Taking the mystery out of tea?

To have a drink that is called Tea, in my opinion it has to contain Tea!

It reminds me of the old advertisement for burgers “where’s the beef?”, so where is the Tea? There are many offerings of Herbal and Fruit Teas that miss this necessary ingredient, which I call Herbal and Fruit (Tisane) infusions. Over the years this Tea idea has developed because they are brewed (steeped) the same way as Tea, but it has confused a lot of people. So to be a “real” Tea, the leaves or buds have to come from the Camellia Sinensis plant .There are over 3,000 types of Tea produced all over the world and there are great similarities to wine, and probably as many choices. The different types can be divided into 4 main categories, white, green, black and oolong. One of the main differences with Tea and wine is the aging process. Tea needs to be delivered to the customer as quickly and freshly as possible and Darjeeling has a similar “contest” to Beaujolais Nouveau, but with better results.

Pu Erh, an oolong, is the only purposely aged Tea, and has some fantastic medicinal properties. It’s great for curing nausea, as many of our customers can testify. Some of the high quality Pu Erh's aged for many years are auctioned and can be sold for thousands of dollars for some of these tea cakes.

So how are the Teas produced? If you imagine taking a leaf from a Tea plant, and immediately dry it, you have green Tea. If you take another leaf, wrinkle it in your hand to make the juices flow and hold it in the air for, say 6 hours, dry it, you have black Tea. Taking another leaf and wrinkle it a little, and hold it in the air for 1 to 3 hours, dry it, and you have an oolong. This is obviously an over simplification, missing out the exact processing such as withering and rolling etc., but it demonstrates the basic differences. Holding the leaves in the air is called oxidization, which is sometimes referred to as fermentation.

We have three main types of tea drinkers in our Café. Those that prefer plain teas, flavored teas, decaffeinated teas and caffeine free A few of the plain tea drinkers will crossover for an exceptional natural flavored tea.

A blend might be a combination of 2 to 4 teas to give a unique taste and strength, such as an EnglishBreakfast. It can be of many different estates of the same tea to give a consistency of taste over many years, regardless of the current harvest. Good examples of this are Assam, Darjeeling, and black teas from Ceylon.

If you are just looking for a hot or cold tasty drink, and don’t need the caffeine or tea flavor, consider a blend of dried fruit or herbs. They are now becoming more sophisticated, by combining over 10 different ingredients, with some great tastes. In some ways it is easier to create a good fruity flavor without the tea, as you don’t have to balance the strong tea with the other flavors, but you miss the caffeine? That’s why the more subtle flavors use green or greenish oolong tea.

Jasmine tea is very popular, and there are many different qualities. Here the sweet smelling jasmine flowers are rolled with the tea, white, green, oolong or black to give a delicious tea. The number of times the tea is rolled with the jasmine is dependant on the quality, and varies from 3 to 10, after which the jasmine is removed. Jasmine Dragon Pearls generally consist of 3 young green shoots that are hand rolled, and open up as the tea is brewed. If you like a sweet jasmine tea, this is close to the ultimate, as the rolling seems to keep in the flavor and it is fascinating to watch the pearls uncurl into “dragons”! The pearls can be infused 3 to 4 times, and I prefer to “wash” the pearls with a 30 second infusion, pouring off the liquor, and then re-infusing for 3 minutes. Fantastic taste, aroma, and no bitter after taste.

Earl Grey is a very popular tea and has the oil of bergamot with different base teas. There are several stories that give the origins of this very popular tea. A British diplomat, according to one tale, saved the life of a very important Mandarin, and in return was given the recipe for the flavored tea. The diplomat was Earl Grey, who later became Prime Minister from 1830 to 1834.The black tea is flavored with the oil of Bergamot, which is pressed out of the rind of the Bergamot fruit, a pear shaped citrus fruit grown in the Mediterranean. The different aromas of Earl Grey teas can be explained by the way the oil reacts with different teas, how much is added and if it is really natural oil or synthetic. Less perfumed is normally preferred with food.

If Earl Grey is in the top three blended teas, what is more popular? The answer is English Breakfast, or on the East Coast, Irish Breakfast. The English is a typically an equal blend of Assam, an Indian tea, and a Ceylon blend. Variations add other teas, such as from Kenya or Indonesia, and vary the amount of each. An Irish Breakfast is renowned to be stronger, especially in caffeine, and the percentage of Assam, a very strong malty tea, is increased, to the extent that some Irish Breakfast is just a blend of Assam teas. The biggest seller in the Café is our own blend, Tealeaves Breakfast, combining two Indian teas, Assam & Nilgiri, with Ceylon. As the name suggests the tea is ideal to have with a real English Breakfast, where there is high grease content in the rich and hearty plate of bacon, sausage, fried eggs, fried bread, mushrooms and tomatoes. If you have stayed in a B & B (bed & breakfast) in the UK you will understand how this tea, which I rarely drink on its own, is perfect with the breakfast. Rob - Owner of English Tealeaves