While it is stating the obvious that careful and selective picking of tea leaves by hand will always give you better quality tea, the case is now being made for mechanical plucking methods.
The best tea is produced by careful picking by hand of two leaves and the bud from the new growth or ‘flush’.
However continued rising costs and the growing of tea in new regions, as against the traditional tea growing countries of China, India and Sri Lanka, have opened up tea plantations to mechanical harvesting of the tea leaf.
The issue with mechanical or ‘lawn mower style’ harvesting is that it also picks up lesser quality leaf and stalk, which adversely affects flavour.
Mechanical harvesting can also be only carried out on tea plantations that have been developed on relatively flat terrain and cannot be used on hilly or undulating plantations – where generally the best teas are cultivated.
The proliferation of tea bag use also hides the sins of lesser quality leaf that may also contain stalk which adds to the weight of the crop but reduces its flavour content.
Good quality tea and good water are the essentials for a great cuppa.
However to brew the best cup of tea the quantities used, as well as the brewing or steeping times, are crucial.
The table below will give a guide to the amount of tea to be used as well as the optimal brewing time.
Water temperature is also important:
Black Teas – 100 degrees C – water just at the point of boiling.
Green Teas and White Teas – 90 degrees C
Herbal Infusions – 100 degrees C
However in domestic or commercial situations it is not always easy to ensure the exact and correct temperature, though recently available variable temperature equipment will enable this to be done.
The safest option is to use water at the point of boiling. Do not let the water boil for too long as this adversely affects the flavour of the tea or infusion.
Single Estate Teas are teas produced from a single plantation or even from a particular garden (sometimes referred to as a division) within a particular plantation.
These teas will vary in flavour depending on the time of the year in which the tea is harvested, the particular weather patterns prevailing at the time and also the processing method or technique employed.
Darjeeling teas from one of their reputed plantations can therefore be:
- First Flush – teas harvested in spring, the new growth, just after the cold winter months
- Second Flush – harvested usually in the summer months and finally, autumnal teas
Each of these teas will have distinctive flavours and characteristics, although the tea is produced from the same plantation.
The flavour of the teas can also vary from year to year as it is a truly agricultural product which is affected by that particular season’s terroir.
Connoisseurs of tea often seek out single estate teas and enjoy the natural variations of appearance and flavour.
Blended teas on the other hand are the product of many teas, usually but not always, from the same region or country. The teas are blended by expert tea blenders to give a consistency of appearance and flavour, so that teas harvested, blended and packed throughout the year can be as closely produced as possible.
Some blends can have as many as 30 teas in the blend recipe, which can be varied to suit the teas available at that particular time. Blending of teas is used by tea companies to produce consistency for tea drinkers who are not seeking natural flavour variations.
Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, Heart Tick, Ethical Partnership, Conservation, UTZ, PETA, Organic Certified, Halal, Kosher, Australian Made, etc. etc.
These are some of the emblems that adorn packages of food and beverages that are sold in supermarkets in Australia.
At the rate they are increasing the sizes of the cartons will have to increase substantially to accommodate all the emblems that Companies attach to their product.
In the very competitive world of supermarkets every slight advantage over your competitor may lead to increased sales, but frankly it is getting ridiculous.
One supplier has even started his own charity/organisation and gave it a name and dubiously trumpets the fact that his company provides amenities and assistance to tea workers that no one else provides!
The reality is that very little benefit goes direct to workers from these schemes, which are controlled and operated in large capital cities many miles away and even continents away from where the workers reside.
While it may contribute to the ‘feel good’ factor all that they generally do is increase prices further.
Buy your teas from reputable and long established companies whose quality ensures that high quality teas are sourced from well run plantations that do not exploit their workers.
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!
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…
Tea which is derived from the Chinese word t’e, pronounced tay, only refers to beverages made from the leaves and buds of the Camellia Sinensis or Camellia Assamica plant. Drinks made from herbs or fruit such as peppermint, camomile, mixed herbs, mixed fruit, rosehip and lemongrass are referred to as infusions or tisanes, never as tea.
Tea comes in many forms and from many and varied sources (more about that later as we continue our journey through the ‘tea lands’ of the world).
Our consumption of tea is increasing on a global scale. It is the most consumed drink next to water and over three billion (think of it, over three thousand million) cups of tea are drunk every day!
It is drunk in the drawing rooms of the wealthy, the boardrooms of the powerful and the thatched huts of the impoverished – from the peaks of the majestic Himalayas to the parched deserts of the Sahara, from the grand tea salons of Paris to the humble wayside shops of China.
It is a mystical and often venerated beverage and the source of wonderful historical tales and fables. Over the centuries, wars have been fought over it, people have been exploited by it, fortunes made from it – and yet today because of its variety and health benefits, its popularity continues to grow.