Tea 101: A World of Possibilities
By Lindsay Page
Tea, chai, shai, thé, next to water it is the most consumed beverage in the world. One plant, many dimensions. All teas stem from one plant species: Camellia sinensis which is an evergreen plant that grows mainly in tropical or subtropical regions. Originating in southwest China, likely for medicinal purposes, the plant was brought west through the spice trading routes in the 16th century. Depending on how it is processed after it is harvested, tea can offer a variety of flavours and health benefits. Tea is served all over the world and each region has its own preferred method of tea preparation.
Black Tea is the highest in caffeine content with 50mg/6oz cup. It is produced when withered tea leaves are rolled and oxidized causing the leaves to turn dark. Once the desired darkness is reached the tea is dried. The darker the leaf the more robust the flavour.
Oolong Tea has average caffeine content. Tea leaves are withered and briefly oxidized in direct sunlight until the leaves give off a distinct fragrance often compared to apples, orchids or peaches. The leaves are then rolled and fired to stop oxidation when it is about halfway between black and green tea.
Green Tea has an average caffeine content of 25mg/6oz cup. Green tea leaves are harvested and immediately exposed to heat to halt the oxidation process allowing the leaves to retain their green colour. The leaves are then rolled or twisted and fired. The end result is a bright and grassy cup of tea.
White Tea only has trace amounts of caffeine. This method of tea preparation is the least produced of all the types due to the amount of difficulty in the process. The fragile tea buds are neither rolled nor oxidized and must be carefully monitored as they dry. This precise technique produces a subtle cup of tea with mellow and sweet notes.
Herbal or Fruit Teas are technically not tea at all. It is basically any dried herb, flower or fruit steeped in hot water. Often traditional tea leaves are blended with dried fruits and herbs for added aromatics and flavours.
Roobios, which means “red bush” is a plant native to South Africa and is worth mentioning due to its growing popularity around the world. Considered an herbal tea, it is prepared very similarly to black tea and served with milk and sugar. Roobios is being used more and more in coffee shops and added to espresso drinks like “Red Lattes” as well as yummy tea lattes like the “Cape Town Fog”.
For many cultures around the world, tea is an essential part of daily living as well as special occasions. Its preparation method varies from country to country, town to town and even house to house. In addition to being tasty and comforting, tea plays an important role in hospitality in almost all cultures.
Despite it being known for its coffee culture, Turkey is one of the largest tea markets in the world. Most of the tea is grown on the Black Sea coast in the Rize province. Turkey is also the largest consumer of tea in the world with per-capita consumption of 10 cups a day. That’s a lot of tea! Turkish tea is often served a tulip-shaped glass with two tiny sugar cubes on a saucer and a little spoon to stir.
One does not visit England without enjoying a cup of proper English tea. In British homes, it is customary and good manners to offer a cup of tea to guests. Black tea is the preferred type for the Brits and typically served with milk and sugar. High tea, tea and cakes served on fancy porcelain, is somewhat of an English stereotype but can be found in quaint tea houses and upscale restaurants.
Tea is a very important part of social customs in the Arab world. It is hospitable to offer tea to guests and considered rude if it is not accepted. If you plan on doing business in the East, expect to drink the tea! The tea in Arabian countries is normally a strong dark blend, similar to the “breakfast teas” served in other parts of the world. Arab teas are often brewed with sugar and served in tall glasses, filled up to the top, and presented with more sugar. It can also be served with mint or cardamom, or with a dash of milk. It has been known by Arabs for thousands of years that consuming a hot beverage like tea actually cools the body down in extremely hot environments like the desert. It stimulates the body to sweat more which naturally cools the body down.
Malaysian tea preparation is somewhat of an art. Teh tarik or “tea pulling” refers to the method of preparation which involves pouring a blend of condensed milk, black tea to create a bubbly mixture that is considered the national beverage of Malaysia. The tea is poured from vessel to vessel at varying heights to create a frothy hot drink. An element of showmanship exists in the preparation of teh tarik. The ability to drag a long stream of tea above the heads of the patrons without giving them a shower is an amusing novelty for the locals and tourists alike.
Japan is well known for green tea and has long been grounding green tea leaves into a fine powder called “matcha”. Matcha is dissolved in water or milk and whisked into a frothy blend with a bamboo whisk and consumed whole to gain all the health benefits of the green tea leaf. In addition to providing small amounts of vitamins and minerals, matcha is rich in antioxidants called polyphenols, which have been tied to protection against heart disease and cancer, as well as better blood sugar regulation, blood pressure reduction, and anti-ageing. Another polyphenol in matcha called EGCG has been shown in research to boost metabolism, and slow or halt the growth of cancer cells.
Morocco is famous for its green mint tea also known as Maghrebi Mint Tea or simply Moroccan Tea. It is usually served in small glasses with a large number of fresh spearmint leaves, sugar and green tea. The tea is poured into glasses from a height in order to swirl loose tea leaves to the bottom of the glass, whilst gently aerating the tea to improve its flavour. The tea is consumed throughout the day as a social activity, with tea bars filling a similar social function to alcoholic drinking establishments in Europe and North America.
Tea in India and Pakistan or better known around the world simply as “chai” is indeed the most popular hot beverage in these countries. In India, the Assam region is known for producing some of the world’s tastiest tea. It is typically served with milk and sugar and often with spices such as black pepper, cardamom, ginger and cinnamon, better known as “Masala Chai”. Pakistanis favour a green tea known as “kahwah” in addition to spiced black milk chai. The Kashmir region of Pakistan serves Pink Chai, a creamy pink tea with almonds, pistachios and cardamom. This method can take hours to prepare and is often served on special occasions and in the winter months.
What about North America? Americans are enthusiastic iced tea drinkers. Tea is chilled and served with lemon, ice and usually without sweetener. 80% of all U.S. tea consumed is iced tea. Canada, however, is strongly influenced by its multiculturalism and tea of all kinds is becoming more and more popular. Per person, Canadians drink more tea than Americans. Each year the average Canadian consumes 264 cups of tea, compared to about 212 cups per person in the U.S. Coffee is still the most popular beverage in Canada but in recent years, new tea companies have reintroduced tea to the modern tea drinker. DavidsTea, Teaopia, Teavana and Steeped Tea have all made tea drinking cool. By 2020, tea consumption in Canada is projected to increase by 40%. Endless possibilities of tea blends with influence from around the world make the tea drinking experience very enjoyable.