All tea comes from the evergreen tea bush (Camellia Sinensis). The following terms only describe tea leaves after they are harvested from the tea bush and processed for consumption.
Oxidization is a chemical reaction that takes place when tea leaves are picked and begin to wither and die. Green tea is not allowed to oxidize and is quickly dried, pan-fried or oven fired to dehydrate the tea leaves for storage. This process retains many of the polyphenols, catechins, and flavonoids that are associated with the health benefits of drinking green tea.
Black tea is allowed to oxidize which ripens the tea and creates a deep, rich, robust flavor with uniqueness based on the tea grower’s knowledge and skill. The oxidation process is commonly referred to as fermentation. This is technically incorrect because “fermentation” is a process in which yeast is converted into alcohol and sugar is converted to and released as carbon dioxide gas.
Oolong tea falls somewhere between green tea and black tea in the amount of time the tea leaves are allowed to oxidize. Two terms often used to describe oolong tea are “green” and “amber” style. The “amber” styles are allowed to oxidize slightly more than the “green style” oolong tea. This results in a variety of smooth teas available that bear the makers style and tradition.
White tea is picked before the leaf buds fully open and are still covered with fine silky hairs. The delicate buds are quickly air dried to produce some of the rarest and most expensive tea available. White tea is said to have three times more antioxidants than green or black tea. Researchers for some of the large cosmetic companies have become very interested in white tea in recent years. The polyphenols in white tea have been shown to be very effective in mopping up free radicals that can lead to aging, and wrinkles, and sagging skin.
Puerh tea comes from the Yunnan province in China. Puerh tea has a distinct earthy aroma. This type of tea differs from other formed black tea because it is allowed to grow a thin layer of mold on the leaves. Of course these are harmless cultures and are reputably known in China for their medicinal effects. This makes sense because the antibiotic penicillin was first discovered through mold cultures.
Formed or Compressed Tea
This could either refer to green tea or black tea that is pressed into tea bricks, medallions, balls or other impressions. In ancient times, this was necessary to keep compact for storage on long voyages by ship or camel. It also preserved the tea during these long journeys because the tea was so tightly packed that it sealed out air that would otherwise degrade the tea.
Flavored tea is black tea that’s soaked in natural or artificial flavors. Today there are too many flavors to list. The most notable is Earl Grey, which is flavored with the oil of bergamot.
Herbal tea or herb tea is not really tea at all, since they do not contain leaves from the tea bush (Camellia Sinensis). Herbal teas are made from seeds, roots, flowers, or other parts of plants and herbs. They are often blended to make unique tasting infusions. Medicinal teas are herbal teas that are used for the treatment of ailments. These teas are gaining acceptance in western culture.
How is tea processed for consumption?
Harvesting tea leaves is still done by hand in most countries. This labor-intensive process is necessary for selecting only the finest quality tea. The harvested leaves are then processed in one of two ways:
The orthodox method of processing black tea begins by allowing the freshly picked leaves to wither and become limp. This is done so the leaves can be rolled without breaking. Hand rolling is only done on select high quality teas. Today, rolling is done with machinery to improve production and lower costs. The rolling process helps activate some of the chemicals found naturally within the leaves of the tea bush and further promotes oxidization. The oxidization is allowed to continue for an amount of time that is characteristic for different varieties and producing countries. After the oxidization is complete, the tea leaves are heated or “fired”. This stops further oxidization by dehydrating the leaves. Oolong tea is produced similar to black tea except the tea is only partially oxidized. Different characteristics can be achieved by varying the oxidation period. Green tea is not allowed to oxidize at all and some varieties are simply harvested, steamed, and fired. White tea is not processed at all, but rather picked, and gently air dried.
CTC stands for “Cut, Turn, Curl” or “Crush, Tear, Curl” depending on who you ask. It is used primarily for lower grades of tea leaves. Tea connoisseurs show little interest in this method of processing because the mechanized process does not merit the careful handling of some of today’s exotic teas. However, the CTC process can quickly produce high volumes of adequate quality tea for considerably less cost to the consumer. Teas processed in this fashion infuse rapidly and offer strong, robust flavor.
How is tea graded?
Tea grading has not been standardized between major growing countries. Tea grading is primarily used by the estates for segregating various teas during the manufacturing process. However, there are many acronyms that are loosely used to describe various teas. Grading terminology also differs when describing green tea, black tea, and oolong tea. Therefore, these terms are briefly discussed in their general uses. Keep in mind that a tea’s grade does not necessarily indicate flavor or quality. Other factors such as origin, soil, rainfall, elevation, the particular “flush” or picking season combined with the harvesting and manufacturing process all lend a hand in providing tea its unique flavor.
The smallest of particles left after sifting. Dust is often used in tea bags to infuse rapidly and make a strong and robust brew.
Very small, broken leaf, slightly larger than dust.
The largest leaves located closest to the bottom of the branch. These course leaves are twisted lengthwise and often used for various Chinese smoked teas.
Pekoe grade tea leaves are slightly less coarse and smaller than souchong.
OP “Orange Pekoe”
Orange Pekoe grades are leaves plucked from near the end of a branch. Besides the buds and flowers, they are youngest and smallest of tea leaves on a branch.
BOP “Broken Orange Pekoe”
The leaves in broken grades of orange pekoe tea are reduced in size usually by machine. This allows for more surface area, causing the tea to infuse faster than whole leaf varieties.
FOP “Flowery Orange Pekoe”
This orange pekoe grade also includes some “tips” or leaf buds.
FBOP “Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe”
This grade of tea would refer to broken orange pekoe with the addition of a small portion of “tips”.
GFOP “Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe”
Often referred to flowery orange pekoe with “tips” and flowers that are golden in color.
TGFOP “Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe”
A larger ratio of golden tips would be included in this classification of flowery orange pekoe.
FTGFOP “Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe”
Tea falling into this classification are usually a premier estate’s finest teas. Most teas in this category are comprised of golden flowers, leaf buds, and the youngest tea leaves.
How should tea be stored?
The biggest enemies of tea are air, moisture, light and heat. These elements cause degradation, which adversely affects tea flavor. Tea can be stored for up to six years when stored in vacuum-packed bags, however, this is not practical for tea consumers. Therefore, tea should be stored in an airtight container that does not allow light to penetrate through. Stored this way at room temperature, tea can be kept for up to a year without any ill effects on flavor.
What is the caffeine content in tea?
Tea can have a wide range of caffeine. Black tea typically has the most caffeine and usually falls in the range of 45-60 milligrams of caffeine per 8 ounce cup. The average cup of Oolong tea contains about 35-45 milligrams, 10 to 15 milligrams less caffeine than black tea. Green tea and white generally contain less than 20 milligrams of caffeine. Comparatively, a cup of coffee has 100 to 200 milligrams and soda can have between 40 and 80 milligrams of caffeine. Steeping tea for 30 seconds and pouring off the water can eliminate 80% of the caffeine. Decaffeinated teas are available however this process can adversely affect their true flavor.
What are the health benefits of drinking tea?
Tea contains many health-related compounds. Green tea and white tea are not oxidized and contain the highest ratio of antioxidants and therefore, are considered to be the “healthiest”. There are many studies that have conducted over the last few decades, but researchers are only now beginning to state claims of the health benefits of drinking tea. What the Chinese and Japanese have known for centuries, western medical practitioners are now validating. Some of the health benefits that are now being examined from consuming tea:
Reduced cholesterol levels
Lowering blood sugar
Lowering blood pressure
Increased immunity by raising white blood cell counts
Prevention of heart disease
Prevention of Osteoporosis
Prevention of cavities and reduced plaque
Suppressing the effects of aging
Providing essential vitamins and minerals
Aiding in proper digestion
Increased hydration through the consumption of more water
Brewing the perfect cup of tea
Methods of preparing tea are a matter of personal choice and preference. There is no “right” way to prepare and serve tea; however, there are many customs and rituals that are associated with drinking tea that have stemmed from many cultures primarily China, Japan and the UK. Those who wish to follow these customs and rituals can often discover new experiences associated with the long history of drinking tea. The Japanese tea ceremony is one of strict practices that take years to master. Whether you’re planning a tea party, or simply love a good cup of tea yourself, here are some helpful tips on brewing the perfect cup of tea.
Choose the best water
Use fresh water each time you prepare tea. Artesian spring water is preferred over tap water. Tap water should be avoided due to municipal water treatments which add chlorine and fluoride and can greatly affect the true flavor of your tea. Not all bottled waters are created equal. Purified and spring waters differ in mineral content, and therefore must be chosen based on personal taste. Never use hot tap water to speed up the boiling process. This adds additional impurities from your homes water heater. Choosing your water is the best place to start if you want to improve the flavor of your teas. Prepare cups of tea side by side using different sources of water and taste the difference.
Choose the best tea
choosing the best tea is not always easy. Grocery stores generally only carry tea bags filled with low quality tea leaves. Although they might seem like a bargain, these “name brands” are not worthy of being consider tea. Health food stores are more likely to carry teas marketed as gourmet but typically have a limited selection of average tea. These teas are an improvement to that of your local grocery store; however they are lacking true quality. When it comes to buying quality tea, visiting a tea house is a great place to start sampling different teas. This try before you buy method of discovery is always fun. However, until recently, tea houses were only found in major cities. But with the ever growing demand for quality teas, new ones are spreading throughout the west. Choosing a reputable supplier is important. Imperial Tea Garden carries a wide selection of teas in all price ranges. Buying rare and exotic teas from around the globe has never been so easy. Choose Imperial Tea Garden and taste the difference.
How much tea should I use?
As a rule of thumb, use 1-2 teaspoons per 8 ounce cup and gradually add more tea to achieve the briskness and body of your choosing. For best results, be sure to allow room for the water to circulate between the leaves for best results regardless of which brewing apparatus you choose.
Aside from choosing the best water and tea leaves possible, water temperature is the most critical element in preparing the perfect cup of tea. Regardless of which apparatus you choose to boil your water, remember to follow these guidelines when starting out. Heat the water in a glass, ceramic or clay teapot until it reaches a boil (212 degrees Fahrenheit) then allow the water to cool before brewing your tea. Guideline: 180 degrees for green tea, 190 degrees for Oolong tea, 200 degrees for black tea. This is especially important when preparing delicate green teas. These temperatures can be increased following successive brews. Quality teas can often be steeped 2-3 times.
Does water temperature affect flavor?
Tea should be prepared using fresh drawn tap water that has come to boil. Personal preference and taste is always the rule but some general guidelines should be followed. The boiling point of water is 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Black tea is best when steeped in 180 – 200 degrees Fahrenheit for 3-5 minutes. Green tea and Oolong tea are more fragile and require water that has cooled to at least 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Steep time for green tea and Oolong tea should also be decreased to 2-3 minutes. Excessive water temperature can cause tea to become bitter regardless of variety. Tea can be infused a second or third time by increasing the water temperature from those listed above.
Methods of preparing tea are a matter of choice and personal preference. There is no “right” way; however, there are many customs and rituals that are associated with drinking tea that have stemmed from every culture. Those who wish to learn and follow these rituals can often discover new experiences associated with the long history of tea.
Loose leaf in a teapot: This method of brewing tea allows for maximum freedom for the leaves to unfurl. This makes for a stronger, more flavorful cup. The disadvantages are removing the leaves, and cleaning the teapot after brewing. If the tea is not served and allowed to infuse longer than necessary, the tea can become bitter.
The tea ball: Most tea balls are made from aluminum or stainless steel mesh to hold the tea in place. This allows for easier cleanup of the leaves. However, there is usually insufficient space for the tea leaves to expand and prevents water from circulating freely around the tea leaves. Tea balls vary in sizes from one to three inches.
Stainless-steel mesh infuser: This method is similar to the tea ball, however, handles were added for easier handling and cleaning. The same disadvantages hold true for the mesh infuser as do for tea balls.
Basket filters: Basket filters that fit most teacups and mugs can be used to make individual cups of tea. They are made from plastic, stainless steel, or decorative ceramics. Basket filters are also available to fit inside teapots. This method of brewing tea allows the leaves to circulate freely. It also makes cleanup and disposal easy. The downfall is that not all baskets fit all teapots.
Tea socks: Tea socks are a fabric enclosure and perform similar to the basket filters. The disadvantages are that they stain and can retain the flavor and odor of previous batches. If you switch between green tea and black tea this would not be favorable.
Tea press: The tea press is a glass enclosure with a mesh plunger that allows the leaves to circulate freely while brewing and allows for compacting them to the bottom before pouring. Tea presses are available in 2, 4, and 6-cup sizes. Be sure to size correctly for your needs.
Brewing machines: Most coffee-brewing machines heat the water temperature near boiling. Although this works well for coffee beans it’s not suited for brewing fine tasting green tea or oolong tea. Specifically designed tea brewing machines are now coming onto the market but at a premium cost.
After gauging the proper water temperature, the tea leaves are steeped in the water using one of the methods listed above. Steeping tea leaves should be allowed to set still during this process because excess motion can cause the release of more tannins which can lead to bitter tasting tea. Do not steep tea for to long before serving when brewing in a teapot. Many newer teapots have basket filters that can be removed after the tea has steeped for the recommended time. Start with 1-3 minutes and gradually increase the time to your preferred likeness. This is especially important when preparing delicate green teas.
Tea Terms Describing Dry Leaf
BLACK: A black appearance is desirable. Preferably with “bloom”, this term is used with Orthodox or Rotorvane manufacture.
BLACKISH: This is satisfactory appearance for CTC and LTP manufacture teas and denotes careful sorting.
BLOOM: A “sheen” which has not been removed by over-handling or over-sorting, a sign of good manufacture and sorting (where the reduction of leaf has taken place before firing).
BOLD: Particles of leaf, which are too large for the particular grade.
BROWN: A brown appearance, with CTC and LTP manufacture, normally reflects too harsh treatment of the leaf.
CHESTY: Inferior or unseasoned packing materials caused this taint.
CHOPPY: Orthodox (or Rotorvane) manufactured leaf, which is cut by a “breaker” during sorting.
CHUNKY: A very large broken leaf tea.
CLEAN: Leaf which is free from fiber, dust, and any extraneous matter.
CREPY: A crimped appearance common with larger grades of broken leaf tea such as BOP.
CURLY: The leaf appearance of whole leaf grade Orthodox teas such as OP as opposed to wiry.
EVEN: Size is true to grade and of consistent size.
FLAKEY: Flat, open, and often light in texture.
GREY: Caused by too much abrasion during sorting.
GRAINY: Describes well made CTC or LTP primary grades, particularly Pekoe Dust, and Dust 1 grades.
LEAFY: Orthodox manufacture leaf tending to be on the large or long side.
LIGHT: A tea light in weight and of poor density – sometimes referred to as flakey.
MAKE: A well made tea (or not) and must be true to the particular grade.
MUSHY: A tea which has been packed or stored with high moisture content.
MUSTY: A tea affected by mildew.
NEAT: A grade having good “make” and size.
NOSE: Smell of the dry leaf.
POWDERY: A fine light dust.
RAGGED: An uneven or poorly manufactured and graded tea.
STALK & FIBER: Should be minimal in primary or top grades, but generally acceptable in the lower grades.
TIP: A sign of fine plucking and apparent in the top grades of Orthodox manufacture.
UNEVEN & MIXED: “Inconsistent” pieces of leaf indicating poor sorting and untrue to the particular grade of tea.
WELL TWISTED: Applies to Orthodox manufacture. Often referred to as “well made” or “rolled” and used to describe whole leaf grades.
WIRY: The appearance of a well twisted, thin leaf Orthodox tea.
Tea Terms Describing Infused Leaf
BAGGY: A “taint” normally resulting from unlined hessian bags.
BODY: Liquor having both fullness and strength, as opposed to being thin.
BAKEY: Over-fired tea in which too much moisture has been driven off.
BRIGHT: Denotes a lively fresh tea with good keeping quality.
BRISK: The most “live” characteristic resulting from good manufacture.
BURNT: Extreme over-firing of the leaf.
CHARACTER: An attractive taste when describing better high elevation growth, and peculiar to origin.
COLOURY: Indicates depth of color and strength.
COURSE: Fiber content.
COMMON: A very plain tea, light and thin liquor with no distinct flavor.
CREAM: A precipitate obtained after cooling.
DRY: Indicates slight over-firing.
DULL: Not clear and lacking any brightness or briskness.
EARTHY: Normally caused by damp storage. Also, it could be a taste that is “climatically inherent” in leaf from certain origins.
FLAT: Not fresh (usually due to age).
FLAVOR: A most desirable extension of “character” caused by slow growth at high elevations and rarity.
FULL: A good combination of strength and color.
FRUITY: Can be due to over-oxidization or bacterial infection before firing delivering an overly ripe taste.
GREEN: An immature “raw” character, often due to under fermentation (and sometimes under-withered).
HARD: A very pungent liquor.
HARSH: A taste generally related to under-withered leaf and very rough.
HEAVY: Thick, strong liquor with limited briskness.
HIGH-FIRED: Over-fired but not burnt.
LIGHT: Lacking strength and any depth of color.
MATURE: Not bitter or flat.
METALLIC: A sharp color flavor.
MUDDY: Dull opaque liquor.
POINT: A bright, acidy and penetrating characteristic.
PLAIN: Liquor which is “clean” but lacking in the desirable characteristics.
PUNGENT: Astringent with a good combination of briskness, brightness, and strength. This is often reserved for the best quality Assam and Ceylon teas.
QUALITY: Refers to “cup quality” and denotes a combination of the most desirable liquoring properties.
RASPING: A very course and harsh liquor.
RAW: Bitter unpleasant liquor.
SMOKEY: Mainly caused by leaks around the dryer heating tubes.
SOFT: The opposite of briskness and lacking any “live” characteristics.
STRENGTH: Substance in cup.
STEWED: A soft liquor with an undesirable taste caused by faulty firing at low temperatures.
TAINTS: Characteristics or tastes which are “foreign” to tea. Such as petrol, garlic, ect. Often due to being stored next to other commodities with strong characteristics of their own.
THIN: An insipid light liquor which lacks any desirable characteristics.
WEEDY: A grass or hay taste related to under-withering.