Spo-fan Larry (the dear!)  recently asked me  to write about tea.   

One could not design a more beneficial drink. It has enough caffeine to give a pleasant wakefulness but (usually) not enough to cause jitters or a ‘buzz’. It is a bargain; a 100g bag of good quality leaves makes a lot of tea. Tea is good for you. It contains antioxidants and plant elements (called phytochemicals) that promote all sorts of good health features. The word “nice” is forever associated with “a cup of tea”. And – it is delicious!

The history of tea is a fascinating topic. It is one of five beverages that influenced history. At one point The English traded opium for tea. At first they used silver, but with revolutions in the New World, the supply of silver was cut off. The demand for tea accelerated. The solution: exchange opium for tea. In 1758 Parliament gave the East India Company the monopoly on the production of opium in India. The British increased the export of opium by a 1000x up until 1830. All efforts by the Chinese government to curb the opium import failed. The Chinese burned the opium; war was declared. The “Opium War” of 1839-42 ended with Great Britain forcing China into all sorts of concessions including Hong Kong. The cumulative efforts of the mass addiction to opium and the political instability evolved into the massive mortality of the Taiping rebellion and later the Boxer uprising. Millions died. For a pot of tea, Chinese culture was nearly destroyed.

Anyway, back to drinking tea.

Talking about tea is like talking about wine. There are many parrellels. Tea is grown in many countries; it carries the ‘terrior’ of its origin. How tea is harvested and prepared makes it vary as much as wine.

People who state they don’t care for tea probably haven’t had ‘real tea’. It is like comparing instant coffee to good beans home-ground. What goes into iced tea, or the nasty bits found in most tea bags is called ‘dust’ in the tea industry. This class of tea is like comparing jug wine to Bordeaux.  The tea industry is not unlike the wine industry – there are ‘good years’ and many styles.

Proper tea is loose leaf tea, properly steeped, according to their properties. And there are different types each with their own brewing instructions. How long you brew and how hot is the water make or breaks tea.

For example, green tea is prepared with simmering hot water, never boiling. Boiling water on green tea brings out astringency (the ‘bitter taste’). I seldom order green tea in a restaurant for this reason – they tend to use too hot water.

Tea falls into 4 rough categories –

“White” tea is made from leaves hardly processed , nearly ‘raw’. It probably has the most health benefits. It is called white as the brew ranges from pale white to a light brown.

Green” – partially fermented – its brew is pale yellow to green/brown.  All the research on the health benefits of tea have come from green tea. China and Japan produce most of the world’s green tea.

“Oolong” is a Chinese tea that is a transition between green and black. It contains some of the properties of both. The leaves tend to be large.

“Black” (what most people know for tea) is the most popular in the Western world. The leaves are ‘fired’ to a brown dried condition. Black teas usually have the most caffeine and the strongest taste. They are the “red wines” of the tea world. Black tea is good for morning time, and iced tea.

I advise newcomers to tea to get a variety of loose leaf quality tea (no rubbish) from a reliable merchant. Follow the specific instructions how to brew each tea sample. Try many.

Or better yet, come over and I will make you a cup.