Posted in Kafevend Blog
Over the last few weeks, we have been taking a good look at the many aspects that come together to make coffee. It seems only fair to give tea the same time in the spotlight (and no doubt cocoa as well in due process), so today marks the first of our new series on one of our favourite brews.
The tea tree plant, camellia sinensis, originates from the land around where the borders of Burma, China, India and Tibet meet. China's Yunnan Province is believed to be where the potential of tea was first discovered. Amazingly some of the trees that were around two or three thousand years ago when people were first finding a use for tea still survive to this day on remote mountains in the province. Chinese mythology says it was the ancient emperor Shennong who was the first to make tea by happy accident. Whilst boiling water to purify it, leaves from the tree he was resting under fell into the cup. Tasting the resulting brew, he found it to be rather pleasant- the first in a long line of folk to have the same thought!
The ancient trees found on the mountains and the one Shennong sat under are quite unlike the plants found in commercial tea plantations. A tea tree can grow over fifty feet high left to its own devices, but the trees in plantations look more like bushes as they are rather enthusiastically pruned to waist height in order to make picking the leaves easier. Like coffee, it is better when it is a human hand selecting and picking the leaves, though machines can be used. The tea is picked in flushes- this refers to the topmost and thus newest pair of leaves and bud, with new flushes growing over the course of a week or two throughout the growing season.
Once they have been picked, there is a large number of processes the leaves can go through depending on the type of tea that is going to be made, such as black or green. For example, the black tea you might find in your tea bag is made by first withering the leaves. This removes some of the water content and starts the process of oxidation. Next, the leaves are processed using the 'Crush, Tear, Curl' method- a rather brutal sounding name for the method of feeding the leaves through a machine which breaks them up into the little bits you see in a tea bag. These bits are then properly oxidized with a combination of temperature and humidity which are closely controlled and monitored. The amount of oxidation determines the type, or colour, of the tea; black tea is the most oxidized of the lot. Finally the bits are dried to stop the oxidation process, graded by size and packed.
We hope this introduction to tea has whetted your appetite and that you'll tune in later this week when we delve a little deeper into how tea is made.