Last Friday, a buddy and I went to the mall and happened to stop by the Teavana store. I made the mistake of saying “yes” to “would you like a sample” as we walked by. That turned into a 30 minutes spiel, but it ended up being pretty interesting. And wow, were those teas tasty. See the problem, apparently, is that we have been hoodwinked by big tea companies to think that what we all typically drink as tea is really tea. The difference in a Lipton tea bag tea and what they were brewing was immediately apparent. Tea is meant to be steeped open leaf, not in little bags with ground up leaves. I believe it.
Teavana was a little pricey for me; if I had bought everything the guy wanted to sell me, it would have easily topped $400. They had cast iron pots (that get seasoned with each brew) and matching serving sets. That was about $300. Then he scooped out what I told him was my favorite tea–apparently a rarer Chinese white tea–which would have been another $100. Yes, it was something like $20 per ounce!
I thanked him for his time, told him I am not really an impulse buyer, and explained that I would need time to think and research. I happen to watch a tech podcast where the host is really into tea. He even took a vacation to China last year just to sample local teas. He really knows his stuff. He recommended a site called Adagio. I read their lessons on tea and found it quite interesting, actually. Here are some of my notes (yes, I took notes):
Tea, properly, comes from the plant Camellia sinesis. There are three components to the plant that make the tea. The essential oils, which give tea its aroma and flavor; the polyphenols, which give tea its astringency and health benefits (which are numerous); and caffeine, which gives an energy boost. Tea comes in many categories, but there are four main families of them: white, green, oolong, and black tea. Each is processed a little differently. Organic materials undergo oxidation, which more or less causes decay. White teas are unprocessed, so they keep their fine white filaments on the leaves–thus the name. They are allowed to oxidize very little, and as a result, are the highest in antioxidants. Green teas are also oxidized very little but undergo a series of steaming, pan-firing, and/or rolling. Oolong teas undergo the same processes and are allowed to oxidize anywhere from 20-80%. And finally black teas are processed like oolong but are allowed to oxidize almost completely. There is also a class commonly referred to as herbal teas, but they aren’t technically teas. They are called “tisanes” and are caffeine free. The variety of tisane blends is a bit overwhelming to me right now, but it can be flower, fruit, leaves….whatever can be steeped.
Proper brewing of tea should consist of pure, filtered water. Approximately 2 teaspoons of tea per 6 oz water. The water should be boiling for black, oolong, and herbal teas; about 185 F for green and white teas. Steeping time is about 3-5 minutes for black and oolongs; 2 minutes for green and white teas. I’m not quite sure what these descriptors mean–seems kind of relative–but they note that “delicate” teas can be enjoyed with seafood, salads, and chicken. “Bright” teas are best with meat and spicy foods. “Rich” teas for desserts”. And “Pu Erh” teas for digestive and calming effects at the end of the day.
I’m pretty excited to get into this, if the samples I had at the mall were any indication. I’ll let you know how the tasting goes when my supplies arrive! I welcome the opportunity to cut back on my caffeine intake, but I don’t think I’ll quite give up on my “grande white mocha, extra hot, no whip” addiction just yet.