There are two main styles of manufacturing tea – the CTC (Cut, Tear, Curl) method, and the Orthodox method.
The CTC method is primarly used to produce black tea. It is almost completely automated and uses large machinery that mechanically chops up the leaves, buds and stems without discrimination. CTC teas are very uniform and brew very quickly. They are usually used for commercial tea bags and ready-to-drink products. The CTC method is highly efficient and able to produce tea at a lower cost.
With the Orthodox method, tea is plucked by hand, and every step of the production process is overseen by an actual human being. Although many small farms now use some power equipment, the entire process is carefully and meticulously monitored. Altogether, teas produced by the orthodox method account for approximately 55% of the worlds annual tea production. Most white, green, oolong and high grade black teas use this traditional method.
The Teahouse features artisan teas that are produced using the orthodox method of manufacture.
A HISTORY OF TEA
Tea emerges from legend over 5000 years ago when it was “discovered” by the emperor Shen Nong. While boiling his drinking water, dried leaves from a nearby bush fell into the water, and the result – Tea!
Ever since, the influence of tea has permeated every aspect of the Chinese society and culture. As trade routes were opened, tea quickly gained popularity in the West. Today, it is ranked second only to water as the world’s most consumed beverage.
Throughout history, tea has influenced world politics and shaped international events. From the British colonization of India, to the Boston Tea Party, tea has played an integral role in global trade relations.
Native to China, Camellia Sinensis, the tea plant, is now cultivated throughout the world. Today, tea plantations in India, Japan, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Africa, and Indonesia produce most of the world’s tea.
TYPES OF TEA
Tea Types are generally defined by the level of “oxidation” of the leaf. Oxidation occurs naturally when enzymes in the leaf are exposed to air, similar to the way an apple browns once its been cut. This complex series of chemical reactions ultimately yields the cup characteristics we anticipate with each style of tea. In general, the more oxidized the tea leaf, the darker the infusion and bolder the flavor.
White tea is the most simple of the tea types to describe, because it basically consists of the two steps of harvesting and drying. The leaves are not rolled or allowed to oxidize at all. This leaves the leaf in a full, unbroken, natural state. Originally, white tea was only produced in the Fujian province of China using bushes that were carefully selected and cultivated to produce this type of tea. Only the newest, downy tips were meticulously harvested to create tea that was used as “tribute tea” for the emperor. Today we can find two major styles of white tea; traditional “buds only” tea, such as Silver Needle, and the “bud and leaf” style, such as White Peony (bai mu dan). The bud and leaf style tea offers a more economical choice and broadens the availability of the tea. The increased awareness and marketability of white tea has influenced other tea producing regions to try their hands at white tea production as well.
Green Tea is not oxidized. After being harvested, sorted, and allowed to air-dry for a brief period (just long enough to reduce the moisture content about 10% and make the leaf more pliable), the leaf undergoes a process of firing or steaming. This stops any enzyme action or oxidation of the leaves and fixes the juices in the leaf. Many green teas are rolled or shaped using traditional techniques, creating a vast array of leaf styles from which to choose. Some teas may be lightly “fluffed” such as the Silver Dragon, while others may be flattened during a pan-firing process, like the Longjing (Dragonwell). The taste or character of green tea is heavily determined by the time of plucking, shoot maturity, geographic and weather conditions and cultivation method.
Oolong Tea encompasses all the tea that is partially oxidized, and the manufacture of oolong tea is an art form in its own right. Each farm or tea garden has proprietary methods of making their own type of tea. The tea goes through the initial steps of harvesting, sorting and weighing, and is then allowed to wither for a brief period. It is the next step that truly defines oolong tea as an artisan product. The leaves are bruised, using a variety of methods, and are then allowed to oxidize. Skillful timing and careful handling during this process determine the final outcome in your cup. The teas can range from 8% oxidation levels, to 80% oxidation levels. This wide variance creates a spectrum of flavors, colors, and aromas that range from very green to dark full brews. Leaf styles can also range from full, unrolled styles like the Phoenix Oolong, to tightly rolled selections like the Ti Kuan Yin. Although oolongs may initially seem more expensive than other types of tea, they are designed to be infused several times. This quality drastically reduced the “per pot” price, and each infusion yields its own special flavor and characteristic.
Black tea undergoes processing to fully oxidize the leaf, allowing natural and robust flavors to emerge. In the orthodox method of manufacturing, after harvesting and sorting, the leaves undergo the withering step where they are spread in several inch thick layers and allowed to dry, reducing the moisture of the leaf. This process usually takes about 18 – 20 hours and must be carefully controlled to produce the best teas. When the withering process is complete, the leaves are then rolled using modern machinery that rolls, twists, and compresses the leaf. This action bursts the cell structure, releases the juices of the leaf and promotes the start of the oxidation process. Black tea is allowed to oxidize fully, a process that is carefully controlled and monitored by experienced tea experts. When oxidation is considered complete, the tea is then dried with hot air to stop any further enzymatic breakdown of the leaf. The oxidation that takes place is largely responsible for the flavor, color and strength of black tea.
Brewing the Perfect Cup of Tea
WATER, TEA & UTENSILS
Water ~ Use the freshest water possible. Preferably filtered, but if the tap water is good in your area it will do. If the tap water has a perceptible odor or taste, that will be imparted to the infused brew, and will compromise the quality of the tea. Tea ~ Of course, use the best loose leaf tea you can find. Utensils ~ One could do a whole class on tea utensils and accessories, but for the bare minimum info, avoid using the stainless steel tea balls or metal infusers. Use a nylon mesh basket, paper filter, tea sock, or just do it the old fashioned way and put the leaves directly into the pot.
HEAT THE WATER TO THE DESIRED TEMPERATURE
This step is more important that you’d first think, but many of the finest green teas and oolongs are actually “Cooked” by too – hot water. Here’s a basic rule of thumb to follow:
Rolling boil, best at 212° Do not boil the water too long, as it boils out some of the oxygen and can leave the tea tasting “flat”
Green Tea and White Tea:
180°. I try to watch and listen to my kettle, and pull it when the bottom is full of bubbles, but before they start to release to the surface. Boiling water on green tea will actually “cook” the leaf and result in a bitter brew, losing all the subtleties of the tea. Some do it the other way, and allow the water to cool just a touch after it boils before pouring.
Oolong and Herbal Tea:
195 -210 degrees°, depending on the level of oxidation in the case of oolong, or depending on the type of herbs used. (Roots and barks need to be boiling to extract their properties, while flowers and delicate petals use a lower temp)
WARM THE POT AND MEASURE THE TEA INTO THE POT OR BREW BASKET
Pour the hot water into the empty pot for a minute to warm it. Pour it out and then measure the tea. The general rule is 1 teaspoon of tea for each 6oz cup. This varies by leaf style, as some leaves are much bigger and thus take up more volume. Technically, the amount is 2 grams per 5.5 oz cup. Of course, you could always measure your tea with a scale. I don’t find this a very contemplative practice, however, so I’ve devised a sight plan. I use the teaspoon rule for small leaf, black teas. I use a heaping teaspoon for green teas and oolongs, and herbals. This is probably the place where you can best “customize” your tea. You don’t want to mess with the water quality or temperature, or the steeping times too much, as the result of that is often not stronger tea, but a more bitter brew.
POUR THE WATER OF THE TEA AND STEEP FOR THE APPROPRIATE TIME
This is most likely the most imperative step, in my opinion, along with water temperature. Follow these guidelines carefully:
Black Tea – 4 – 5 minutes
Green Tea – 1.-3 minutes
Oolong Tea 4 – 7 minutes
White Tea 1 -3 minutes
Herbal Tea 5- 15 minutes
Remember Lu Yu’s famous quote from the Ch’a Ching – “Goodness is a decision for the mouth to make”. You are the best judge of tea the way it most suits YOU. Take these guidelines and experiment and find the perfect method for yourself. The best way to you, may not be best for me. This is easily seen by the many different tastes of cultures around the globe, from the Germans preference for the teas of Darjeeling, to those of Moroccans for the gunpowder, to the Middle Eastern preference for teas of Ceylon. Each step in the preparation of tea offers a the chance to slow down, focus on the task at hand, and commune with one of the greatest gifts of nature.
Tea Etiquette & Superstitions
Never swirl tea in a cup like you would wine in a glass.
Do try a little of each dish offered at teatime.
Spread the scone first with jam, then with cream.
Do not place any extra items on the table, even glasses.
Don’t extend a pinkie when sipping tea.
Never jiggle a teabag by the string; it looks tacky and shows impatience.
Don’t put a used teabag in your teacup saucer. Use a tea caddy.
Never drain a teabag by winding the string around a spoon.
Never place a teaspoon on the saucer in front of the cup.
Milk is poured in after the tea.
Lemon is always thinly sliced.
Lemon is always put in the tea last.
Never remove a lemon once it’s been added.
Never use a spoon to press the lemon in the teacup.
When stirring tea, make absolutely no noise with the flatware.
Once used, flatware should never touch the table again.
Iced tea spoons are set to the outer right of the place setting.
Do set teacup with handle at 4:00.
To stir the pot counter clockwise will stir up trouble.
To make tea stronger than usual indicates a new friendship.
To spill a little tea while making it is a lucky omen.
If the lid is accidentally left off the teapot, you may expect bad news.
To put milk in your tea before sugar is to cross the path of love & never marry.
Bubbles on tea denote kisses.
Two teaspoons placed together on the same saucer point to wedding or pregnancy.
If two women pour from the same teapot, one of them will have a baby in a year.
Tea spilling from the spout of the teapot indicates a secret will be revealed.
Undissolved sugar in the bottom of your teacup means someone is sweet on you.
If the tag falls off the teabag while it’s in the cup, you will lose something in a week.
Preventing normal cells from turning cancerous • Suppressing the formation and growth of tumors • Guarding against free radical damage (radiation) that can bring about cancer, diabetes, and aging • Enhancing the function of the Immune System • Controlling cholesterol levels • Lowering the risk of stroke by making platelets less sticky • Controlling blood pressure levels • Keeping blood sugar at moderate levels • Fighting food-borne bacteria, like salmonella, ecoli • Promoting friendly bacteria in the intestines and encouraging bowel regularity • Fighting viruses • Assisting weight loss by blocking the breakdown of starch • Provides a mild stimulation effect without causing sleeplessness or nervousness • Fights bacteria in the mouth that causes cavities and bad breath • Slows the aging process • Maintains the body’s fluid balance • Reduces stress