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!

Properly Storing Loose Leaf Teas

by Elena Popec 22. July 2010 12:06

Loose leaf tea is a delightful, delectable tea that is packed with health benefits for you. But protecting this tea, and keeping it fresh and delicious, involves storing it in a proper container. Heat, air, light, and moisture, are some elements that could potentially damage the tea or drain it of nutrients, so it’s important to keep the tea protected from these elements.

Loose leaf vs. tea bags
   
Sure, tea bags may seem to be convenient. But in the long run, they can be harmful to you. Tea bags are almost unrecognizable as tea anymore. The nutrients and antioxidants have been beaten out of it, resulting in little more than “tea dust.” The processing of these teas may also have left traces of harmful chemicals that will bring on inimical side effects. Loose leaf tea on the other hand is intact, with more antioxidants and nutrients, and more flavor. It is processed through simpler methods and allowed to retain its sweet, rich aromas and the taste is far superior to tea bags. When you brew loose leaf tea, the water has room to move around the leaves, which brings out the flavor.

Health benefits of loose leaf tea

   
Drinking tea every day yields many results that are beneficial to your health. It can help you to lose weight, help lower your cholesterol, prevent you from developing high blood pressure, prevent cardiovascular disease, and improve your dental health. Regular tea drinking may prevent you from developing cancer. It may also help improve your sleep, ward off headaches, improve your memory, improve cognitive functions such as learning, and help to prevent you from developing arthritis and types of dementia. Tea is just packed with an almost countless number of health benefits. Green tea has even been shown to lead to a longer life-span.

How to store tea
   
Tea of course should be stored at room temperature, and the best way to protect it from heat, moisture, and other elements is by keeping it in an airtight container. Tea can’t be sealed and put in a freezer, as this will damage it. Likewise it cannot be kept near a toaster, stove, or microwave or any other type of heat, as this will also damage the tea. If kept in a pretty, but not airtight container, the tea will lose its flavor fairly quickly.
   
Try not to use containers that are clear plastic or clear glass. This leaves the tea accessible to light which can damage it. Try to store tea away from any foods or spices that are strongly scented or flavored, as teas can easily absorb the flavor and aroma of the food around them.

Drink up
   
Don’t keep tea for too long, as over time, even in the best of storage containers, tea will lose its flavor and nutrients. Tea is meant to be consumed. And drinking a few cups of tea every day will help improve your health and has even been shown to lengthen your life. So brew some tea. You can even brew tea and refrigerate it to enjoy refreshing iced tea all week.

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.

How to Find a Great Blend Tea

by Steven Popec 11. June 2010 07:34

The choices of flavors of teas can be overwhelming. There are literally thousands of different types and flavor pairings of teas. There are more types of teas in existence than a person could ever possibly try even in an entire lifetime. So, there are some things you should take into consideration when choosing a tea to taste.

The Basics
   
There are four main types of tea: black, oolong, white, and green. Among these there are many varied flavors, but most teas fall under one of these varieties. Another thing to consider is the quality of the tea. Tea that has been processed by hand has the best flavor, much better flavor than teas that have been processed by other means. The quality of the flavor is another thing to take into consideration. Natural flavorings are always the best choice.

Black Tea
   
Among the different types of teas, it’s important to know the main differences to begin trying out which ones you might like. Black tea is the most consumed worldwide but it has a strong flavor and the highest level of caffeine. It can handle strong flavors such as chocolate and strong fruits.

Green Tea
   
Green tea tastes sweet but has a very natural almost plant-like flavor. Most fruit flavors work well with green tea, as do herbs and spices. There are some flavors that could overpower the tea, however.

White Tea
   
White tea has a sweet flavor and aroma but its flavor can be overpowered by others very easily. Certain flower or fruit flavors do enhance the tea quite well. Melon and jasmine are examples which enhance the white tea flavor. Peaches, pears, and roses are also excellent to be paired with this type of tea.

Oolong Tea
   
Oolong tea has complex flavors, and it varies in flavor depending on how it is processed. It can range from being very similar to a black tea, to being very close to green tea. Peaches, apples, or oranges can be paired with this type of tea to enhance its flavor, but almonds or other types of nuts make good parings as well. Some spices and flowers can be paired with oolong tea as well.

The Health Benefits
   
There are many flavors of tea, but the health benefits of certain types of tea may alter your decision as well. Green tea and white tea have the most natural antioxidants of the other types of teas. When pairing these teas with healthy fruits full of antioxidants, you’ve brewed a drink exploding with health benefits. There are many fruits, spices, and nuts which have health benefits of their own that can be deliciously paired with white or green teas.

So How to Choose?
   
Learn what flavor teas you enjoy the most. Take some daring risks and try some flavor pairings you might not think would go well together. There are many different combinations of flavors of tea. Try out some different flavors and see which types of tea and which pairings you like the best. And by all means have some tea adventures and risk trying some bold new flavor pairings.

Loose Leaf Black Tea Benefits

by Elena Popec 27. May 2010 07:20

The beneficial qualities that tea brings to both mind and body have long been recognized by the vast majority of people around the world. However it’s always the green leaf variety that takes the plaudits with other varieties playing second fiddle at best, and often times ignored. We are constantly bombarded through the media and treated to information overload to the extraordinary attributes of the green tea variety. It is certainly then no surprise that it is to green tea that one’s thoughts first turn while looking for a healthy drink to refresh. Whilst it is certainly true that green tea does come packed with an incredible health-giving pedigree, the black tea variety, or ‘crimson’ as it is known in Chinese and languages influenced by Chinese, should most certainly not be ignored.

What's the Difference?

Black tea has as much to offer as the green leaf variety to those that choose to give it a try. A fact of which many people are not aware is that both black and green tea comes from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. The larger leaves from the Assamese plant are used for the black variety, with the smaller leaves from the Chinese plants being used for green and also white tea too. Whilst much has been said of the health giving qualities of green tea, those benefits can be said to be present in black tea also as they are essentially derived from the same source. This is despite its more intense processing and consequently lower levels of antioxidant. There also tends to be more caffeine in black tea and hence black tea can be considered more stimulating.

It is often of a better flavor too as green tea tends to lose its flavor after a year or so, whilst black leaf tea can retain the flavor for many years more. It is due to this attribute of black tea that it has long been used a commodity for trading, and black tea bricks were even used as a form of currency in the 19th century in countries such as Mongolia, Tibet and Siberia. TF-2 is a compound present in black tea. It is an antioxidant and as such is very helpful to the human body in the fight against cancer, diseases of the heart and other inflammatory ailments.

Black Tea Research

Studies carried out in Europe spanning a decade have shown that drinking in excess of 2 cups of black leaf tea a day can cut in half the incidence of heart problems in males. The best method by far with which to imbibe tea is in its loose form, and in the authors opinion the bagged variety should be kept firmly on the shelf. It’s not just a great flavor from which you will benefit with black tea but also the extraordinary health-giving benefits that it will bring to your body. And there are of course many brands from which to choose with varied tastes and flavors. All without exception compete admirably with their green leaf counterparts in health properties and arguably make a more enjoyable and flavorsome drink.

White Tea Benefits

by Elena Popec 25. May 2010 10:19

Many people around the world, including chefs and even scientists believe that white tea has numerous benefits towards everyone’s health. But do you really know what exactly white tea is and how you could benefit from white tea leaves? The immature tea leaves are alternatively called white tea. These loose leaves are picked from the tea plant just before the plant has fully bloomed. The name ‘white tea’ came from the fine silvery fuzz covering the tea leaf and making it white in color. The four distinct varieties of white tea include the White Peony, Silver Needle, Long Life Eyebrow and Tribute Eyebrow. The difference between them is the proportion in which the tea leaves are blended with the tea buds.

Harvesting White Tea

Usually buds turn into tea in two days after they are picked. When two tea leaves are mixed with one tea bud, it forms the White Peony and if the mixture is made completely of buds, it is termed as the Silver Needle tea. The low quality tea variety called Long Life Eyebrow is made by mixing up the left over leaves after the White Peony and Silver Needle harvest. Tribute Eyebrow is processed using a special tea bush and is also a lesser quality tea. All four white teas can be purchased in loose leaf forms. On the other hand, teas available in bags have comparatively less quality and flavor than white tea. Tea bags are generally tea leaf dusts that remains at the bottom of tea bins after harvesting, reducing the desired quality and flavor.

White Tea Research

Scientific research has also shown that white tea provides additional protection against skin cancer, colon cancer, stomach cancer and even prostate cancer. Studies on the effect of white tea extract on skin exposed to direct sunlight has shown improved protection and reduced cell damage. A partially repaired immune system was also observed in some test subjects that consumed white tea leaves. Scientists found a wealth of antioxidants present in white tea and they suggested it may have anti-aging effect. Some compelling evidence has also been found in the direction of disease prevention using white tea leaves. It is shown that the white tea leaf extract may have the ability to stop pneumonia and the bacteria that causes Staph infection. It is also used to prevent tooth decay, gum disease, plaque and even bad breath.

What Else Can White Tea Do for You?

It is also believed that white tea leaf has anti-fungal effects. Recent studies have shown that some fungal types became inactive when the fungal drugs are consumed along with white tea leaves. Results of this study also show that white tea leaves might be used to prevent the fungus growth in certain similar conditions. Cholesterol is a health requirement and there are two kinds of cholesterol: good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. It is the bad cholesterol that causes the hardening of the arteries that could lead to heart attack. A type of antioxidants called catechins has been found to reduce bad cholesterol; white tea also helps raise the good cholesterol in the human body. It has been suggested that white tea leaves could lower the blood sugar levels, and thus reduce the occurrence of diabetic symptoms. More scientific research and results can be expected in the near future as the research on white tea continues.

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

A Wonderful Tea Schedule For The Entire Day

by Elena Popec 25. April 2010 16:19

Every profound, self-respecting tea connoisseur has a collection consistent of several teas, where each type is brewed depending on time of the day, occasion, company or just the mood. Typically such a collection of teas includes:

- Teas for breakfast

- Afternoon teas

- Evening teas

In addition, during each occassion, several varieties of teas can be served.

Tea for breakfast - This tea should invigorate and tone the body and mind. The taste of this drink should be rich and strong. In addition, tea for breakfast is often served with muffins, scones, sweet breads, therefore it should be perfectly balanced with flavors. The most popular teas for breakfast are:

English Breakfast Black Tea Blend with a marvellously dark infusion and malty spiciness, best when slightly sweetened with a dash of milk or cream.

Irish Breakfast Black Tea Blend with a deep dark infusion and character spice. A definite “must have” for each tea lover.

Afternoon tea - Such a beverage is usually drank after a good lunch without milk or sugar, so it will help digestion and vigilance. The selection of afternoon tea should be approached with particular care because this social beverage prompts friendly conversations. If we generalize the basic properties and characteristics of mid-day tea, then the tea will have the following form:

Not too strong, must have a rich flavor, with exquisite and delicate aroma, but the main thing it is understandable and enjoyable not only for the host, but also for every guest. The most popular afternoon teas:

Earl Grey  ( black or green tea blend)  lightly flavored with fine bergamot oil that forms a harmonious basis for the popular, fruity, hot drink.

Caramel Black Tea Blend comes up to the highest expectations with its tempting creamy caramel pieces and the sweet, full caramel flavor with an unforgettable vanilla note.

Cinnamon Roll Black Tea Blend with perfectly balanced taste of expressive cinnamon flavor. Quite simple and perfect.

Jasmine Green Tea with intense bouquet of jasmine and delicate taste.

Oolong, White tea, Green tea…pure and flavored, regular and decafeinated… The list of choices are endless, the world of tea is infinite!

Evening tea - This tea is usually chosen using special blends, which include different varieties of teas, they are mostly with little or no caffeine content, not very strong and have a pleasant, delicate taste and aroma.  Rooibos, Honeybush, Ayurvedic, Herbal and Fruit blends are the most popular evening teas. Evening teas offer soothing aroma and taste to relax the body and mind for a better night sleep.

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.

 

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.

 

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