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Tea Basics

Chinese Teapot and TeaTea is a beverage made from infusing the dry leaves, buds and stems of variants of the Camellia Sinensis plant. Some fine teas, notably Jasmine Tea, are infused with scent from the petals of flowers. Artificially flavoured or scented teas are also made but not generally of interest to tea lovers. Herbal and floral teas are not strictly teas, but tisanes. All the flavours attributed to our teas are derived naturally from the leaves themselves. The wonderful aroma and taste of this fine tea is down to the artisan producer’s skill.

 

Camellia Sinensis is an evergreen plant that grows in tropical and sub-tropical climates between 1200 and 1500 metres above sea level. There are two main varietals used for Tea Camelia sinsensis sinensis (China Tea) and Camelia sinsensis assamica (Indian and Sri Lankan Tea) and other sub-varietals of the species.

 

The taste and appearance of tea is determined by the following factors:

  • The Tea varietal: China Tea subdivides into over 3,000 hybridized varietals or cultivars, each with characteristics that make them most appropriate for making particular teas. Some varietals have been created to suit particular climates, soils and altitudes, others to make one specific type of tea. Most Oolong Teas, such as Da Hong Pao and Dan Cong are grown from unique varietals. Other varietals, like the large-leaved ‘Great White’ is used mainly to make White Teas but are also processed into Green or Oolong Teas.
  • The season: Spring picked Teas often have different characteristics from those harvested in Autumn (generally they are superior). Some teas – Green and Whites mainly – are picked only in the Spring, while some Oolong Teas may have four harvests spanning the seasons.
  • The ‘terroir’: Terroir can be best understood as the geography of the place where the tea is grown. It is made up of three elements: Soil, Climate and Topography. Most fine teas are grown between 600 and 1500 metres in relatively acidic soil. Higher elevations mean slower growth and more flavour. The Chinese believe that poorer soil in high mountain regions, such as Wuyi Shan, produces the most flavourful tea. The best tea producing areas have tropical and sub-tropical climates with warm days and relatively cool nights, with an average of at least 1500 mm (59 inches) of rain a year. Again, this promotes slow growth, which delivers more flavour to the leaves.
  • Picking: The timing of picking is critical, as is the skill of the pickers. All the best teas are picked by hand, often bio-dynamically (ie in accordance with the phases of the moon). In most cases only the tips or flushes are picked and the timing and picking is determined by the eventual tea type: for example White Tea is made from buds or two leaves and a bud, whereas Oolong is made with three or four leaves from more mature plants.
  • Processing: The way that tea is processed depends on the type of tea being made. The best teas are processed laboriously by hand by artisan tea famers whose skills have been honed over generations. As soon as tea is picked it starts to undergo oxidation, turning from green to brown. The level of oxidation depends on the type of tea required: White Tea is dried slowly at low temperatures, allowing partial oxidation; Green Teas are fired immediately after picking to kill enzymes which, along with polyphenols, react with oxidise on contact with air; and for Oolong and Black Teas the leaves are bruised and rolled or pressed to allow partial or full oxidation. In each case the skill of the tea-maker is critical to release the catechins, the antioxidant flavonoids that determine the flavour profile of the tea.
  • Brewing: Water quality and temperature, the type of brewing vessel, length and number of infusions, and the proportion of tea to water used are all critical to the taste and quality of the infusion. White and Green Teas need to be brewed with cooler water, while Oolongs and Black Teas can stand near-boiling water. Pu-erh Teas should be brewed in a Yixing (aka Zi Sha) clay Teapot, as this material complements and enhances the complex flavours of the tea.

Browse Canton's selection of high quality loose leaf tea.