My gosh I can’t believe that it’s been nearly a year since I have posted about a new tea!! In that time I have been drinking tea, but I’ve stuck to the old familiars. Even when I visited the tea room over these many months, I have stuck to teas I’m familiar with, with the exception of last November. Even for my birthday last month, upon discovering that you may try as many different teas as you’d like after the first pot, I stuck with the familiar.
I’m pleased to report that on Monday last I received my order from Harney & Sons and they are all brand new teas I’ve never tried before. I know this company hasn’t been around as long as some of the greats like Twinings, but Harney & Sons has over 200 different teas. These are the teas that are served at the tea room, so I can enjoy them again on future visits. Also, while I haven’t looked into other tea companies, you can order samples of the teas that Harney & Sons sells. they range from $2-$4 for a bag that will make 2-3 cups.
I’d like to talk about the different types of teas, before I share information about these teas that I’ve bought. I may or may not have previously covered this, but I’m going over it again. For those who don’t know, with the exception of herbal teas that come from flowers and fruits, all tea comes from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. The different types of teas are created by processing the leaves in various ways. These are the types:
White tea: (least amount of caffeine) Traditionally cultivated in China, white tea was picked only a few days out of the year, when a white down, known as bai hao, appeared on the tender shoots. The tea shoots are allowed to wither then dry to prevent oxidization. This process is a delicate one, requiring strict attention from the tea makers. Nowadays, other tea growing regions as Darjeeling and Sri Lanka have begun to cultivate white tea, in an effort to capitalize off white tea’s growing popularity.
Green tea: (some caffeine, but generally low amounts) Because they are unoxidized, green teas keep their vital color. To prevent oxidization, the leaves are heat processed to eliminate the enzyme responsible for oxidization. In China, this is generally done by roasting or pan-firing the leaves, while the Japanese generally accomplish this by steaming the leaves at a high temperature. Each process tends to bring out a more particular flavor from the tea leaves. The Chinese style of processing tends to bring out a mouthwatering range of flavors from citrus-like to smoky with a lighter body. The color of the liquor is usually not a true “green”, but a pale yellow or straw color. The steaming process yields a deep vegetal or herbaceous quality-a characteristic prized in Japanese teas. Japanese green teas range in color of liqour from the pale green of a light sencha, to the deep grassy green of a gyokuro. Green teas that have been steamed contain more moisture and are therefore more delicate. Such teas should be stored at cooler temperatures and consumed sooner after picking than pan-fired teas.
Oolong tea: (mid-level amounts of caffeine) Oolong, also spelled Wu Long, teas are semi-oxidized. The term in Chinese actually means “Black Dragon”. Oolong teas have long been cultivated in both mainland China and Taiwan. In general, larger, mature leaves are picked, withered, rolled, oxidized, and then fired. The leaves can be allowed to oxidize between 10% to 80%. Often, different tea estates have their preferred ways of making oolong tea. It is because of the intricacy of this process that oolong teas can have the widest array of flavors and aromas. Furthermore, oolongs can be steeped several time, with each successive infusion having its own distinctive taste and fragrance.
Black tea: (highest amounts of caffeine) Black tea is the most well-known variety of tea in the West. Known as “red tea” in China, black tea leaves are fully oxidized. In the case of most black teas, younger leaves are picked before being withered, rolled, fully oxidized, and fired. While created originally in China, black teas are now cultivated worldwide. Some of the most famous black teas come from the Indian regions of Assam, Darjeeling, and Nilgiri as well as Sri Lanka. The use of machines is becoming more common, but the best black teas are those entirely done by hand. Machine-processed teas tend to be of lower quality and are generally used in tea bags.
The long-standing trend in black tea, taken from the British, has been to create “blends”. For centuries, tea companies take various kinds of tea to create a particular flavor or character-for example, a strong breakfast tea or a delicate afternoon tea. And just like a perfume house, several older tea companies are known for their signature blends. But as the quality and character of tea harvests can vary greatly year to year, tea companies rely on the skills of tea blenders to take different teas from the year’s harvest to create the same taste again and again.