I told Laura I was about to start the tea article (articles – I had to limit it to four) and she promptly exploded with information.
I like tea, I even quite like fancy tea but my willingness to drink Twinings is a source of incomparable sorrow to my colleagues.
My point is, beware all ye who enter here. People who are happy with a cup of builders are liable to be scalded with yellow gold oolong and then scolded for causing the waste of perfectly good tea.
The great thing about tea is that there is every opportunity to be exactly as nerdy and snobbish as the most committed wine critic. White, green, black, what exactly is the difference between a first and second flush darjeeling? Why would you ferment it? There’s a lot to learn, if you feel so inclined, and most people know next to nothing about tea so a very little knowledge should be sufficient to awe your friends and amaze your enemies.
There are tea tastings, tea masterclasses and tea tours, you could remaster your social life entirely around tea-drinking if you wanted to.
And at the end of all that you get to drink a nice cup.
Oh it’s a wonderful world.
Let’s start with a quick introduction to the basic types you might come across.
Black tea is the most common variety, it’s the most oxidized which gives it a darker colour and stronger flavour. After being oxidised the tea leaves are dried to halt the process.
White tea is made from buds and young leaves of the tea plant, it is relatively low in caffeine and is exposed to the least oxidation and dried soon after it is picked which results in a light colour and flavour.
Green tea is tea that has been exposed to minimal oxidation, green tea varieties are processed in a range of different ways. Green teas have been ascribed all kinds of health benefits due to their high levels of antioxidants.
Not quite green or black it’s in-between a semi-oxidised tea. It can be anywhere between 10-70% oxidised and the colour will vary accordingly.
This is a tea that has been fermented.
This is very much like green tea but with a slower drying period which allows the tea leaves to sit and yellow.
Not tea. Anything brewed like tea that is not, in fact, tea.
Any tea to which additional flavourings have been added. The most well known of these is Earl Grey which is black tea flavoured with bergamot orange oil.
How to brew tea
To make the best brew you should follow the instructions on your leaves but here are some tips to steer you in the right direction.
– use 1-2 teaspoons (3-4g)
– give the leaves plenty of room to expand
– pour on the right temperature of water (this will change according to what tea you are using)
– use just enough water for your cup and make sure all water is drained.
Now let’s look at some great varieties to get you started:
First flush Darjeeling
Darjeeling is a highly prized variety of black tea that can only be grown in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal, flushes refer to the different harvests. The first flush is harvested in mid-March. First-flush Darjeeling is very different from second flush Darjeeling, it has a light, crisp, floral taste. It is between 50-80% oxidised.
To brew use 2g of tea leaves with water at 85°C, brew for around 1 minute.
Ali Shan is a high mountain oolong from Chiayi in Taiwan. This is a mellow relaxing tea with a unique milky flavour and note of honey, melon and cinnamon. It is also known as ‘Winter Tea’ because much of it is harvested in the winter. This tea goes through many, time intensive hand processes. It is withered on bamboo racks, and then tossed or tumbled to bruise. Next it is rested on racks to oxidise and then all of that is repeated again. Then it is heated and rolled in a cloth bag.
To brew: use 3-4g of tea leaves at 80-90° infusions for around a minute, you can get around 5 infusions out of most varieties, allow 30 seconds extra for each additional infusion.
Pu Erh Poe
As discussed this tea is fermented and aged before being gently dried, this makes it rich and earthy. It will keep you going all day and make you feel like you can conquer the world.
To brew use 3-4g of leaves at 95-100° again you can make multiple infusions, brew for around 30 second or 90 if you have made more than 5 infusions already.
Gyokuro Green Tea
Gyokuro means ‘jade dew’, it is grown in the shade which means the leaves have more chlorophyll and are higher in amino acids. It tastes fresh like new grass with hints of butter and seaweed.
You should use lower temperature water to to brew green tea, otherwise it becomes bitter and astringent.
To brew use 3-4g of tea 70-80°.
Jasmine Green Tea
Jasmine Phoenix Pearls majestically unfurl, releasing their delicate scent and flavour. Also known as ‘Jasmine Dragon Pearls’, their liquor is sweet and almost sugary.
From Fuding, in Fujian province, China, the delicate quality of the flavour is due in part to the leaves used to produce this tea: tender, tiny new leaves and plump unopened leaf buds. Younger leaves yield a softer flavour. The jasmine scent comes from placing the tea leaves between alternating layers of young jasmine.
To brew use 3-4g of leaves at 70-80° and brew for 90 seconds.