So, while I’m not very adept at cooking, I am quite a tea fancier… and I found myself totally captivated by a coffee table book on the subject of Tea recently. It was a wonderful reminder of the great tea traditions and origins of my favorite drink. So, while I can’t share much cooking knowledge, I thought I could share a bit about tea…
Origins of Tea
Knowledge of tea dates back to almost 5,000 years ago in the Chinese and Tibetan area. Legend says water had just been boiled when a few tea leaves blew into the drink of Emperor Shennong, changing the color. He braved a sip, being pleasantly surprised with its sweet taste. He later championed tea for its restorative properties. Tea quickly grew to other countries, but remained exclusive to the Far East until Marco Polo brought back this commodity along with silk and other goods. Of course, the growing of tea plants remained fairly secret until the British plied this information via the opium trade.
All teas come from the same type of tea tree, the Camellia sinensis; however, the climate, soil, and watering all have an influence on the quality of the tea leaf. It is then the processing of this tea leaf that determines whether it is black, green, white, oolong, or other.
Black: Black tea comes from tea leaves being processed to stop the oxidation process, and then heated once again to preserve the flavor. Black tea usually has more caffeine than the other varieties, but its flavor is usually bolder and lasts longer.
My Favorites: Any of the Assam teas (from Northern India) and Lapsang Souchong (dried over pine bark for a smokey flavor…not for the faint of heart!).
Green: Green tea leaves are leaves that have undergone minimal oxidation during processing. They contain less caffeine and boast several health benefits.
My Favorites: Gyokuru (grown in the shade to increase the chlorophyll) and Matcha (a powdered green tea, often used to flavor ice cream).
White: White tea comes from the tips of leaves before they open…often still safely inside the felt-covered buds. Because of this, white teas are very mild and sweet in taste.
My Favorites: Silver Needle (from the Fujian Province and best when harvested between March 1 and April 1) and Ceylon White (from Sri Lanka).
Oolong: Oolong tea is a traditional Chinese tea that is processed somewhere between a black and green tea. These teas are often rolled into long curly strands or into small balls known as “gunpowder” tea.
My Favorites: Four Great Bushes and Pouchong (a light floral aroma).
There are other types of teas: yellow, blends, infused, Pu-erh, etc. But, with a general knowledge of black, green, white, and oolong, you can start experimenting to see what type you find desirable.