Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tea

I'm a real fan of tea. Since I was a child, tea's what warmed me during the winter, freshened during the summer, and delighted every noon of my life. A life without tea wouldn't be the same. Even Nobel Prize W.B. Yeats, mourning the rape of a child (in The stolen child), describes this way the melancholy of the now empty kitchen:
[...]
Away with us he's going,
The solemn-eyed:
He'll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
[...]
Tea is everywhere and surely everybody has had one cup. The problem is that finding, and preparing, a good tea is pretty much rarer than it may seem.

In another post, I'm telling you the basics to prepare your perfect cup of tea: maybe you'll discover and be faithful to a new taste, to new flavors you didn't know before.

In this series of post, I'll introduce you to the basic classification of teas. I say basics because tea is just like coffee or wine: if we began classifying, we wouldn't know when we'd end... Nevertheless such classification is important because it has direct implication on your perfect cup of tea: water temperature and steep time are a function of these parameters.

Geographical regions

Just like as wine, tea of different geographical regions may have peculiarities as well (such as Darjeeling). Cultivation for commercial production has meant that, with years and demand, teas is now cultivated in regions well out of the traditional tropical and subtropical zone. This has also meant that traditional indigenous species, such as Chines Tea (Camellia Sinensis Sinensis) are now cultivated in Europe as well. As far as it concerns our interests, I only remind you that tea has been traditionally classified by cultivation region in India and China. Indian most known tea, for example, is Darjeeling, which is named after the Darjeeling region whose climatological characteristics give that tea its peculiarities.

Oxidation level

As far as it concerns the average user kind of teas, the only interesting difference is the oxidation level attained by the processing of the parts of the plant used to produce tea.

Now, the basic types of tea, organized by oxidation, are:
  • White tea.
  • Black tea.
  • Green tea.
  • Oolong tea.
  • Pu-Erh tea.
A little note about red tea: there's no red tea (in Western Countries). What we call black (fully oxidized) tea is indeed what Eastern people call red tea. There's also another misnomer for red tea: rooibos. Rooibos is not a tea. Some tea shops which don't deserve their name may try to convince you but no, Rooibos plant just is not a Camellia Sinensis.

In order or oxidation (from smallest to greatest) you find:
  • White tea: completely unoxidized.
  • Green tea: low oxidation.
  • Oolong tea: the most common in China, between a 10% to a 70% level of oxidation.
Pu-Erh stands aside because it's a tea produced with different variety of the tea plant (the largest) and, moreover, is produced in a particular region of China: Pu-Erh, indeed.

Black tea, least but not last, is the most oxidized variety of tea, with a characteristic flavor, color and level of caffeine.

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