Essentially, there are four main types of tea – black, oolong, green and white. Everything else is a variation on the theme. Those different flavours you’re familiar with, such as Earl Grey, English breakfast or lapsang souchong, for example, are created by varying the leaf processing method and/or adding aromatic extras like bergamot (orange peel oil), ginger, lemon, lavender, cinnamon or just about anything else you can think of!
Brew black magic
Tea is its own kind of magic; it can pick you up, calm you down, help you think more clearly and warm the cockles of your heart. Over a shared cuppa, you and a friend can set the entire world to rights. And here’s the best part – tea isn’t just good for your soul and sanity, it’s also incredibly good for your health. All this for just a few cents! Seriously, what’s not to love?
Find your cup of tea
There are so many varieties and styles of tea it can be tough to choose but whether you want something soft and delicate or a cuppa with a little more punch, there’s something to suit your every mood and whim.
All tea comes from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant but just like wine, flavours are wildly diverse and depend on factors like where in the world it’s grown, the climate, soil quality and even the time of day it’s harvested. This is one seriously precise business!
Pick of the crop
Tea aficionados believe that to experience tea at its finest, only a ‘single origin’ variety will do. This means it hasn’t been blended with teas from other parts of the world. Blended (aka multi-origin) teas tend to be less expensive but they lack a distinct character and taste – the terroir or ‘sense of place’.
On the make
To true connoisseurs, how the leaves are gathered and processed is also of utmost importance. The finest teas are still picked by hand, withered, rolled, oxidised and fired (dried) in the traditional, meticulous, perfected-over-centuries way.
Modern tea production relies on the speedier ‘cut, tear and curl’ (CTC) method in which the leaves are fed through metal rollers with serrated blades. This results in tiny even-shaped pellets of black tea that have a generic, predictable taste. As you can imagine, this doesn’t fly with the faithful! Think instant coffee vs. fresh-roasted whole beans or cask wine vs. a good vintage. Of course, in the end, it’s horses for courses; drink whatever floats your boat and your budget!
Did you know?
Herbal tea isn’t really tea. Unless it also contains a black, green or white tea base, ‘teas’ made with blossoms, herbs, spices and fruit are more correctly called ‘infusions’ or ‘tisanes’. They’re delightful and good for you, just not actually tea.
Loose leaf or in the bag?
Purists will argue tea bags are inferior as they often contain the low grade, leftover ‘dust’ and ‘fannings’ of broken tea leaves. Cheaper bags also make it tougher for the leaves to expand sufficiently in hot water so flavour and health benefits may be compromised.
There’s not always time to make a pot so if bags work for you, carry on! Many tea companies now offer quality full leaf teas in open-weave sachets that allow for better flow-through for maximum taste and goodness.
Tea contains caffeine in varying degrees, depending on the type of tea and how strong it is. Black teas contain 25 to 110mg per 250ml cup and green between 30 and 50mg. To compare, coffee contains up to 200mg per 250ml cup, depending on whether it’s instant, brewed or from your barista.
How to brew the perfect cuppa
• Start with cold, fresh water. Once the water boils, use a little to rinse and warm the pot. For black and oolong teas, measure about one teaspoon of tea for every cup. Pour on water that’s been boiling for about a minute. Don’t reboil water that’s cooled, as this decreases the CO2 content, which affects the taste.
• Steep black and oolong for 3–5 minutes before pouring.
• For green and white teas, bring the water to a rolling boil then let it cool a little before pouring over the leaves. (Pouring boiling water on these more delicate leaves can make them bitter and destroy their goodness.) Steep for 1–3 minutes according to taste.
• Good news if you love to add milk and sugar, doing so doesn’t appear to affect tea’s health-giving qualities.