How do you make quality tea

How Do You Make Quality Tea?

Tea is the world’s most popular drink, enjoyed around the world in many forms. True tea comes from one plant, the Camellia sinensis, yet tea production has many forms, with many types of tea derived from this one plant, and an endless variety of blends to suit palates around the world. What goes into making a quality tea? More than you might think.

Even if part of an herbal blend, the presence of Camellia sinensis is easily recognised by a dryness left in the mouth after taking a sip. For the best tea, only the buds and tips of the top leaves are removed, as they have a finer texture. A plant can be harvested every six or seven days.

The type of tea is determined by how it is processed. Once harvested, the tea leaves are spread out onto large trays to wilt. This area is kept at about thirty degrees, which lets the tea dry without moving on to the next process, fermenting. Green tea is allowed to wilt for a day; any longer and it loses some of its chlorophyll, becoming yellow tea.

Black teas are created by letting wilted tea leaved oxidize. Tea producers refer to this as “fermentation,” even though true fermentation involves bacteria in an oxygen-free environment. Bruising and crushing of the leaves releases enzymes which encourage oxidation. This process destroys the chlorophyll, changing its colour from green to brown. Oolong is processed the same way as black tea, but with less bruising and oxidation, giving it a lighter flavour.

All of these teas are preserved in the same way: heating them to eighty degrees halts all wilting and enzyme processes. White teas are heated immediately after harvest. Because they lack the development of other teas, they have the mildest flavour. In most Asian languages black tea is called “red” tea because of its colour when brewed. In Western countries, red tea can be black tea, or rooibos, which is a kind of herbal tea.

Any tea lover will tell you if you want quality tea, you want to buy loose leaf, not bagged. Tea production is done very differently depending on its intended purpose. Loose tea is rolled during drying, while tea intended for bags has to be ground and then sorted by size. All this handling reduces the flavour from bagged tea. The bag also reduces the amount of room the tea has to hydrate, extracting even less flavour.

Almost all teas on the market are tea blends. Like coffee and wine, the flavour of tea varies depending on the soil and weather it’s grown in. Testers must blend many teas from many different countries to ensure the blend they’re making always has the same taste. Blends can be a mix of several teas, or tea and herbal ingredients: English Breakfast Tea is a mix of Assam, Ceylon and Kenyan black teas, while Earl Grey is black tea with oil from Bergamot oranges.

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August 2019
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