Tea

Basics of Tea

What are the different kinds of tea?

There are well over 3,000 varieties of tea all stem from the Camellia sinensis plant (native to China) and its cousin Camellia assamica (native to India). Tea is derived from the processed leaves of this flowering evergreen plant. There are four main types of tea: black, green, white, and oolong.  All are made from the same plant species. The major differences between them are the way they are processed. Black teas undergo several hours of oxidation in their preparation for market; oolongs receive less oxidation, and green teas (including white teas) are not oxidized at all.  Depending on the climate, tea shrubs can support many pickings-also known as flushes.  With the more refined types of teas, different flushes are thought to have an effect on flavour characteristics and nuances.

What about herbal teas?

Hundreds of different herbs have been used in beverages. These are sometimes called herbal teas. Tea professionals and connoisseurs usually prefer to restrict the name “tea” to real tea, so you may see the following terms used as well:

  1. “Herbal infusion”, which simply means a drink made by steeping an herb in hot water. (Tea itself is an infusion of tea leaves.)
  2. “Tisane” [pronounced tee-ZAHN], which in French means any herbal drink.

How to Prepare a Perfect Cup of Tea

If  you are unsure how to prepare tea, just be careful not to steep the tea for too long or it may become bitter. This is especially true when making flavoured white teas, green tea, oolong and black teas. Always consider the recommended steep or brew times as a maximun amout of time you should steep the tea. For stronger tea, increase the amount of tea, not the steep time.

Per 8oz Water Temp. Steeping Time
White 1.5 tsp 175˚ 4-5 mins
Flav. White 1.5 tsp 175˚ 1 min
Blooming 1 ball 180˚ 5-6 mins
Green 1 tsp 175˚ 1 min
Green Iced Tea 2 tsp 175˚ 1 min
Oolong 1 tsp 195˚ 3 mins
Oolong Iced Tea 2 tsp 195˚ 3 mins
Mate 1.5 tsp 208˚ 5-6 mins
Rooibos 1.5 tsp 208˚ 5-6 mins
Black 1 tsp 195˚ 2-3 mins
Black Iced Tea 2 tsp 195˚ 2-3 mins
Herbal 1.5 tsp 208˚ 4-5 mins
If stronger flavour is desired, simply add more tea
Teas in red will taste bitter if infused longer than the suggested time
If infused tea is cooled prior to pouring over ice, additional tea & time is not necessary

How to Clean a Tea Pot

Never clean a teapot in a dishwasher. 

Never wash or soak a teapot in soapy water.

Glazed, Porcelain or Bone China

Remove all used tea leaves. Rinse out the teapot with clean water then turn the teapot upside down to drain. Dry the outside of the teapot only, do not dry the inside, and leave it to dry naturally. To remove tannin stains take two tablespoons of baking soda and fill the tea pot with boiling water, soak overnight. In the morning empty the water from the teapot, rinse and leave to dry naturally.

Unglazed or Yixing Tea Pots

Never clean or wash the inside of the vessel. The lining the teapot acquires is important to the flavour of the brewing. Use one teapot per tea blend. To clean the exterior of the teapot, wipe with a damp cloth and dry immediately.

Tea Grades

Commercial teas are given abbreviations such as “FBOP” and “TGFOP”. These are indicators of the grade of the tea. There are different grade systems for black and green teas, and these systems also vary by country. The important thing is to realize that the grades do not refer to the quality of the tea in terms of flavour, but rather to the size of the leaves.

Whole leaf teas being harder to produce and having greater visual appeal, command the highest prices and the best grades.  It’s not that the taste of the tea has nothing to do with the grade, as broken leaves will make a potent brew more quickly than whole leaves. Rather a teas grade has more to do with where, when, and how it was processed than with how it tastes.

Accountability

  • Ethical Tea Partnership or ETP: The ETP is an initiative started within the tea industry to monitor and regulate living and working conditions on tea estates around the world. The ETP is bolstered by regular external audits by Price Waterhouse Cooper.
    ETP = 50%+  or  ETP = 98%+
  • Fairtrade: Guarantees a better deal for Third World Producers
  • USDA Organic: NOP: [National Organic Program – USDA]This is a program (audited yearly) which assures you that our organic products are what we say they are. It is your 3rd party assurance that Organic means Organic!

Black Tea Grades

Black teas are divided into groups of whole leaves, broken leaves, fannings (tiny broken leaves) and dust (fragments so small they form a powder). Common abbreviations and terms include, in order of status:

  • OP-Orange Pekoe: Most people are surprised to learn that this term has nothing to do with orange-flavoured tea. Instead, it refers to the whole leaves, ideally of uniform size and rolled lengthwise.
  • P-Pekoe: Indicates leaves that are nearly whole, missing only the tip.
  • BOP-Broken Orange Pekoe: Indicates pieces of leaves that are relatively large and square shaped.
  • PF-Pekoe Fannings: Indicates small and irregular pieces.
  • FP- Flowery Pekoe: Indicated buds included with large leaves.
  • OF-Orange Fannings: Indicates leaf is more open than Pekoe and liquor is slightly orange in colour.
  • F-Fannings: Indicates extremely small shreds of leaf. This is the grade typically used in commercial tea bags.
  • D-Dust: Tea powder.

These following initials are combined with other adjectives that qualify the type of tea within these basic grades, as follows:

  • F-Flowery: Indicates loosely rolled tea that includes gold tinged buds.
  • T-Tippy: Indicates an abundance of buds.
  • G-Golden: Indicates a golden tint in both the buds and ends of the leaves.
  • I-Imperial: Used with BOP to indicate a Broken Orange Pekoe with pieces that is unusually large.
  • STOP-Super Tippy Orange Pekoe: Indicates a high quality large leafed tea with many buds
  • CTC: Indicates that the leaves are cut, torn, and curled.

In addition, the numerals 1 and 2 are sometimes used as well to distinguish between different teas of the same grade.

Green Tea Grades

The grading of green teas is even more subtle and varied than that of black teas. Japan, India, Taiwan, and China all grade green teas differently and with their own distinct lexicon. In general, green tea grades are less focused on the size of the leaves and more on the origins, taste quality and flush (picking).

  • Japan grades its teas primarily by style and quality. Some common types of Japanese green tea include (from best to least):
    • Gyokuro
    • Sencha
    • Tencha
    • Bancha
  • China greens are grades according to the age of the leaf and the finished shape and size of the leaf:
    • Gunpowder
    • Imperial
    • Young Hyson
    • Hyson
    • Twankay
    • Hyson Skin
    • Dust

Within these grades, there are specialized subcategories for different types (such as “Pinhead” Gunpowder, whose tightly rolled leaves form tiny pellets) as well as quality rankings such as extra, first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and fancy.

  • India green teas are grades similarly to China greens, by style and size of leaf:
    • Fine Young Hyson
    • Young Hyson
    • Hyson #1
    • Hyson
    • Soumee
    • Fannings
    • Dust
  • Taiwanese have yet another grading system that rates both green and oolong teas as (from best to least):
    • Choice
    • Fine
    • Superior

Interesting Tea Facts

Our supplier, Metropolitan Tea was the first North American company to join the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP), headquartered in London.

  • The ETP audits tea estates to ensure ethical standards of conduct are being followed. These standards include employment practices, education policies, health and maternity, safety standards, housing and basic human rights. As such many of the estates where our teas come from have free schools, daycares, and medical clinics for their workers and families.
  • The base tea for all the flavoured black teas comes from high mountain grown estates in central Sri Lanka. Natural fertilizers instead of pesticides are used to improve quality and increase crop yields. They are the next best thing to being organic.
  • Many Estates such as the Kenyan estates do not use pesticides or herbicides. Instead these estates use Nitrogen as a natural fertilizer making them almost organic by default.
  • Tea is a continuous crop. It takes 3 yrs to grow from a cutting to a tea bush that will produce harvestable leaves. The bush will then produce leaves each day for the next 50 years.
  • A lot of tea in North America is labeled ‘Orange Pekoe’; therefore many people buy this tea thinking it is certain type or brand of tea. Actually, the term orange pekoe is a grading measurement referring to the condition and size of the tea leaves.
  • Teabags usually are a lower quality of tea. It usually consists of fannings and dust (very small pieces of the leaves) that are mechanically crushed.  Although more convenient, bags go stale more quickly than loose teas.
  • Canadians drink more than 7 billion cups of tea each year.
  • The shelf life of high quality loose tea is about 2 years if stored well.
  • After a horrible coffee blight, tea was first cultivated on a commercial scale in Sri Lanka, 1867.
  • China produces the broadest range of green teas in the world.
  • More than 1 million people in Kenya derive their income from its tea industry.
  • Japan has been growing its own tea since at least 8th century when Zen Buddhist priests grew the plants in temple gardens obtained from Buddhists in China.
  • In the 1930’s, a British owner and his youngest daughter Margaret went to Darjeeling. She loved the estate greatly and wished to return at a later date. Unfortunately she became ill and died on the sea voyage back home. The distraught father renamed the estate Margaret’s Hope.

References

Information for this book was referenced from the following sources: