictable and dependable and the average total rainfall has declined.
In an ironic twist however the intensity of wet spells (storm and wind activity leading to flooding and earth slips) and the frequency of dry spells during the monsoon period, has increased!
Apart from affecting production in the areas dependent on monsoonal rains the traditional ‘seasons for tea’ during which the flavours from a particular area are enhanced and therefore eagerly sought by buyers, have varied.
The changes in weather and rainfall have therefore affected not only the production but also the flavour of tea produced.
Surely another reason to limit emissions which affect climate change and weather patterns?
When we enjoy a good cup of tea we rarely give much thought to the social benefits this wonderful beverage has given to the citizens of the world.
It can be said that the increase in populations in China (and later India), with the subsequent surge of their cultural and economic development, would not have happened without the drinking of tea.
It is not because tea is an aphrodisiac, though that claim has sometimes been made.
Quite simply, the widespread drinking of tea required the boiling of water thus eliminating the many water borne diseases that unboiled water carried!
It also became a relatively cheap and convenient drink of sustenance – for farmers in Asia and manual workers during the Industrial Revolution.
Flavour, aroma and colour (of the infused tea) are the essential qualities looked at when the quality of teas are assessed.
Consistency, which expert tea blenders try to achieve, is not easily or always obtained.
Tea is a natural agricultural product and seasonal factors can and do, affect the flavour (very similar to wine).
Tea packed at different months of the year will vary in flavour.
Tea producers often wish it can be artificially manufactured to a formula – that would make life so much easier! But then it will be so boring!
Water, location and changes in medication can affect the flavour of tea as well. Storage in an airtight container is also a must.
Additionally one can become slightly desensitised to the flavour by regular use.
For example, visitors to a tea warehouse will often remark on the beautiful aroma of tea when they enter the premises.
Sadly, the people who work daily in that environment cannot enjoy it – they are totally desensitised!
However, if they are away for a week or so they can actually experience the aroma when they return!
A suggestion (if you are experiencing a variation of flavour in the teabag is that you use) is that you try brewing leaf tea (actually cheaper by the cup) rather than tea bags.
This will enable you to vary the quantity used, to give you the brew you desire.
But remember, although brewed tea will usually give you a better tea experience and that all teabags are not bad, you must use GOOD QUALITY TEA AND TEABAGS and not the generally cheap and nasty varieties found in major supermarkets.
If you asked a child in most Western cities what tea is, the chances are they will say it is a brown powder in a small paper bag which has a string attached to it!
The dumbing down and lack of information about this mystical and healthy beverage was successfully carried out by large multi national food companies from the 1970s until a few years ago. They were looking for market share in the supermarkets and therefore attempted to make the tea bag a generic product without emphasising product quality, regional variation or origin.
Thankfully over the last few years the knowledge about tea and its wonderful attributes have been widely publicised, primarily because of the health benefits associated with it.
Tea is grown in many countries mainly in Asia and Africa. It is an important agricultural product and the source of important export revenue for many of them. The tea trade employs millions of people to produce, manufacture and distribute this healthy and pleasing drink which we all enjoy.
The principal producers of tea are China, India, Sri Lanka, Kenya and Taiwan. Very often smaller tea producing countries blend their teas with teas from the major producing countries as their own production levels are low.
A tea taster or blender tastes many hundreds of tea samples each week. This process determines the quality of the tea and the price that it will attract. Descriptive terms used by the tea trade exist for dry leaf, infused leaf and the beverage (called liquors).
The terms are too many to mention here but generally dry leaf has about thirty descriptive terms, infused leaf about twelve and liquors about fifty. For example a sample of good Ceylon Tea can be described by the blender as black, clean and even (dry leaf), good aroma, bright and coppery (infused leaf) and good body, bright, brisk, coloury and thick (liquors)!
So the next time you have a cup of good tea remember the effort that goes into making it a good one.
Terroir is a French word that refers to a place where the roots of a plant grow.
The effect of that particular environment, altitude, climate, weather and soil has a distinct bearing on the unique taste, attributes and character of the beverage produced in an area or region.
That is why tea produced in Darjeeling or wine that is produced in Bordeaux, has a characteristic that is unique to the region.
Good tea and good wine…Enjoy!
Some companies in Australia claim to supply ‘Australian produced tea’.
The tea plantations in Australia which are run by these companies in Queensland are relatively small in acreage compared to the plantations run in the traditional tea producing countries.
The yield (the amount of leaf) from an acre of plantation can vary depending on location and climatic conditions, but generally there are accepted yield levels.
Even allowing for the ‘rough’ picking of the leaves in Australia– machine picking which picks up stalk as against hand picking –two leaves and a bud only, the quantity of so called Australian produced tea sold in the supermarkets cannot be reconciled with its limited production capacity.
To put it bluntly, far too much ‘Australian produced’ tea is sold relative to the Australian plantation’s production capacity!
How does this happen? Lesser quality Australian tea is blended with other quality imported tea (usually Ceylon Tea from Sri Lanka).
Some companies actually state this on their packaging.
Because it is almost impossible to determine the percentage of imported tea used in many ‘Australian Produced’ tea blends, the question must be asked if this is simply a deliberate and clever (though misleading) marketing ploy to attract Australian consumer loyalty for an inferior product.
Although all tea is derived from species of the Camellia plant (mainly Camellia Sinensis), as distinct from fruit and herbal infusions, the method of processing the leaves gives rise to six types, colours or classes of tea.
Black Tea: produced by the orthodox (drying, rolling, withering, firing) or CTC (crush, tear, curl) method. These teas are popular in the western world such as English Breakfast, Darjeeling, Ceylon etc. In some Chinese dialects it is also referred to as ‘red tea’ because of the colour after infusion.
Green Tea: Steamed (Sencha) or pan dried (gunpowder). The purest form of tea and globally the most widely drunk in various styles.
Oolong: Semi processed. Many varieties produced depending on the country of origin. Sometimes called blue tea because of it’s appearance.
White Tea: Rare and expensive. Mainly the unopened bud, air dried naturally such as Silver Needles.
Yellow Tea: From the high mountain regions of China.
Pu-erh: Generally from the Yunnan Province. These teas can also be aged.
Of course tea readily absorb flavours, which is why there are so many flavoured teas such as Earl Grey or Moroccan Mint. But that is another story…
Any tea supplier who packs teas in pyramid shaped teabags and calls them silk or silken is stating an untruth, in short they are lying!
In reality the material used is nylon, most of it not biodegradable.
If a tea supplier can deliberately lie about the material they use for their teabags then what does it say about the integrity and quality of the actual tea used? Is it just a ruse to charge the consumer more?
Using full leaf tea or herbal infusions in pyramid shaped bags will not give a strong full bodied infusion. Broken grades (smaller leaf size) can be infused for a shorter period of time and give a quicker and more intense result – that is a reality.
Pyramid teabags may well eventually go the way of other gimmicks – circular teabags, draw string teabags, teabags with holes in it, triangular teabags etc.
We wait with bated breath for the next great new invention thought up by the marketing gurus seeking a sales advantage on the crowded shelves of the supermarkets.
In reality the quality of the tea obtained from the teabag depends on the quality of the tea or herbal infusion inside it.
Elmstock do a pyramid teabag in response to requests from some distributors. Our single estate large leaf pyramid bags are also biodegradable.
However we are adamant that the resultant beverage, while possibly being more subtle, is not as intense (flavour) as regular double chamber paper (unbleached of course) teabags.
Tea is usually classified as Black e.g. English Breakfast, Green e.g. Sencha, Oolong e.g. Ti Kwan Yin (Iron Goddess of Mercy) and White e.g. Silver Needles.
However Chinese teas have two additional classes which are Yellow tea e.g. Huo Shan Huang Ya from the Anhui Province and Red tea e.g. some Keemun teas.
While all these teas come from the same plant source, they differ greatly because of the method of processing. Black teas are fermented and go through a drying, withering and rolling process while green and white teas are produced by natural drying or pan firing and sometimes steaming. Oolong teas are semi fermented.
All teas except black teas should be drunk with without milk. Even black teas, particularly the better quality teas should be drunk without milk, as the true flavour, aroma and the unique subtlety of a tea can be best enjoyed without milk. However old habits die hard and milk is often added, either before or after tea is poured.
Milk was first introduced into tea to mask the mustiness of teas after their long sailing voyage from China. It is a particular English habit which has spread to all parts of the Old Empire.
Try drinking your tea without milk. Brew it with less strength if you must and enjoy it’s real flavour.