How to Prepare Tea
Tea is very easy to make. There are only two essential ingredients that directly affect the taste of your tea. The first is the quality of the tea you use, the second is the quality of your water. Often the quality of water is overlooked. These days, water has many contaminants in it (chlorine, chloramines, minerals etc.). Always try to use good tasting water when making a cup of tea, and you will always get a better result. You will find that loose tea tastes better than bagged tea. There will be fewer tannins (the stuff that makes you pucker) and a smoother taste. You usually don't get that scummy brown ring around your cup with a better quality loose tea.
Water temperature makes a difference depending on the tea you are preparing. Usually boiling water can be poured directly over black tea. When making green or white tea, let the water sit for a minute or two before pouring it over the leaves.
You will need a tea strainer of some sort to prevent the leaves from floating around in your teapot or cup. These come in basket and pincer style. Stainless-steel is suggested.
Tea is a healthy, natural drink and is a source of the amino acid theanine, methylxanthines such as caffeine and theobromine, and polyphenolic antioxidant catechins. The antioxidant properties of tea are well known. Antioxidants help fight of illnesses including cancer. It has almost no carbohydrates, fat, or protein so if taken without milk and sugar, it contains virtually no calories.
- Anti-cancer properties
- Increases metabolic rate
- Possible anti-diabetes effect
- Boosts immune system and mental alertness
- Lowers chances of cognitive impairment
- Lowers stress hormone levels
Tea contains catechins, which are a type of antioxidant. In a fresh tea leaf, catechins can be up to 30% of the dry weight. Catechins are highest in concentration in white and green teas, while black tea has substantially less due to its oxidative preparation.
Theanine and the stimulant caffeine exists in tea at about 3% of its dry weight. An 8oz cup of tea has between 30mg and 80mg. Compared to coffee (90 to 150mg), tea has 1/4 the caffeine content. It is important to keep in mind that caffeine is not a bad thing- it actually helps boost your metabolism. It is only bad when taken in excessive amounts. The main advantage tea had over other beverages with caffeine is that it is rich in antioxidants and other minerals.
Tea also contains small amounts of theobromine and theophylline. Fluoride can also be found in tea.
Discovery of Tea
Legend has it that tea was discovered by Shennong, the legendary Emperor of China. He is noted for being an inventor of agriculture and Chinese medicine. It is said that Shennong had passed a decree that all water to be consumed should be boiled first. He was obviously a very smart man, as this effectively purifies the water. It is said that one day as he was drinking a bowl of hot water, the leaves from a nearby tree fell into his bowl. The water changed colour and the emperor took a sip. He liked what he tasted and tea was born. This is said to have occurred around 2737 BCE
How Tea is Grown
Camellia Sinensis is an evergreen plant and grown tropical climates with plenty of rainfall. Usually the plants are grown at high altitudes (1500 meters) in acidic soil. The higher altitude makes the plant grow more slowly and acquires a better flavor. When the tea is picked, only the top 1-2 inches of the plant are harvested. The plants are usually pruned to waist height (easy picking level). If they are not pruned, the plant will basically grow into a tree. The new growth buds and leaves are called flushes and a plant will grow a new flush every seven to ten days during the growing season. Certain flushes of the growing season will produce a better tasting tea.
There are actually two varieties of Camellia Sineensis- a small-leaved China plant (Camellia Sinensis Sinensis) and the large-leaved Assam plant (Camellia Sinensis Assamica ).
Although all tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant, the four main types of tea (black, green, oolong and white) are determined by how the leaves are processed after being picked. Once a leaf is picked, it will quickly begin to wilt and oxidize and turn dark in colour. In order to stop this process, the leaves need to be dried. The degree of oxidization determines which of the four tea types are created.
The more a tea oxidizes, the darker it will become as the chlorophyll breaks down and tannins are released. This process is called enzymatic oxidation, and is called ‘fermentation' in the tea industry. Usually we think fermentation creates alcohol, but nothing like this occurs with tea fermentation. Based on when fermentation ceases, the following teas are created White, Green, Oolong and Black.
In 1908, American tea merchant Thomas Sullivan began distributing samples of his tea in small silk bags with a drawstring. People liked this idea, since the teabag was cleaner (no leaves in your tea) and also could be re-used. From then tea bags began to take over the English world. Although ‘neater' (no messy leaves), don't be fooled. The reasons why not to use tea bags are listed below:
The tea in tea bags is called "fannings" or "dust" and is often the waste product produced from the sorting of higher quality loose leaf tea.
- The paper used for the bag has a taste and detracts from the tea's flavor.
- Dried tea loses its flavour quickly when exposed to air. Since tea bags contain very small pieces of tea, more surface area of tea is exposed and causes the tea to go stale faster.
- Shredding up the leaves extracts flavoured oils and reduces the flavor of the tea.
- The small size of the bag does not allow leaves to diffuse and steep properly.