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Tea 101

Here, we will review all things tea from its history and types to how it is grown and cultivated. And of course, making the proper pot!

Choose an article below.

History of Tea
Cultivation of Tea
Types of Teas
Tea Grades
Tea Characteristics
Decaffeinated Teas
How to Brew Hot Tea

History of Tea

The discovery of tea is attributed to one of China's legendary emperors, Shen Nung, who ruled China about 2737 B.C. As the story goes, Shen Nung was sipping hot, boiled water in his garden one day when a leaf from a tea bush nearby fell into his cup. The emperor tasted and smelled the infusion, and decided it was a considerable improvement over plain hot water. However, until the end of the sixth century, tea continued to be drunk primarily as a remedy for illnesses.

By the year 780 A.D., the poet-scholar Lu Yu wrote the first book about tea. The ten parts of this book include information and elaborate instructions for every aspect of tea growing, harvesting, manufacture, brewing and drinking. Tea then spread through Japan and overseas to Holland and overland from China to Russia and eventually to the rest of the world.
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Cultivation of Tea

The tea plant is a tropical and subtropical evergreen that belongs to the Camellia family. The Camellia plant most familiar in the West is the shiny, green leaved Camellia Japonica with its red, white, or pink flowers, but by far the most important Camellia is Camellia Sinensis, whose young leaves and unopened leaf buds are processed in various ways into the dried tea leaves familiar all over the world.

Tea is grown on estates that range in size from a quarter acre farmed by a single family to giant plantations with hundreds of acres. The bushes are kept pruned to a height of 3 feet for easy harvesting of leaves and each acre typically has three to five thousand tea bushes. A tea plant may remain productive for over a century. Only about half the leaves produced during the life of the bush are actually picked and processed for market.

The crop taken from the tea bushes consists of young leaf shoots and the unopened leaf bud. These are rich in caffeine and the organic compounds that are responsible for the smell and taste of the tea. Picking, which is really plucking and is often called that, is either "fine" or "course". Two leaves and a leaf bud is fine plucking, three or more leaves and a leaf bud is considered course plucking. High quality teas are always harvested with fine plucking. Unlike many crops, tea is plucked or harvested at least three times a year and sometimes dozens.
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Types of Teas

Green Tea
Any variety of Camellia sinensis that undergoes a process of firing or steaming immediately after plucking. This stops any enzyme action or oxidation of the leaves. The taste or character of green tea is heavily determined by the choice of clonal plant used, time of plucking, shoot maturity, geographic and weather conditions and cultivation method.

Black Tea
Fresh green leaves are spread on racks to dry out and then rolled, crushed, and broken to release the leaves juices, which then oxidize or ferment and turn the leaves brown. The leaves are then dried by hot air to arrest further oxidation. Black tea produces a reddish-brown beverage with the full, rich flavor we are familiar with.

Oolong Tea
Any variety of Camellia sinensis that undergoes a multi-step process after harvest of withering, rolling, oxidation and firing. Oolong tea's enzymes are partially oxidized to create a liquor that ranges from reddish brown to green to pale yellow.

Herbal Teas
Herbal teas are not teas at all but combinations of herbs, roots, and/or bark that is infused in hot water in a manner similar to that of tea. Generally, these "infusions" are consumed for medicinal purposes and the dominant herb contained in the blend characterizes the flavor.

Flavored Black Teas
Flavored teas are mainly used with the finest China Black teas. The extracts used to flavor the teas are a combination of both natural and artificial flavoring. Combining these two types of flavoring results in a wonderfully enhanced natural aroma and taste that will remain with the tea for a long time.

Scented, as the name implies, refers to the presence of a fragrance imparted through temporary contact or exposure to the smell of flowers or other aromatic plants.

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Tea Grades

Whole Leaf

TGFOP - Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe - This grade represents some of the most precious tea in the world. After brewing, it is not uncommon to see whole leaves in their original state.
GFOP - Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe - An open OP leaf with a golden brown tip.
FOP - Flowery Orange Pekoe - A leaf which is as long or longer than an OP but is not as tightly rolled. The cup tends to be lighter than broken grades.
OP - Orange Pekoe - Long, thin, wiry leaves which sometimes contain yellow tip or leaf buds.
Souchong - A bold, flat leaf, ofen light in liquor. Formosa and China are the most common producers of this grade.

Pekoe (Pronounced Peck-oh not Peek-oh) - Leaves are shorter and less wiry than Orange Pekoe, but the liquors often have more color.

Broken Leaf

GFBOP - Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe - A BOP with more tip than the FBOP. Tips do not necessarily add to the quality of the cup. However, most top grades do have tip.
FBOP - Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe - Is usually larger than the standard BOP and often contains brown and silver tips. The tips are not pieces of flower, but merely tender new leaf buds.
BOP - Broken Orange Pekoe - The smallest of leaf grades. The liquor usually has a good color with strength in the cup and is very useful in many blends.
BP - Broken Pekoe - A very short, even, curly leaf. It develops a dark, heavy cup.

Tea Bag

         Fanning - Much smaller than BOP. Its main characteristics are quick brewing with good color in the cup. For use in tea bags only.
         Dust - Is the smallest grade produced. Very useful for a quick brewing cup of tea.

Green Tea Grades

Young Hyson - Young, green leaves made into a long, thin, twisted style.
Hyson - An older leaf with a coarse style of preparation.
Chunmee - A hard twisted style.
Sowmee - A small twisted type similar to Young Hyson.

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Tea Characteristics

Aroma - The nose or the fragrance of the tea. It may be lacking, faint, medium, full, expansive and flowery. A complex aroma is often described as a bouquet.
Body - The sensation of weight and substance of the liquor experienced in the mouth. Described as thin, medium, full, etc.
Bright - A characteristic of all fine teas. Bright teas have a lively, limpid, or sparkling appearance.
Brisk - The opposite of flat. The "live" character found in the taste of good teas.
Caffeine - Tea contains .75% caffeine or 48 mg. per serving (less than half that of coffee). Green tea has 1/3 the amount of caffeine as black tea. Oolong tea has 1/2 the amount of caffeine as black tea.
Character - The general quality of a tea. The combination of aroma and flavor that can be associated with country, region, district, or even garden.
Chocolaty - A term used to describe the flavor of certain fine Darjeelings.
Clean - Usually used to describe dry leaf free of dust, fiber, and stalk.
Coarse - A liquor lacking aroma and often with undesirable taste qualities as well, due to irregular firings or poor leaf.
Color - Color should be bright, limpid, or deep. A black tea with a concentrated red liquor is sometimes described as colory.
Complex - Characteristic of very fine teas whose nose and taste give the impression of a subtle melange of flavors.
Cream - A milky film that forms as certain black teas (particularly Assam) cool. Usually indicates some briskness and strength though not necessarily flavor.
Dull - Muddy, brownish color and appearance.
Fine - Term of praise, synonymous with flavory.
Flat - A soft, rather tasteless tea.
Flavor - Used to describe fine quality indicated by the presence of a sweetish or honeylike aroma-taste complex..
Flowery - The fragrant aroma of many fine teas.
Full - Full teas are not bitter, but ripe, round and smooth.
Heavy - Thick, strong, colory black tea with little briskness.
Point - A tea has point if it has some desirable quality, such as liveliness, briskness, or fine fragrance.
Polyphenols - The biochemical substance in tea responsible for its color. Also known as "tannins". Research indicates that these substances can help in the prevention of certain cancers.
Smoky - A desirable characteristic fragrance and flavor of some China teas, especially Lapsang Souchong.
Tannin - The ingredient in tea that gives it color and is responsible for much of the aroma and taste. Not related to Tannic Acid. See Polyphenols.
Toasty - A term sometimes used to describe the aroma of a fine Keemun, occasional Darjeelings, and sometimes other highly fired teas.
Winy - A fine Darjeeling or Keemun properly kept six months to a year or more may take on a mellow, winy character.
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Decaffeinated Teas

A cup of tea contains about half the caffeine as a cup of coffee. However, tea can be decaffeinated by some of the same processes as coffee. Ethyl acetate is the most common method of decaffeination. Ethyl acetate is a by-product of natural fruit acid, is not carcinogenic, and removes 98% of the caffeine from the tea.
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How to Brew Hot Tea

Making a proper pot of tea is not a mystery known only to the British! Some very simple rules apply and when followed correctly, will produce the beverage you will lovingly linger over. Ingredients needed: Loose leaf tea, freshly boiled water, patience to wait five minutes.

1. Take a clean teapot that is either a round earthenware or porcelain pot and fill it with water from a measuring cup to determine how many 6 ounce cups your teapot holds. Pour out the measured water and refill your teapot with hot tap water to preheat it. Let it sit for several minutes to warm and then empty out the water.

2. Measure the loose tea with a teaspoon (measuring size spoon only). Use one level teaspoon per cup of tea (6 ounces of water). Measure the loose tea directly into your teapot.

3. Take your empty teakettle and fill it with cold water from your tap that has been running for at least one minute to flush out the stale water in the pipes.

4. Boil the water by turning your stove to high heat and bring the water to a full vigorous, rolling, furious, bubbling boil. Never overboil the water, it will de-aerate and go flat producing a dull and dead-tasting tea.

5. Have your teapot next to the kettle in anticipation of the full-boiling moment. At the point at which the water reaches a full rolling boil, pour the boiling water into your teapot immediately.

6. Put the lid on your teapot and wait five minutes. At this point, if you have one, you may cover the teapot with a cozy to slow down the cooling of the water while the tea is brewing.

7. After you have waited five minutes, lift the lid and give the tea a quick stir before serving.

8. Serve immediately or the tea will be over-brewed. Use a stainless steel strainer to catch the leaves if you do not have a built-in strainer inside your teapot.
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