The Art of Specialty Teas
In the historical perspective concerning tea, it has taken awhile to dispel the mystery: where do the different teas come from? In fact, all teas...whether white, green, black, oolong or pu-erh...come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, but each is unique in flavor, liquor color, leaf shape and size.
There are over 5,000 varieties of teas produced throughout the world creating a virtual cornucopia of nuances in aroma, shapes, flavor and liquor color. Today’s 21st Century consumer wants variety embodying healthy choices that are nurturing, pleasurable and relaxing. Tea is becoming a potent lifestyle element.
Tea is calorie free. Tea is fat and cholesterol free. Tea is even additive free, but antioxidant rich. Tea provides a broad spectrum of health benefits as a multi-dimensional refreshment. It has uplifting caffeine levels without overwhelming the human system. Tea is de-stressing and calming because it contains theanine, an amino acid that does just that. Tea is unceasingly interesting and affordable, providing one of the lowest costs per serving of any beverage.
The ancient Chinese tea scholar Lu Yu wrote in his book The Classic of Tea, “Goodness is a decision for the mouth to make.” And according to Bettina Vitell, author of The World in a Bowl of Tea, “Tea has a way of heightening the experience of nature, of its impermanence and ephemeral beauty.”
Our personal buyer for the Twelve Winds Tea Company has been tasting and studying Chinese teas since the 1970s. He personally visits the tea gardens and processing plants to select these extraordinary, handcrafted teas. Handcrafted means that our teas are manually plucked, one bud, one bud and a leaf, or one bud and two leaves at a time. No machines are used in the harvesting of our teas.
Our personal buyer oversees the packaging and shipping of our teas. These teas are certified organic or grown and processed in compliance within organic guidelines.
These specialty teas, like wines, can vary from tea garden to tea garden, region to region, season to season, and from year to year. This is why it is important that our personal buyer tastes these teas at the tea gardens and processing plants. This assures Twelve Winds Tea Company that we will have a constant source of exceptional teas.
This subtropical evergreen is native to Asia, but now grows around the world. All these teas, whichever variety, are made by manipulating the shape and the chemistry of the tea leaves in a variety of ways by very experienced practitioners.
White tea is an unprocessed tea – plucked and dried. Green tea is pan-fired and minimally oxidized. Oolongs are partially oxidized, while black tea is fully oxidized. Pu-erh is the only processed, fermented and aged tea.
Tea production is truly a living art form passed down from generation to generation. Chinese specialty teas are differentiated by the unique appearance of the leaves. Tea drinking and production started in China thousands of years ago.
The processing – the way the leaves are flattened, folded, rolled, or twisted before the drying process - can be a provincial secret. This flattening, folding, rolling, or twisting represents decades of experimentation. This satisfies many important goals like the beauty of the leaf, its freshness and retention of the aromatic oils.
When the tea finally arrived on European soil hundreds of years ago, folks boiled it “to death” with onions, not knowing how to make a terrific cup of tea. They failed to unlock the best that tea had to offer – its great flavor, aroma and liquor color.
The agony of the leaf refers to the moments shortly after the properly heated water is added. The tea leaves begin to dance as they untwist, unroll, unfold and fluff-out while releasing their precious flavor oils and color into your cup of tea. You might enjoy reading The Agony of the Leaves by Helen Gustafson, a delightful book.
After purchasing a tea, keep it separate from all the other teas and cabinet goodies. Tea readily absorbs other flavors and odors. Keep out of the light and away from the heat. If you purchase a large quantity, use the tea packet clips, which are provided by the Twelve Winds Tea Company, to firmly seal the foil packets or put in a jar or tin in your freezer. Put a date on your container.
All the different teas are made through some basic processing steps in this living art form:
Plucking...which leaves will it be? The top two and the bud or something older? The choice of the leaves to be picked does make a difference in what tea is to be made.
Withering...during the growing season, the process by which a tea plant supervisor, through his diligence and experience, controls the moisture content. Moisture content determines the roll, oxidation time, shaping style, color, flavor characteristics and aroma profiles. All this must come together to make you great cup of tea.
Initial roll...this step breaks the leaf’s cell structure, turning starches to sugars.
Oxidation...this step is important for the oolong and black teas, but skipped for the white and green teas in order to make a more delicate cup of tea.
Shaping...the final shaping of the leaves is now needed to create whatever style of tea is wanted, which is a Chinese specialty.
Drying...temperature and drying times are critical, which brings about even more variations.