Loose Leaf Oolong Tea: The Process Of Fermentation

by Elena Popec 24. September 2010 12:39

Oolong or Wu Long means "Black Dragon". Oolongs are half-fermented (or semi-oxidized) teas that are in the specialty tea family. Half-fermented because the processing of Oolong tea requires only a partial fermentation (oxidation) of the leaves. Oolongs occupy an intermediate position between non-fermented green teas and fully fermented black teas and are the most diverse and interesting loose leaf teas. Oolongs can have varying degrees of oxidation that ranges somewhere between 10-35% in classic Chinese Oolongs to 60-70% in classic Taiwanese (Formosa) Oolongs. Oolong specialty tea is often made from mature leaves, collected from older tea trees.

Processing Oolong is considered the art of tea, where the character of tea is created. Tea masters participate in Oolong tea processing competitions to demonstrate their professional skills at this fine art.

Let’s take a look at Oolong manufacturing process.

There are no standard recipes on how to manufacture oolong tea; it is up to the discretion of each tea garden or tea master to decide on processing and the level of oxidation.
 
Immediately after gathering, the tea leaves are spread in a thin layer on special bamboo mats under direct sunlight for withering that will let most of water evaporate. The withering process time varies depending on the ambient temperature.
 
The next step of processing is very peculiar, withered leaves are placed in a large bamboo basket and put in a shady area. Approximately every hour, the tea leaves are shacked and gently tumbled in order to bruise the edges of the leaves to start an oxidation, at the same time avoiding breaking or crushing them. This procedure has to be done several times, until following effect will be reached: bruised up edges of the leaves due to the fermentation become brown blush (like 'rusty'), while veins and parts of the leaves should remain green.

Once the desired level of fermentation is reached, the oxidation process should be stopped immediately. This is achieved through the heat drying phase of raw materials in scorching air called "panning". The pan roasting of the leaves requires extensive experience in Oolong tea processing.

Most Oolongs are dried in two stages: first is partially, primary drying and rolling of tea leaves, then a final finish drying. Some highly fermented Oolongs undergo an additional stage of wetting and softening.

The partially drying process is carried out manually. This stage is necessary to stop the fermentation. Partially drying can be done in 2-4 steps, when the raw material is taken out of the oven, quickly cooled, then rolled. Then again dried in the oven, rapidly cooled, then rolled again, and so on. Afterwards, the leaves go through a final drying phase, ending oxidation and often followed by baking (roasting). Several kinds of Oolong are not rolled just dried after panning. With such a "multistage" technology, taste and degree of fermentation of Oolongs differentiate. Although, manufacturing Oolong is very intensive and meticulous process, unique aroma and flavor profile of this specialty tea makes this tea worth the trouble.

Good quality Oolongs are only loose leaf teas, not tea bags!

The most widely known and actively exported Oolongs are Chinese (Fujian and Yunnan) and Taiwanese (Formosa). Among the most well-known are Formosa Oolongs. Grown and manufactured in Taiwan, named after the province in which grown, these teas are considered the best in quality and affordability among Oolong the loose leaf tea family. Taiwanese Oolongs are often called "Champagne of Teas". Typically Taiwanese Oolongs are specifically labeled that indicates the quality of tea:

1. Fanciest or Extra Fancy
2. Fancy
3. Extra Choice or Extra Fine
4. Fine
5. Fully Superior
6. Superior
7. Good
8. Standard

Chinese Oolongs are famous for the fact that are used in a Chinese traditional procedure named Gongfu Cha and withstand up to 7 steepings.

Brewing Oolong is a very delicate process because it strongly depends on the type of oolong, more precisely, the degree of its fermentation. A lightly fermented Oolong is closest to the brewing of green tea with 190-195 degrees water and the brewing time 1-3 minutes. More fermented Oolong (such as Formosa) is brewing a little longer 4-5 min in hotter water 203-212. After brewing a quality Oolong has pronounced specific characteristics that cannot be mixed with any other kinds of tea.

 The best quality Oolongs expresses a strong and rich floral aroma and a remarkable peachy flavor with a honey-sweet aftertaste. Oolongs that closer in oxidation to black teas, have a nutty, toasted flavor. Color of brew is very diverse: from light yellow with green notes (like green tea) to a dark red. Oolong specialty teas contribute 2% of tea consumption of all the teas all over the world.

Enjoy a great cup of Oolong, happy drinking!

Top 10 Reasons to Drink Loose Leaf Green Tea

by Elena Popec 14. June 2010 13:57

Is there even an argument of loose leaf over using tea bags? Loose leaf tea has been left in its natural state and the brewing of it brings out the flavor of the tea. It’s not really a contest over flavorless tea bags.

The Benefits

And green tea is delicious; it has a sweet, natural flavor. It can be paired with certain fruits or sometimes spices or nuts to complement its flavor. Beyond being completely delicious, green tea is a healthy choice.

Energy Boost

Green tea has just enough caffeine to give you energy, but doesn’t lead to the crash effect that coffee or espresso can give. The way caffeine is released from tea is in such a way that regulates how the caffeine is released, due to a compound that exists in the tea itself.

Stress Relief

Green tea also reduces stress. There are compounds that occur naturally in tea leaves that have a calming effect, which decreases the stress response in your body. Try brewing some green tea when you’re worried or stressed.

Weight Loss


Research has also shown that tea may help speed up the metabolism. This would help people who are trying to lose weight. Newer studies have found catechins in tea which help reduce fat in the abdomen. Catechins are found in weight loss supplements, but why take those when you can drink brewed, naturally occurring tea leaves?

Healthy Teeth

This tea has also been proven to fight off cavities. It reduces gingivitis and it reduces the bacteria in the mouth. The tea leaf has fluoride which occurs naturally, and is a substance that helps build up strength and health in teeth. Green tea also destroys the bacterium that causes strep throat.

Antioxidants

Green tea helps ward off many viruses and sicknesses. It has the most antioxidants among the four types of teas, and also has naturally occurring polyphenols, catechins, and many other naturally occurring compounds which increase immunity in the body.

Anti-inflammatory

It also helps reduce inflammation. Green tea has anti-inflammatory properties which are natural. It’s a better choice than taking even over the counter chemical compounds.

Lowers Cholesterol

Another benefit of green tea is that it can reduce cholesterol. Studies have shown that consuming green tea regularly can reduce levels of the “bad cholesterol” while increasing “good” cholesterol.

Helps Protect Against Alzheimer’s Disease

And green tea also helps protect against Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia. Research shows that green tea can help improve memory related learning and have also been shown to help reverse mental deterioration.

Fights Cancer

Green tea may also protect against cancer, and it possibly kills off existing cancer as well. Research has shown that drinking between four and eight cups of green tea every day can really help when fighting off these diseases.

It’s Magic

Beyond all this, remember that green tea is also delicious. The most benefit of course comes from high quality loose leaf tea. These have less caffeine and more antioxidants. It doesn’t even seem like that difficult of a choice. The loose leaves can be brewed again to make three to six cups of tea. It’s affordable, delicious, and helps with everything from maintaining healthy weight and teeth to fighting off infections, preventing cancer, and even reversing the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Green tea truly seems like a magical elixir.

The Mystery Of Oolong

by Steven Popec 9. April 2010 12:25

Oolong

Chinese Wū long or Oolong is a type of tea located between green and black in the Chinese classification. In other words, Oolong is half-fermented tea. Oxidation ranges from 20% to 40%, and the most characteristic feature of this tea is that the leaves are fermented unevenly. Along the edges of the tea leaf fermentation can be quite astringent, almost like black tea with well pronounced reddish rim around a leaf but in the center of leaf fermentation, is very weak, close to green teas. As a result, Oolongs have a wonderful aroma and taste that combines the freshness of green tea and tartness of black tea.

Oolong combines the best qualities of both green and black teas. Some highly fermented Oolongs give a fairly dark brown-reddish infusion. However, such Oolongs constitute only a small share of the vast diversity of this type of tea. Basic and famous Oolongs have a gentle light yellowish or greenish tinge honey extract. By appearance of the infusion, they are closer to green teas and by taste - to black teas. A good Oolong is both refreshing and delicious with no trace of bitterness and stronger aroma than any green or black teas. Oolong is a well known type of Chinese tea used in ceremonies. A widely-used ceremonial method of brewing Oolongs in Taiwan and China is called Gongfu Cha. For a complete appreciation of the taste of this tea, tea pairing is recommended: tea bowl and snifter cup used to appreciate the tea's aroma. Tea poured into a snifter cup and a drinking bowl is placed upside down over the top of the snifter cup. Then the two are inverted so that the snifter cup is upside down in the drinking bowl. The final stage is when the snifter cup is lifted and the tea is released into the drinking bowl. After all this manipulations, tea drinkers can respectfully receive the aroma and then enjoy the taste.
 
There are two main types of Oolong that are grown and harvested in China and Taiwan, the mainland and island tea. The next classification is the type of traditional treatment and characteristics of climate and soil. Oolongs grow high in the mountains, shrouded in fog, on the poor stony soils. The quality of tea depends on the orientation of the slope, the number of fogs during the growth and professionalism of collectors, who manually collect and sort out the tea leaves in difficult mountain conditions.  
 
Oolong often resembles the form of twisted lumps consisting of strongly folded and compressed whole leaves. When touched, the lumps are elastic and dense. Fresh tea should be slightly shiny and have a strong fragrant. During the brewing process, the tea leaves unfold, expend and consume the entire volume of the teapot when steeped 2-3 times. Usually, Oolong brewed with water temperature of 176-194º F for 3-4 minutes. A teapot 150 ml takes about one heaped teaspoon. Expensive Oolongs can withstand multiple infusions up to 20-25 times. The fragrance of tea can vary from delicate peach tones to astringent walnut, with a corresponding color change of infusions darker with each subsequent brewing. There are varieties of oolong that color does not change and remains yellow-green, while others, originally given infusions of intense color give a pale infusion each subsequent brewing.

Oolong tea is the most diverse among Chinese teas in terms of taste and appearance . Oolong is tea-perfection conceived by Heaven and Earth. 

Great Tips For Preparing The Perfect Cup Of Tea

by Elena Popec 29. March 2010 21:46

There are numerous methods for brewing tea leaves. In Japanese tea ceremonies, powdered tea is whisked into green foam, in Mongolian, they reduced tea leaves dust by boiling with salted milk…Western tea lovers follow the Chinese way of brewing tea leaves in hot water. This way seems very simple, but there are several essential tips that are critical to a good cup of tea.

1. Make sure you use good quality cold water
2. Your kettle and teapot need to be clean
3. Use the correct amount of tea leaves
4. Use the correct amount of water at proper temperature
5. Make sure tea is steeped for the right length of time
6. Use proper storage for tea leaves

Use good quality cold water

Water that is used to make tea has a large influence on the tea taste. Water composition, chalk content, mineral content and hardness differ from region to region and influence the taste experience, greatly. For the best taste results, use good-tasting water.  Only use fresh water which was not already cooked previously. Bottled spring or filtered waters are ideal for this purpose, find the kind you like. If using tap water, make sure it runs for couple minutes before poured in the kettle. Tap water lacks oxygen when it sits in water pipes for hours. Do not use distilled water.
 
Kettle and teapot need to be clean
Tea should always be prepared in a specific container, such as a teapot made out of glass or ceramics. Always preheat your porcelain, ceramics or glass with hot water. The best water and the finest tea can be easily destroyed if the kettle or teapot is not clean. A brownish residue on the inside of teapot builds up after every brewing and needs to be taken care of; otherwise it will add a bitter taste to freshly brewed tea. So, just rinsing a teapot does not take care of the problem. Use a small amount of detergent while washing and wipe out the inside with soft cloth or sponge. Make sure the teapot is rinsed off thoroughly after washing, otherwise you may add extra “flavor” to the delicate bouquet of brewing tea leaves. Even the kettle is used only to boil water; it needs to be washed occasionally due to mineral deposits build up. Iron teapots are especially suitable for green tea and oolong tea. In Japan, these pots are only used to keep the water hot for the tea ceremony. For Europeans, the Japanese have enameled the pots on the inside so that they can be used to brew tea. Iron pots are very stylish and are almost indestructible.

Use the correct amount of tea leaves
I have the easiest solution – read suggested instruction but if you like to experiment, here are some general tips to follow:

1. Use a tea measuring spoon. The decorative tea measuring spoons are available in many different forms and decors and determine the amount of tea needed for one cup. Particularly the longer spoons represent a good aid to reach the tea in the deep tea tins.
2. Use one teaspoon of loose leaf tea per each serving (6oz cup), 1-2 level teaspoon of herb blends and Rooibos, one heaped teaspoon of fruit blends;
3. After the amount of tea leaves is measured and placed in the teapot, add hot water;
4. Use tea strainers or tea filters while steeping. It will allow removing tea leaves easily when brewing process is done.

Use the correct amount of water at proper temperature
Each tea variety requires its unique treatment with respect to brewing. Most tea companies provide a suggested instruction on the package that refers to cup of tea being 6oz. The temperature of water varies depending on type of tea. Suitable thermometers for taking the appropriate water temperature are available.

1. Black and Oolong Tea requires fully boiling water 203-212 F;
2. Green and White Tea steeps best at 176-194 F, first stage of boiling also called “string of pearls”, when small air bubbles rising to the surface and water is starting to steam.

Right temperature will allow the delicate bouquet of tea composition to unfold fully, presenting its aroma.

Tea should be steeped for the correct length of time
The length of time depends on specifics of brewing leaves which need adequate time to open. White and Green tea requires 2 to 3 minutes due to being unfermented. Infuse the tea and let sit for 2 minutes. Many green tea drinkers also start by infusing half a cup of green tea with hot water for one minute before sieving it. Then the same tea is brewed again. This way, many of the bitter substances are eliminated.

Fully fermented black tea steeps longer 4 to 5 minutes. Pour the bubbly-hot water over the tea and let sit for 3 to 5 minutes. Note: 3 minutes for an energizing result and up to 5 minutes (and a little less tea) for a more calming effect. Stir the infusion once and then pour it over a sieve or tea filter. The brewing time also depends on the size of leaf, the bigger the leaf the longer infusion time. Do not let tea brew too long, otherwise it will become bitter and taste will suffer.
 
When it comes to fruit, herb and Rooibos tea, you do not have to worry. Due to being naturally decaffeinated, these tisanes need about 10 minutes on average to brew and will not go bitter.

There is a "Perfect Tea Hourglass" available to keep to correct time.

Proper storage for tea leaves

As all products, tea leaves have an expiration date. Although each type of tea has a different shelf life, it’s best to use tea within six month since day of purchase. Green and white tea is the most perishable due to short fermentation process. These types of tea need to be consumed in year of harvest. Black and Oolong retain their properties for several years. Pu-Erh gets only better with time. However, tea should be kept away from heat, moisture and sunlight. In order to preserve freshness tea should be stored in cool, dry, dark place in tea tin or ceramic container. Tins in various sizes are ideal for the storage of loose tea. The sensitive teas are well-protected against smell and light effects. The market offers many different decors that fit each tea character.

Now, when you know all the tricks, let Tea Party begin!

 

 

The History Of Tea From India

by Steven Popec 9. March 2010 16:48

India Black Tea

Tea consumption in India has a long history, South Asians viewed tea as an herbal medicine rather than as a recreational beverage. Although commercially, tea is being cultivated in India is relatively recently - within the second half of the 19th century. However, in the foothills of the Himalayas in the north and north-eastern regions of country, tea trees grew before the arrival of the British. For centuries, tea has not been cultivated but only gathered from wild trees. There is a legend that British merchants transported a few tea bushes from China and planted them in the plains of India, by the time they occupied and colonized by Britain. From those few bushes, started a global cultivation of tea in India and Ceylon. It happened in the thirties of the 19th century when the British East India Company became concerned about the Chinese monopoly on tea that constituted most of its trade and supported the enormous consumption of tea in Great Britain. After the first successful experience in 1863, the British East India Company brought to India a large batch of germs and after 10 years of hard work, the tea plantations give the first crop. In 1870, over 90% of the tea consumed in Great Britain was still of Chinese origin but by 1900, this had dropped to 10%, largely replaced by tea grown in India and Ceylon. Success has created several companies, many of which still sell tea and are known throughout the world. India's success on the international market is mainly due to accommodating the special English taste for strong tea, adequate for chalky water.

High quality tea in India is growing on mountain slopes which are very steep (up to 70 degrees). Plantations are located on terraces which rings encircle the mountain slopes. These high quality grades of tea gather exclusively by women and only manually. The tea plucking process takes place usually at the break of dawn. Manufacturers are trying to make tea of the highest class, twisted leaf tea and no broken leaves.

There are two main areas of growth of Indian tea: Darjeeling and Assam. Important cultivation areas are, apart from Darjeeling and Assam:

Dooars - west of Assam, mainly production of CTC teas.

Nilgiri - South Indian tea district, fresh teas, similar to those of Sri Lanka

Sikkim - north east of Darjeeling, high-quality teas

Terrai - south of Darjeeling, similar to Darjeeling, somewhat more herb in taste.

India Tea Plantation

Today India is the second largest producer of quality black tea and the first one of the middle and low-grade "bulk" teas, CTC. A large portion of this "simple" tea stays in the country; locals are very fond of drinking tea (a modest 750 grams per person a year), it is quite different in Sri Lanka (Ceylon). Although these countries are close neighbors, the locals hardly drink tea, and the entire Ceylon crop is exported.  A small proportion of green teas are produced in India as well and mainly for Japan that buys simpler varieties to add them to their own production.

Assam is a tea district in Northern India across the Brahmaputra. It is the largest connected tea growing region in the world. The plateau with highly arable rainforest soil contains a lot of humidity due to the prevailing monsoon winds. The local climatic conditions, especially rainfall, create a greenhouse effect which positively affects the quality of tea leaf. Tea plants are cultivated in tea gardens on large cultivatable land of up to 1,000 hectares. There are about 2,000 plantations in Assam. Assam tea is generally heavy and spicy, dark in the cup. It is the main component of the classical English and East Frisian blends which are prepared for water with high chalk contents and are usually drunk with milk and sugar. Since the appearance of the young tea traders on the international market, especially from Africa, Assam was largely driven out of this market by the cheaper tea varieties.
 
Harvesting Periods

Mid April to Late May: First Flush. These qualities are of rather little economic significance for the European or US market. These teas are mostly aromatically fresh, light and of rather tart character. For this reason they do not meet the traditional Assam features.

Early June/Mid August: Second Flush. The second flush, harvested in June/August, before the large monsoon rain starts, is highly demanded. Assam teas from the second plucking period are of greater relevance in terms of quality and the export business. These qualities are often very “colored” in tips, with a pouring that is mostly very dark and has a typical strong, full-spicy and malty character.
 
The oldest tea gardens in Assam were founded in 1832-33 by English trade agencies. In 1839, the first Assam tea appeared in a London action. The Assam region is bordered by China, Bhutan, Burma and Bangladesh. Assam is one of the most beautiful places in the world and in all respects, is one of the best places for the cultivation of black tea.

Darjeeling is a region in the North-Eastern India, located at the southern slopes of the Himalaya Mountains. Darjeeling is the most famous tea region of India. Tea gardens are located at altitudes of up to 2,600 meters above sea level on an area of 20 thousand hectares and produce the most exquisite types in the world. Darjeeling borders with China and Bhutan. The special microclimate of the region is ideal for growing elite types of tea also called “champagne of tea”. Black Orthodox tea from Darjeeling (Indians pronounce the name with the accent on the second syllable) are considered one of the most delicate and fragrant teas in the world, competing with the best Chinese varieties and very often surpassing them. The unique taste of tea from Darjeeling is highly valued by tea lovers and experienced connoisseurs. The best tea grows in the coldest part of the terrain, at an altitude of 2,600 meters. The color of the infusion is deep burgundy with a green tint.
 
Harvesting Periods

March-May: First Flush is in March, as soon as the weather is good after the end of the vegetation break, the first soft leaves and buds of the first period are plucked. The characteristics of a good F.F. Darjeeling are a lively fresh, delightful flowery aroma and a honey color of the infusion. This tea is sold at auctions, and prices are several times higher than the subsequent charges from the same plantation.

May-June: In between crop – the qualified “trailer” of the first flush season does have a particular connection with the first touches of the second flush period. The leaves and the infusion are already turning darker and the diversity of the flavors varies from full-bodied to slightly aromatic. The In-between is often used as a profitable blend-quality. Due to the high demand, the prices are not as cheap.

June-July: Second Flush. The summer crop is the summit in a crop year. The tea leaves develop more aroma by the longer exposure to sun. The most important quality features of a classical S.F. tea are dark brown leafs with golden tips and the color of infusion is soft amber. Taste is full-bodied with a distinctive nutmeg note. The second collection is no less interesting and appreciated by connoisseurs, sometimes higher than the first crop.

October-November: Autumnal crop. After another period of rain in late summer and until the vegetation lull in November, fully aromatic but somewhat mild teas are plucked.

Nilgiri is one of the major tea regions of India, located in the south of the country, at the foot of the Blue Mountains. The tea gardens in Nilgiri are small compared to plantations in Assam. Tea in Nilgiri is cultivated on altitudes between 800-2,000 meters above the sea level. Tea plantations are surrounded by snow-covered mountains and luxuriant growing jungle. In 1840, the first tea seedlings had been planted, thanks to good climatic conditions, the seedlings became well acclimated and the basis for future plantations.
Nilgiri takes second place in India in volume of black tea production. Frequent monsoon rains, high average annual temperatures, allow the great cultivation of tea all year. Tea gathers unite in Nilgiri twice a year:  in spring (April-May) and second flush in autumn (September-December), the best being the spring collection. The Nilgiri tea is a main component of so-called English blend. The tea of these regions is full-bodied, with a bright infusion, mild taste and can be distinguished by a fresh citrus scent which is reminiscent of the Ceylon high-growns.

Black Tea

Most of the Indian tea is used for mixtures or blends. Different companies make a blend for a large consignment of tea, which is then packaged and sent to consumers. Naturally, the composition of blends from time to time changes, so there is a practice such as a sampling of tea. Similar to the in the selection of wine, tasting is needed prior to purchase of product in order to understand which tea is the best. There are companies (mostly British) that have their own tea testers in the tea factories located in India, whose main task is to monitor the quality and stability of tea taste, regardless of the crop. To do such, they select from several tea plantations and make trial blends, the best of them becomes a model for the party. There are four varieties of Indian tea that is sold unblended: Darjeeling, Assam, Nilgiri (also used in blends) and Sikkim. Sikkim Tea is a new variety introduced in late 1980, but has already won the position on the market of tea. This delicious and sweet tea is reminiscent to the taste of Darjeeling tea and Assamese tea aroma. One can say that it occupies an intermediate position between these two titans.

Black tea from India can be brewed in several ways. Brewing methods of tea depends on its type and grade. Chinese method: more loose leaf tea leaves and less time of brewing, English method: 1 tsp of tea leaves per 6oz cup and a long (3-5 minutes) brewing process, or Indian method: very strong tea infusion, hot milk and a lot of sugar. All three methods have their unique characteristics, and each way is good for its type of tea.  The Chinese way is suitable for any Indian tea, but best of all, it reveals aromas of delicate high grade tea varieties such as teas Darjeeling. The English method does not allow steeping the tea more than twice. If you prefer to drink tea, as it is loved in England, with milk or cream, then pour the cream into a cup prior to the tea slightly heated. Fine broken leaf grades are very popular in India, where English tradition of drinking tea with milk has spread in a transformed way. Brewing using the Indian style is a very intense brewing method. Tea leaves are steeped with hot milk, water and a lot of sugar. Then the infusion is poured from one tall glass into another to create the appearance of abundant foam. This very thick drink, with a nice color, can hardly be called tea; however, the Indians are very fond of it and consumed in large quantities. This method is also used to prepare a strong tea with milk and spices called Masala Chai. Some of the chai masala spice mixtures are still in current use are derived from Ayurvedic medical texts.

ESP Emporium
offers an amazing selection of black tea – the most popular drink in the world. Vast selection of high quality tea from India presents all the most magnificent types from Darjeeling and Assam, First and Second Flush, pure and blended. Worth to give it a try!

 

 

Exploring The Art Of Japanese Loose Leaf Green Tea

by Elena Popec 2. March 2010 12:54

Over the long centuries of isolation from the rest of the world, in Japan appeared amazing things: ikebana, bonsai, origami, sumo, kabuki, mange and much more. It is logical to assume that in respect of Japan, tea is not so simple either.

Green Tea

Green tea is very popular drink in the world today, but the Japanese consume tea in quite a peculiar way, starting with the production of special teas and ending with particular traditions of tea drinking. Japanese tea ceremonies (Sado or also known as Chanoyu) cannot be described in gastronomical terms. This is an art of contemplation and meditation, a way to achieve harmony with the world and cognize knowledge of the laws of the universe. Even leaving aside the complexity of a Japanese tea ceremony, we can tell you a lot about the kinds of traditional Japanese teas and its consumption.

The first thing that catches the eye, when studying the varieties of Japanese teas, is that they are all green and non-fermented. There are not that many types of Japanese traditional teas and they are all very unique. Their individual characteristics are not similar against each other, nor anything else in the world. The names of Japanese teas are fascinating: Matcha, Sencha, Genmaicha, Gyokuro, Hojicha, Bancha, Usucha, Kamairicha, Kabusecha, Tamaryokucha and Kukicha. Most of these products cannot be found on the shelves of tea shops outside of Japan. The most popular exception is Sencha and Bancha - the easiest tea to prepare with traditional green tea taste.

Sencha literally means “roasted tea”, a basic Japanese tea and the basis of which many other varieties of Japanese teas are developed. In fact, Sencha is a plain green tea that does not require special knowledge and skills to prepare. Most Japanese green teas are steamed at first to prevent oxidation, then rolled, shaped, dried and finally fired to preserve and add flavor. All lovers of green tea will admire its lightly grassy note. As any tea, Sencha could be a high quality and poor, we should not draw any conclusions about this tea when tasting Sencha of incomprehensible production. Good quality Sencha consists of a flat and long delicate tea leaves with distinctive fragrant of fresh green grass. Even high-graded Sencha contains a large amount of powder or tea dust. When brewed, Sencha gives a very bright infusion with a lively green color, traditionally served in transparent or white cups. The aroma and taste of Sencha are soft, both fresh and slightly sweet and velvety. Sencha tea infusion includes a large amounts of caffeine, vitamins C and B2. This tea invigorates the mind and body.

Preparing Sencha is a simple process, even thou the first attempt may fail, don’t be discouraged: warm teapot, put tea leaves in, cover with water remembering that water should not be boiling, and steep for a while ... However, it is impossible to give universal recommendations about the amount of dry tea leaves, water temperature and time of infusion, since the quality of tea and water are always different. Made with hard water tea is not as good because of its active substances that cannot dissolve fully. For green teas (all teas in general) there is a tip: the more delicate tea and softer water, the lower the water temperature should be and less time of infusion. Sencha tea leaves must not steep longer than 2-3 minutes. This means that the entire teapot tea should be poured into cups or into a separate container no later than in 3 minutes. If over steeped, the tea will be bitter, if under steeped the taste will be watery.  Sencha is the only Japanese tea that almost does not change the taste and aroma in the second and subsequent brewing. Other Japanese teas are inconceivable to brew a few times without losing the taste. The first of each new brewing is recommended to take one heaping tea spoon per 6oz serving of tea and infuse for 2 to 3 minutes. If the taste and aroma seem to be weak, hold the second brew a little longer, but next time increase the amount of tea. An indicator of properly brewed Sencha is bubbly foam. If not, that means that the water is too hot, cold, hard or the tea leaves are not the best quality.

Tea Gyokuro (also known as "precious dew" or "jade drops") is a higher grade expensive tea, which is cultivated in a special way. Gyokuro is different from Sencha because it grows under the shade for about two weeks prior to the harvesting period that aims to reduce amount of Catechin in leaves, therefore the bitterness in tea infusion. This fine tea is very rich in aromatic oils, vitamins, minerals, caffeine and other useful and pleasant elements. Splendid Gyokuro is also called "King of tea" and "Tea of genius" because it cheers up (raises) the spirit and stimulates the thinking. The taste and aroma of Gyokuro is similar to Sencha but with light almost imperceptible nuances. Color of dry tea leaves vary from bright green to golden-brown depending on the terrain and weather during the growth and harvest. Tea merchants will recommend a unique method of brewing for Gyokuro which differs from any other tea brewing techniques. Gyokuro tea leaves are typically steeped at low temperature 150 to 165 F for 1 to 2 minutes. Since the temperature of water is low, pre-heating the pot and cups in order to maintain the warmth of tea would be recommended as well. If the water used is too hot, it will destroy the magnificence of taste and aroma.

Matcha is a fine-powder with the consistency resembling talc green tea used in Japanese tea ceremonies and cooking. Matcha is the most difficult Japanese tea to prepare according to traditional techniques and requires specific skills. It was invented in China in the tenth century and was introduced to Japan only in the twelfth century. Being forgotten at home, powdered tea has become a cultural asset of Japan. Matcha is made from Tencha that has very similar cultivation process to Gyokuro. The process of covering tea bushes from direct sun light before harvesting enriches the tea leaves of amino acids and makes it sweeter. Gathered and processed tea lives with removed stems and veins undergo grinding procedure by millstones.  Matcha  is a premium quality and has a sweet taste with a deep flavor.

Matcha

During a Japanese tea ceremony, Matcha powder frothes up into a foam with bamboo whisk and a small amount of water. The advantage of this type of tea is the fact that all substances contained in tea leaves are delivered into the human body completely - in the form of an opaque beverage. Matcha is a concentrate of tea leafs. The taste of this tea is very fresh, but slightly bitter. Matcha can be combined with other types of tea adding freshness to taste and aroma. Lower quality grades of Matcha can be added to various dishes of rice, noodles and tempura to chocolate, ice-cream and traditional Japanese sweets.

Tamaryokucha is a high-quality Japanese green tea. To make it, tea leaves are steamed or fried. Tamaryokucha is rich in vitamins and contains little caffeine. This tea has a berry-like flavor with an almond aftertaste and citrus-grassy distinctive aroma.

Genmaicha is a combination of Sencha with roasted brown rice. This mixture gives a turbid light brown color of infusion and well pronounced rice flavor with hints of sunflower seeds and fish. Taste-wise, Genmaicha resembles soup, after the tea is drunk, you can eat the rice. This drink-dish is a great alternative to dinner or lunch for those who are on a diet. Japanese drink Genmaicha to subside the feeling of hunger without burdening the stomach. This tea contains a large amount of vitamin B1 and a small amount of caffeine.

Hojicha is a roasted tea that is set apart from other Japanese teas. This tea is made from Sencha which is roasted in a porcelain pot over charcoal at high temperature. Tea leaves of Hojicha tea ate brown and shiny with a dominating roasted flavor. Hojicha steeps by conventional infusion for less than a minute. Color of the infusions resembles weakly brewed black tea. Hojicha does not have subtle nuances of aroma and taste. This is a simple tea to quench the thirst or drink during the meal. Because of the process of roasting Hojicha, the amount of caffeine decreases, this tea can be served after the evening meal and/or before going to sleep.

Other Japanese green teas that are characterized as low quality Sencha are Bancha and Kukicha. These uncomplicated teas are made from big crude leaves, stems, stalks and twigs. These types of Japanese teas are collected at the end of the season and are considered as lower grade. Bancha and Kukicha are the simplest and cheapest of Japanese teas and are used for daily consumption of liquid for Macrobiotic Diet, the dietary regimen that is based primarily on grains and plants.  This macrobiotic way of eating is very popular in Japan. There are twenty two grades of Bancha. Kukicha can be added to juice for children’s consumption.

 

Pu-Erh Is The Perfect Remedy For Living A Healthy Lifestyle

by Elena Popec 24. February 2010 20:50

Pu-Erh is a tea of emperors and commanders. In ancient times, soldiers were drinking Pu-Erh before battling to gather strength, find resoluteness and have confidence in victory. Today, this tea is popular among business people. Pu-Erh helps to concentrate on making important decisions and preparing for crucial meetings and lengthy negotiations. Pu-Erh assists to live an active, varied life. You can dance all night in the club and in the morning, appear in the office fresh and rested after an extraordinary cup of tea.

Pu-Erh

Pu-Erh grows in the Province Yunnan, the most southwestern province in China where more than a thousand years, tea is produced. Yunnan is the country of fog, mild sun and tea trees.Today, in an era of civilization and mechanisms, the best Pu-Erh is still being handcrafted by people that possess a special inner sense, processing an understanding of tea, they know the time when Pu-Erh becomes Pu-Erh and pass on their knowledge from generation to generation. In order to obtain a deep color infusions, strong mild taste and long-lasting fragrance, this tea is aged for several years in special conditions. Pu-Erh is the only kind of tea that gets better with time. The optimal storage time for different kinds of Pu-Erh is from 10 to 30 years. A collection of aged Pu-Erh can be appraised higher than the collection of vintage wines.

The beauty of Pu-Erh is not only in its unusual taste and aroma. Despite the fact that this tea contains a small amount of caffeine, it invigorates and improves the efficiency better than coffee. This is the best drink for the morning, but is not recommended for the evening. High-quality and properly brewed Pu-Erh is very beneficial for one’s health. It helps digestion, normalizes metabolism, lowers high blood pressure, reduces cholesterol, improves skin condition, reduces the risk of cancer, removes toxins and facilitates the alcohol withdrawal syndrome or overeating. Pu-Erh is the only tea that may inhibit the growth of peptic ulcers. Regular consumption of Pu-Erh contributes to weight loss and rejuvenates the body. It would be better to say that Pu-Erh helps to maintain the body to be the way it should be.

As all types of tea, Pu-Erh is made from the leaves of the plant Camellia Sinensis. Top grade Pu-Erh obtained from the leaves collected from tea trees, not tea bushes. The older the tree, the more exquisite Pu-Erh brewed from its leaves. In the Pu-Erh county of Chinese province Yunnan which gave the name of this group of teas, grow some of the trees that are about a thousand years old. Pu-Erh made out of leaves from such trees is valued particularly high. In the forests of Burma, Vietnam, Laos and eastern India, found wild tea trees yielding a smaller amount but not less valuable harvest. The leaves of wild trees are gentler with a refreshing "menthol" aftertaste. They do not tolerate rough handling. From the leaves of wild trees the only loose leaf (not pressed) Pu-Erh is obtained.

For the production of Pu-Erh, green tea leaves are used. After gathering, they are dried in the sun, roasted and kept for several months. After the drying process, the leaves are pressed, which produces a "raw" or "green Pu-Erh”, similar to the properties of green tea. This Pu-Erh does not have a delicate aroma and exquisite taste, but is simple to prepare and inexpensive. In China, this tea is not considered a real Pu-Erh and called Mao-cha (coarse tea). This tea has been popular among nomads and Tibetan monks.

To get a "mature Pu-Erh", the dried leaves are subjected to a secondary drying and post-fermentation, using modern accelerated technology to produce the mature Pu-Erh. The leaves are sprayed with water, collected in heaps or placed in rooms with high humidity with the help of microorganisms, a process called fermentation takes place. The higher the humidity, the faster the fermentation process, but the aroma and taste of tea leaves is much to be desired. In addition, excessive moisture leads to mold development.

By traditional technology, Pu-Erh is aged in dry areas. In the province of Yunnan many factories and private facilities are located where the Pu-Erh is produced by using old recipes. Different bacteria cultures and different organizations of the fermentation process have a major impact on the taste, aroma and healing properties of Pu-Erh. The period of fermentation for high quality Pu-Erh lasts at least 6 months. With the growing popularity, Pu-Erh prepared by traditional technology is becoming increasingly difficult because more and more manufacturers use a quick simplified method of fermentation.

The last stage of preparation of Pu-Erh is pressing. Tea is lightly steamed to soften and skillfully pressed into the desired shape (brick, pancake, rectangular blocks, bird nests, mushrooms or melons) then dried and wrapped in cloth. Bricks and pancakes of pressed Pu-Erh can weigh from 100g to 5kg. Pressed in a flat square, Pu-Erh is suitable material for the creation of embedded pictures, but “bird nests” which are designed for one portion, are more practical for a busy lifestyle.

When buying Pu-Erh, one should pay attention to its fragrance and structure of the pressed leaves. Good quality Pu-Erh tea is characterized by a pronounced aroma of dried fruits with earthy notes. The smell of mold is an indicator of improper storage.  If there is an opportunity to taste Pu-Erh before buying, evaluate the color of the infusion and depth of flavor.  Also pay attention to the leaves remaining after brewing. Well-preserved whole leaves are an indicator of high quality Pu-Erh. A Quality loose leaf Pu-Erh usually has a delicate fragrant and pale color. loose leaf Pu-Erh can be appreciated only by experienced tea drinkers (connoisseurs).

Preparation of Pu-Erh

Tea Pot

Since Pu-erh has a very strong flavor and rich color; it is not recommended to brew this tea in clay teapots. Clay absorbs all smells and any other tea brewed in the same teapot will taste similar to Pu-Erh. The rich color of this tea will look good in a glass or porcelain cup. Quality Pu-Erh can be steeped a lot of times, therefore use a small teapot and small bowls. To maximize the healing effects of Pu-Erh, it should be  drank without sugar and other sweets. A small amount of dried fruits or dark chocolate is quite acceptable.                                                                        

One “bird nest” or “mini tuocha” is good for multiple infusions. To "revive" and clean tea, pour some hot water; let it sit for 1 minute, and then drain the brew. This act will clear and warm the tea because the Pu-Erh has been waiting to meet you for several years, so allow its strong and earthy flavor to unfold softly. The first brew of Pu-Erh should be steeped up to 45 seconds, and then subsequent brewing time should be increased. This tea is an excellent representative of Chinese teas that surprise consumers with the originality and complexity of flavor bouquet.


Boiling is an old method of preparing pressed teas. The most spectacular brewing of Pu-Erh is in a glass teapot when the stages of heating water and the behavior of tea leaves can be observed. When brewing Pu-Erh, the process is very important not to miss the stage called “crab eye”, when small bubbles start rising from the bottom of the kettle. At this stage, 1-2 cups of water should be poured out of teapot and then poured back, this stage is called "noise in the pines"  - the muffled sound prior to boiling. Thus, the water becomes rejuvenated and is ready to accept the tea. Pre-soaked in cold water, the Pu-Erh is introduced to the water prior to boiling. At the first stage of boiling - "string of pearls”, the teapot is removed from the fire and set aside for 30-60 seconds. The boiling process for this type of tea requires experience because of the excessive brewing time which makes the Pu-Erh infusion turbid, bitter and unpalatable. Another disadvantage of this method is that it is not economical. Boiled tea cannot be brewed again.

 

Rooibos, the perfect health alterative tea

by Steven Popec 15. February 2010 12:01

If you like experimenting with food and drinks and are very fond of tea, or if because of health conditions you are limited in the consumption of black tea and coffee, we recommend you to try Rooibos tea. There is still a lot of   controversy regarding its name. Yet it is wise to call this Rooibos or Rooibos tea, because is the closest in sound to Afrikaans - one of the languages, mainly spoken in Southern Africa. In translation, this word means "red bush". This product was popular in Southern Africa for generations and is now consumed all over the world.

Thanks to its healing properties Rooibos is also called the elixir of the Bushmen. This tea is made from young shoots that are cut, finely shredded, and then spread on a flat surface for about eight hours. During this time, Rooibos undergoes a process of natural fermentation that produces reddish -brown color and enhances the flavor. Then, the tea leaves subjected to final drying in a special machine, pasteurized and packaged. Un-oxidized green Rooibos is also produced by method similar to production of green tea, but due to more demanding production process is more expensive than red Rooibos. Good quality Rooibos can be determined by the uniformity and brightness of color. Tea should be light and crumbly, needles are long and even.

Rooibos tea can be excellently improved with most household decorations. For instance, mallow or sunflower blossoms are beautifully set off against the thin, rust-brown needle-like leaf.

Rooibos is becoming very popular in Western countries especially among health-conscious consumers due to its lack of caffeine and tannic acid. Rooibos is safe for people that suffer from high blood pressure. This tea is a healthy beverage choice for the kids. Rooibos contains a high level of antioxidants. Many experts believe that due to these properties Rooibos is quite possible to use even in baby food.

Generally, with regard to the process of brewing, Rooibos tea is completely unpretentious. Unlike many other exotic types of tea, Rooibos steeps with boiling water and drink is ready in 8-10 minutes after brewing. This tea does not become bitter when steeped longer, moreover, tea leaves can be steeped multiply times.

Rooibos Tea - it's just a real storehouse of vitamins (E, R, A, C) and other nutrients (copper, iron, calcium, zinc). Moreover, copper and vitamin C are responsible for the most effective absorption of iron in the human body. Rooibos tea is highly recommended to vegetarians. But of course you should not totally rely on Rooibos, if you want to fully satisfy the needs of your body's iron.

Some doctors advise to use Rooibos as an antidepressant. It assists well with nervous tension, fatigue and headaches, allergies and digestive disorders. Since it contained glucose, tea is not only a great thirst quencher, but also wonderful soother.

 

Loose Tea vs. Tea Bag

by Steven Popec 20. January 2010 06:34

The first thing that many people do in the morning is grab a tea bag for a quick cup of tea.  In contrast, true tea lovers brew their tea from loose leaves.  Those who are still using tea bags are not only missing out on superior taste, they are missing out on the health benefits of using loose leaf tea in every cup.

People who use tea bags often use it for convenience to enjoy at the office or even in the comfort of their home. However, loose leaf tea is far more superior when it comes to taste than tea bags because the tea leaves are not constrained by paper.

Another major drawback of tea bags is that it tends to stale faster than loose leaves because it has smaller particles.  Loose teas have more variants which can be brewed differently and it can be blended at your desired taste level. Tea bags, on the other hand, are pre-blended for a specific flavor. Loose teas can give you the purest of flavors for each variety, blended for your own preferences.

When it comes to brewing a nice warm pot of tea, there is a lot of argument over whether or not to use loose tea or a tea bag. Just about any tea expert will tell you that there is simply no better alternative than loose tea – as it just tastes better. So, if you truly want to experience a heavenly cup of your favorite tea, then loose leaves are the way to go.

Benefits of Using Loose Leaf Tea

Another reason why loose leaf tea is superior to tea bags is because you receive the “entire” leaf.  The leaves that are placed into tea bags are simply tea dust and particles left over after the picking and processing of tea leaves.  When you use a tea bag, you lack the essential oils that are present in loose leaves.  

Loose Leaf Tea is Cost Effective

Loose leaf teas can actually save you more money than tea bags.  When using a high-quality tea bag, it cost around 20 to 70 more for a tea bag. Brewing from quality loose leaves can cost around 5 cents per cup because it can be re-used up to 4 times before it loses flavor.

The Convenience of Using Loose Leaf Tea

Some people will argue that they don’t have time to brew loose leaves. There are several devices that you can use to save you time when preparing loose leaf teas. 

For example, you can use brewing baskets that can easily fit a tea pot or cup or pot to save time.

As you can see, the advantages of using loose leaf tea outweigh the any advantages of using a tea bag. So, try a cup of loose leaf tea today and discover its superior quality!

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