Variation in Production Methods
Tea Sommelier BLOG
Now that schools and universities are all bringing education home, the teaching day for our Theesommelier training has also changed into a digital lesson behind the computer. That is of course fine as far as theory is concerned. We do the practical part ourselves.
And so we had a whole day of lessons behind the computer about tea. Of course, much was known to us. That is not surprising if you have been involved with tea for 20 years. But deepening knowledge of tea also means that the history and production methods are examined again. And that is interesting, so I would like to share that knowledge and experience.
The origin of tea
Already 5000 ago it was discovered in China that you can make a stimulating drink with the leaves of Camellia Sinensis - that is the tea plant - that is also tasty. Later, the rest of the world started drinking tea, but especially in China, tea is still part of the daily culture.
How people came up with the idea that you really have to do something with the tea leaves to make it tasteful, is anyone's guess. Just putting the leaves of the plant in a glass of water only produces the taste of green grass - even if you heat the water.
Nowadays people really do a lot with the tea leaves to give it flavor. What the production process looks like does not only vary per type of tea (green, black, white, oolong, etc.), but also per tea plantation/producer, and the purpose for which the tea is made also largely determines the production process.
For example, tea for tea bags is cut very finely by machine. There is a kind of tea powder in bags. If you put whole tea leaves in a bag, it will take longer for the taste and especially the color to develop. Tea, especially cheap tea in bags, must release color very quickly, so that the consumer can quickly remove the bag from the cup and drink the tea. Is that tasty? Not necessarily. It often has little taste and that is safe. In any case, little taste is not a bad thing.
The better bagged tea has more flavor and more character. A slightly different argument applies here: convenience.
In China, tea is also produced to make a kind of investment object. This is done with post-fermented tea that is pressed into a kind of cake during production. If stored under optimal conditions, this tea will mature for years into a very interesting and also very expensive tea. You will not actually find this tea in Europe, but it is an attractive asset for many Chinese.
tea = tea
Whether you drink green, yellow, white or black tea: it is only tea if it is made from the Chinese camellia - camellia sinensis. Rooibos, herbs, fruits, etc. are not tea.
Green tea becomes black tea if you let the leaf oxidize. Oxidation is a chemical reaction with oxygen that changes the composition of the tea leaf. Rapidly heating green tea stops those chemical processes and keeps the tea green. You can heat the green tea leaves in a wok, but steam is usually used.
If you opt for partial oxidation - this is called oolong. And because roughly 10-90% oxidized tea is all called Oolong tea, Oolong is a very broad and interesting product. (For example, see the difference between the oolong in our Milky Oolong , which is quite light, and the Formosa Oolong , which has a darker character.)
Because all teas come from the same plant species, the caffeine content in all teas is about the same.
In our tea market - the better loose tea - we mainly look for tea that has an interesting taste. Although tastes differ, the aim of our tea is that it should be tasty. This is often whole leaf tea, which can steep longer or be poured several times. But that can also be the fine broken leaf, for example to make a strong (breakfast) tea in the English style: strong and with milk.
If you are going to vary with brewing methods, you will smell and taste that tea can be very complex and that many different flavors can be perceived. A tea can have fruity or floral notes, more earthy components such as nuts and smoke. (Also think of Hojicha and Pu Erh ) Tea can also be astringent or mild. More technical: being dry or filming.
How all this works is discussed in the practical part of the course and that will come when the Covid-19 crisis allows it again.