Darjeeling: The Champagne of all teas

by Steven Popec 13. May 2010 00:16

 

Darjeeling is the Chinese variations of the Camelia sinensis tea grown on Indian plantations in the province of Darjeeling and considered one of the most exquisite and expensive teas in the world. By the methods of cultivation and production, Darjeeling is closer to the Chinese teas rather than to the Indian teas. This is a small leaf tea, with slightly astringent taste and rich delicate floral aroma. Although Darjeeling is marketed commercially as "black tea", almost all of them have incomplete oxidation (<90%), so they are technically more Oolongs than black teas.
 
This tea has a delicate taste due to the unique natural conditions of the region where it grows: cold and humid climate, high altitude location of plantations and the characteristics of the soil. Depending on the location and time of collecting, the taste, aroma and characteristics of Darjeeling are highly different. The most significant impact on tea quality has seasonal factors. Not everyone will be able to distinguish the differences, for example, between Darjeeling Makaibari and Darjeeling Lingia. The difference between a drink obtained from the leaves collected in the spring, versus leaves from the same plantation, but harvested in early summer, will be obvious. The best varieties of Darjeeling is consider the "champagne of teas". The methods of processing tea leaves are very traditional, it includes withering, rolling, fermentation and drying, which is why this tea is so highly valued. 
 
First of all, today there are only 86 existing plantations of Darjeeling with a total area of about 19.000 hectare. Annual production on average is 11-12 thousand tons. This is about 1% of the total cultivated tea in India. It should be be noted that it would be impossible to obtain the taste qualities if Darjeeling if cultivated outside this region, therefore, making it an exclusive beverage. 
 
The labor on plantations is very tedious and demanding, the normal requires a production force of  about 52 thousand people that are constantly engaged. While in the tea harvesting season, which lasts from March to November, an additional 15 thousand workers are hired. More than 60% of workers in the tea gardens are women.
 
The collection of tea leaves takes place 4 times per year. The first harvest is the so-called Easter (March-May) begins immediately after the winter lull. Leaves collected at this time are light-green color. The characteristics of a good First Flush Darjeeling are a lively fresh, delightful flowery aroma and a honey color infusion. The connoisseurs of Darjeeling tea compare the first collection to tasteful green grapes "muscatel." Perhaps, that is why Darjeeling is called “champagne of teas”. Tea mixture of the first collection is very highly regarded by experts; it consists only of the upper leaves and buds that give this tea such exquisite taste. First Flush Darjeeling is sold at auctions, and prices are several times higher than the subsequent harvest from the same plantation.
 
The second collection takes place during the months of a May - June. Tea leaves collected during this period have a reddish color. Infusion is softer, intense, featuring a bright amber color. Because this tea is collected in the last month of spring and early summer, it has a light fruity aroma and a peculiar aftertaste. Darjeeling from the second collection, also called "In-Between", is considered a tea of high quality and is recommended as an afternoon tea. 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, due to the high demand, the prices are not as cheap.
 
The summer collection takes place from June - July. During this period, the properties of the tea leaves are changing, along with the nature of the infusion. It becomes more robust, but it retains all the traditional characteristics of Darjeeling. The taste is a full-bodied, with a distinctive nutmeg note. The third collection is no less interesting and appreciated by connoisseurs, sometimes higher than the first crop.
 
The last collection, "Autumnal", is October - November. The infusion obtained from the leaves of the autumn collection, has a unique characteristic, the leaves are a light-copper color and has a somewhat milder taste. 
 
All this together ensures the highest quality of the famous Darjeeling. Because of its exclusivity and small production volumes, forgery of this tea was very popular. It is a big problem for world trade, the number of Darjeeling sold each year is more than 45 thousand tons, despite the fact that its official production is only about 11-12 thousand tons. The falsification and blending of tea has led to a drop in prices for real Darjeeling, resulting in considerable losses for the Indian economy. To prevent further tampering, the Tea Board of India jointly with the Darjeeling Tea Association have agreed that only 86 tea plantations, with special certificates, will be entitled to call their tea "Darjeeling".

Traditional Japanese Tea Pavilion

by Elena Popec 30. April 2010 10:27

The Tea Pavilion is one of the most interesting monuments in the world of architecture. Which is unparalleled, not only in the West, but also in the Land of the Rising Sun. 
 
According to legend, a tea pavilion as a separate building, invented by Rikyu, the greatest of all Japanese tea ceremony masters, who in the XVI century determined its ritual. 
 
Formally, the tea pavilion (sukiya) is nothing more than a simple thatched hut. It consists of the tea room accommodating up to five people, ante-room (Mizuya) where all supplies for the ritual are washed and arranged before taking in the main room, awning (Matia) under which guests usually expect an invitation to enter, and a garden path (Rhodes) that is connecting the awning and the tea room. 
 
The Tea Pavilion is a very small building, but every detail in it is carefully chosen. Its construction is more expensive than the construction of a mansion, and the builders carrying out an order of a master of tea ceremony are very respectable caste. 
 
The style of the tea pavilion is very simple. The situation should help to forget the bustle of the material world, and not to compel attention to its transient luxury. 
 
Semantic center of the tea pavilion is Tokonoma, a kind of "red corner” of the tea room. During the tea ceremony, a painting, a scroll or an object that specifies a certain mood of the guests of the ceremony is placed in Tokonoma. Flowers - one of the most common attributes of the ritual, traditionally, placed inside. 
 
Hieroglyph for a tea pavilion (茶室), can be deciphered as "shelter of imagination", "shelter of emptiness" or "shelter asymmetry”. Tea Pavilion, being sparingly decorated, allows to activate the human imagination, which should complete the asymmetry of the place. 
 
Each tea pavilion is different and, indeed, is unique, as it is created for a specific master at his own request and according to his tastes. The Tea Pavilion is not inherited: when the master dies, the building dies. The Tea Pavilion is an attempt to feel the joy of individually experienced moments of life, rather than enduring symbol of eternity. 
 
In contrast to the lush of western interior, the interior of the Tea house is extremly simple. Only one piece of art, which is placed in Tokonoma, specifies a certain mindset. According to that piece of art, most often it is flowers or a special type and color of glassware, then the rest of accessories are selected.
 
No subject in the tea pavilion looks like any other by color or shape. Flowers are never combined with their images, a black bowl is not used in combinations with a black box for storing tea leaves, and even wooden objects are made of different types of trees. The awareness of imperfection and incompleteness is a way to comprehend the world around by trying to find one’s place in it and coming to harmony with it. 
 
Like everything else in the Japanese culture of tea, the pavilion is a symbol of a certain philosophy of life. A "man" is called to the consonance with the world, harmony, and gain in active spiritual poetic action, not passive contemplation of the surrounding reality, and even more so than merging with it in a wild dance of everyday life.

Tea: The Essence Of The Fragrance

by Steven Popec 29. April 2010 20:37

The fragrance of tea depends on the essential oils and tar substances that are contained in plants. Essential oils are complex mixture of substances that belong to the most diverse class of compounds which are soluble in organic solvents and possessing the ability to escape from water vapor. Overall the total content of essential oil is minimal; it is determined by only hundredths of a percent. For example, aromatic black tea contains about 0.02% of oil. Pure essential oil of fresh tea leaf is a green color with a strong fragrance of fresh greens. In the technological processing of tea leaf occurs the formation of a new aromatic substances that contribute to the specific flavor of the finished product. Thus, the composition of essential oil of green plants is different from the finished black tea. The substances that make up the oils can be divided into 4 main classes of compounds: acids, carbonyl compounds, alcohols and phenols. These volatile compounds found in tea are trace amounts - 0.01% of dry matter, but their role in the establishment of the tea flavor is tremendous. 
 
Some parts of the plant contain different amounts of volatile compounds, which, in turn, differ in their compositions. The maximum concentration of essential oil found in the tender stems and leaves. The top leaf with the growing bud and two next leaves are equivalent to the content of essential oil. Further down the stem, as general coarsening occurs, oil content decreases. Which explains why the top three leaves are the most vaulable for high quality tea. 
 
In the formation of the aroma of tea, the main role is played by aromatic aldehydes (Organic compound that has OH-group in its structure. They are used in organic synthesis as fragrances). In the composition of essential tea oils are vanilla, lavender, cinnamon aldehydes, etc. During the processing of tea leaves into black tea, the various fractions of volatile compounds undergo significant changes. The total content of these compounds increases most radically in the early stages of rolling. In the process of withering the relative content of components with higher boiling point reduces and low-boiling point, on the contrary, increases. 
 
Along with essential oils important role in creating a tea aroma played by various resinous substances - carriers of flavor. They are in a close chemical relation with essential oils and are a complex mixture of different classes of organic compounds. 
 
The content of tarry substances in tea leaves ranges on average from 3% to 6%. These substances are separated by several fractions, the most valuable of which is a neutral faction. It has a pleasant sweet floral aroma. In the process of technological treatment , the amount of this fraction in tea leaves increases by 40%. 
 
During the processing of tea leaves, the content of resinous substances decreases, indicating the result of oxidation. I.e. ratio: fresh leaves – 3.48%, withered leaves – 3.27%, after two hours of curling – 2.92%, semi-finished product – 2.35%. 
 
Through fragrance of tea, all the deficiencies that have arisen as a result of violations of technological regimens or improper storage of products, can easily be found. Disadvantages may include: acidity, mustiness, smell of the green, smoke and other uncharacteristic for tea scents. Most difficult to improve defect is acidity, which results in a violation of the fermentation process. Since in the processing of tea leaves, especially during the fermentation, occurs a reduction of Tannin. Therefore, the tea produced in violation of this process turns out with a bitter flavor and pale color of infusion. The cause of the smell of greenery is an infringement of withering, rolling, and fermentation. Such a tea has a mild flavor that the brew is a greenish color in the cup with a greenish ring on the surface and instead of the characteristic astringent taste; this product has a bitter taste. If there is excessive moisture in semi-finished product (more than 7.5%) tea is aging much faster. For extended storage. it gets the smell of dampness and can come in unsuitable conditions for consumption. 
 
In addition, it is worth noting that different varieties of tea, as well as different ways of brewing, have an imprint on the final quality of the drink

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. 

Ceylon Tea - A Brief History Of Sri Lanka

by Steven Popec 10. March 2010 15:14

Ceylon Black Tea

Ceylon (Sri Lanka) tea can also be attributed to "India". This island located close to India which produces the same amount of tea as the mainland plantations, and even more generating roughly $700 million annually. Cultivation of tea in Sri Lanka started accidentally. Up until the 1860’s, Ceylon was only for coffee plantations, but due to sudden fungal disease called “coffee rust” most of the coffee trees have died and brought the downfall of coffee production, then igniting an era of tea. In 1867 the first tea plantation in Ceylon was laid by Scott James Taylor in Kandy. He became the father of tea cultivation in Ceylon. In 1890’s Sir Thomas Lipton visited Ceylon and founded his own tea plantations and factories for tea processing focused on the needs of British consumers. Ceylon black teas are divided into three main types: high-grown (1,200 meters above sea level), mid-grown (600-1,200 m) and low-grown (up to 600 m). The share of high-altitude, high-quality tea is relatively small; it is the finest plantations in Nuwara Eliya that are located at an altitude 6,128 ft. Good quality tea are also harvested on the plantations: Dimbula ( altitude ranging between 3,500 ft to 5,000 ft), Uva province( altitude ranging between 3,500 ft to 5,000 ft) and Ratnapura (low-grown tea).

Indian tea Nuwara Eliya is the highest tea region in the world and considered one of the most important locations for tea production in Sri Lanka. Tea produced in Nuwara Eliya has a very unique flavor. Tea leaves gather year around, but the best yields are in January-March. Tea leaves in this region are plucked at dawn, it is the time when leaf retains its freshness and then displays it in the brewed beverage. Sometimes the tea from Nuwara Eliya  called the "champagne of tea", as well as some teas from Darjeeling province in northern India. This tea gives a tincture of golden color, delicate and refined flavor and slightly astringent taste.

Uva region is situated in the south-eastern part of Sri Lanka in the mountains, which are located on the slopes of the plantation growers an excellent tea. Uva area’s tea is widely used for blends such as English Breakfast Black Tea Blend, Irish Breakfast Black Tea Blend, Morning Tea…etc.  A distinctive feature of tea from this district is a golden-reddish infusion, excellent flavor and a wonderful taste.

In the Dimbula area most tea plantations are located on the south-eastern slopes. The best tea is obtained in January-March, when the weather is dry and cold (for this latitude) and is determining factor of flavor. The main characteristic of the local tea is the aroma of a faint lemon note. The taste of the tea is full, with a little tartness, the infusion is bright and reddish color.

 

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.

 

The Wonderful health benefits of White Tea

by Elena Popec 16. February 2010 20:42

White tea is truly a pearl among the different varieties of tea. These teas are a specialty of the Chinese province Fujian. White tea is the most expensive, and this fact is not surprising because white tea is widely considered the most effective (health-giving). It contains a maximum amount of useful substances and vitamins, which are found in the other varieties of teas in smaller amounts due to fermentation process.

White tea is one of the rarest teas in the world: the buds are picked before they unfurl, which means the tea can only be plucked for a few weeks each spring only in the morning from 5 to 9 AM. White teas have a very strict procedure for the plucking and processing. The tea pickers are prohibited from eating spices, garlic, onions, and consuming alcohol, as well as other strong-fragrant foods in order not to contaminate the aroma of tea leaves. The unopened buds and two young leaves are plucked by handWhite Tea then withered to allow natural drying. White tea is minimally processed, therefore contains the higher level of antioxidants. The main difference of white tea is that it leaves are not broken or twisted, which is why tea looks a little sloppy. The fermentation of white tea is a natural way without the use of any special technological innovations. In fact, the process of drying of white tea is the only process where manufacturers can somehow affect the final product. That is why the drying process is approached with special care.

High-quality white tea leaves remain whole after the drying process despite the fact that they become distorted, the leaves maintain maximum integrity. Another characteristic feature of good white tea is the presence of small silver fibers on the leaves.

White tea requires very careful handling. If you already shelled out for expensive and good product, try to brew it so as to preserve the maximum benefit and enjoy this drink. For brewing white tea, use water at a temperature ranging from 176 to 194 degrees F, and steep it not longer than 2-3 minutes. If water used is too hot it will not allow the unique aroma of white tea to unfold. White tea should be stored in a tin box, so there is no access to different odors, since it instantly absorbs all extraneous scents. The brewed liquid has lightly amber color with a slight greenish tint. It is very transparent with thin unique floral, slightly herbal flavor.

There are few traditions and rules imposed to the consumption of white teas. The fact that subtle and delicate taste of white tea is fairly weak, tea drinkers should not enjoy white tea after spicy, salty or astringent foods, because of strong food aftertaste. Therefore, white tea should be drunk by itself.  For those who prefer to add a fruity accent to white tea, ESP Emporium offers an innovated White Grape Premium Tea blend. It is your turn to decide whether our choice was the correct one. Fresh juice from sun-ripened grapes,  red berries and the blue/violet color of blossoms, set on a bed of rich green (China Pai Mu Tan, China Cui Min), invite you to simply enjoy this excellent blend.

White teas, regardless of grade offer great benefits to our body. They are rich in antioxidants and slow down skin aging process, prevent the emergence of malignant tumors. White tea also has an antiviral effect, strengthens the cardiovascular system, and reduces the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

 

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.

 

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