Tea Simplified: A Newbie’s Guide To Being A Tea Drinker
There is a huge wealth of information available out there in regards to tea. For a new tea drinker, it can be a lot to sift through. No matter what the reason for your newfound interest in tea, we want to make it simple and enjoyable. Here, we will answer all the questions you might have asked, and some you may not have considered asking. No snobbery necessary... and no pinkies up! Whether your vision of tea drinking is elaborate or simple, we provide the tools to get you started. The new vision of tea drinking begins with you. :)
What is tea?
Tea leaf is harvested from a shrub called Camellia sinensis. These shrubs have many different varietals that are cultivated in different countries around the world. Soil, growth conditions, elevation, and other geological factors all impact the flavor of the final leaf. Once the leaves are picked, they are prepared and treated using varying methodology according to the region. Every culture also has its own method of preparation and ceremony.
The processing of tea ranges from drying to rolling to oxidizing to fermentation. The least processed tea type is white tea, which is dried as close to its freshly-picked form as possible. Completely unadulterated, white tea leaves are the highest source of antioxidants. Next up is green tea, which is steamed in Japan and pan-fired in China. Green tea has a high level of antioxidants because it is not oxidized. The further processing of the leaves helps to lock in chlorophyll, increasing levels of EGCG and other catechin antioxidants. Oolong tea is bruised and broken, and the leaves are allowed to oxidize anywhere from 30% - 70%. Allowing them to oxidize reduces the antioxidant level, but raises levels of caffeine and l-theanine (more on this later.) A fully oxidized tea is called a black tea and contains the highest level of caffeine. There is also a niche tea called pu-erh that is fermented and aged anaerobically, the flavor becomes very robust and woodsy.
Why drink loose leaf
You may be tempted to steep the easy way and purchase your tea in bags. The tea contained in those bags is of a much lower quality than its full-leaf counterpart. Dust and fannings (most often, what's used in tea bags) are very broken tea leaves and brewing them releases a lot of tannins and astringency. Intact tea leaves contain beneficial properties that are untampered and brew with a much smoother and more full-bodied flavor.
How it’s made
China exports the largest quantity of tea worldwide. They cultivate and process roughly one-third of the total tea harvest of the entire world! As mentioned in the “tea varieties” segment above, different countries craft different varieties, and there are many regional specialties. Darjeeling teas, for instance, can only be grown in Darjeeling (a town in India.) They have specific practices and plant strains that make their tea unique and coveted. Many regions across the world have their own geographic traits that impact the flavor of the leaves, as well as customs in processing.
Which one is for me?
Tea can reinvigorate or relax you depending on the type you choose. If you’re looking for a morning tea to replace your coffee, black or pu-erh teas will do the trick. But, if you’re just looking to sip on something smooth and mellow, you might be better matched with a green or oolong tea. Choose the brew for your mood or for the specific time of day.
How to brew
Loose-leaf tea may look intimidating, but preparation is actually super simple! The strainer performs the function of the tea bag (removing leaf from water), but allows more space for the leaves to open up and expand. Any vessel or apparatus with a strainer that sits beneath the water-line will work to make the perfect brew. In general, you just need to use one teaspoon of leaves for every eight ounces of liquid. Be mindful of the temperature and volume, and you’ll make a killer cup every time!
Loose leaf tea has magical pockets of flavor and depth that are released when you re-steep! Throwing out the leaves after the first wash is a waste of money, benefits, and awesome flavor. As the leaves unfurl, you will be able to taste the subtle differences of tonality with each subsequent steep. When have you re-steeped enough? That’s easy! Just keep it going until you run out of flavor, then it’s time to switch out the leaves.
Some teas come with added fruit, spices, and herbs to impart flavor. While some might argue that tea on its own has so much depth of flavor to explore, there’s no shame in drinking a flavored tea! All tea leaves will have the benefits and antioxidants regardless of whether or not they have been mixed with other ingredients. Branch out and explore the more exotic varieties like chocolate tea and ginger peach! You might find a flavor that really resonates with you.
Adding milk or sugar
Some people choose to add milk to their black teas. This is the traditional English way of serving tea. You can also steam your milk for drinks such as a London Fog (an Earl Grey tea latte). You can also add honey or sugar. Any of these additions will add considerable fat or calories. However, it won’t diminish the positive benefits of the loose tea leaf!
Iced tea preparation can be done using several different methods. Cold-brewing is super easy and doesn’t even require the water to be boiled. Simply pour room temperature water over the leaves and refrigerate overnight! For instant iced tea, you can brew a concentrated hot tea and pour it over ice. Icing the tea doesn’t have a negative effect on the positive aspects of the tea!
Now you know stuff!
Armed with this knowledge, you are ready to begin your tea drinking journey. There is so much depth to the history and culture surrounding this little leaf! The most important part is to relax and enjoy yourself. You don’t need to be an expert in the field to enjoy your own sensory experience. Simply allow your tea drinking moment to be a little meditation away from all the chitter-chatter of life.