What is Your Cup of Tea? (3)

With green tea as an innocent, energetic teenager, and oolong tea as a sophisticated, mature lady, there must be a father figure in the tea family; it is an assertive gentleman– Black Tea.

Black tea, which the Chinese call “red tea” because of its rich red color when properly brewed, is a fully fermented tea.  With a strong full-bodied flavor and taste, black tea is the most consumed tea in the world.  It accounts for some 70% of all production and consumption.

The process of making black tea is similar to that of making oolong tea, except that the tea is fully “fermented” by allowing the oxidation process to continue until complete.  Originally, black tea was made only in China.  But after 1830, the British successfully grew Assam tea in India, which became the world’s largest tea producer of black tea.  Black tea cultivation has since spread to Africa, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and other parts of the world.

The most famous black in China are Lapsong Souchong , Keemun, and Dian Hong.  All Chinese black teas are enjoyed without adding milk or sugar, though many Westerners often do add them.   Others enjoy their black tea with honey and lemon.

Full-bodied black tea is assertive, like a successful, vigorous gentleman.  To brew it well, the water should be near boiling point.  Relating to a vigorous, assertive gentleman is very different from relating to a teenager. It’s not just that gentlemen are unafraid of challenges; they prefer challenges.  In the someway, black tea prefers water near the boiling point.  If the water is not hot enough, many qualities of the tea do not develop.  Like a vigorous, successful gentleman, black tea is straightforward and forthcoming. Unlike oolong, which can be steeped several times with increasing subtle difference, black tea does not gradually reveal different aspects with successive steepings.  Every steeping remains the same (though it may become weaker). It is what it is, and presents itself fully from the beginning.

While a youngster can quickly lose the energy of youth, a mature person has endurance.  In the same way, green tea may lose its freshness quickly, but black tea retains its flavor for years.

In the West, most black tea is sold in the form of tea blends, a combination of teas from different areas.  This allows tailoring the blend to many different customer tastes and creates a more uniform quality.  However, blending teas creates a loss of distinctiveness of teas produced at particular time in particular areas.

In a traditional family, in addition to parent and children, to have mellow and affectionate grandparents are an added blessing.  In the tea family, there is this added blessing –- Pu-erh Tea. To be continued…..

What is Your Cup of Tea? (2)

Oolong tea is a partially fermented tea.  The process of making oolong tea is consider being the most exquisite and refined tea-making technique.  Oolong tea combines the mellow sweetness of black tea and the fresh fragrance of green tea.  From the point of the Yin-Yang theory, green tea is more yin, black tea is more yang.  Oolong tea being in-between, is the most balance variety of tea, harmonizing both yin and yang qualities.

The oolong tea making process includes withering, fermenting, kill-green, kneading, and roasting.   This complicated process allows for the creation of a range of subtle, deep flavors and aromas.  The aromas can range from flowery to fruity, from nutty to woody, and even a honey quality.  It is possible to produce complex blends of bitterness, sweetness, and astringency, allowing for the creation of a great variety of tea. The most distinctive feature of oolong tea is the lingering aftertaste, which is less noticeable in either green tea or black tea. Thus, oolong tea is the favor of a true tea connoisseur.

Most oolong is produced in Taiwan, and the Fujian province in China. Da Hong Pao and Tie Guan Yinare the most well-known tea from Fujian province. The best oolong tea is produced in the high mountains of Taiwan. It includes: Day Yu Ling, Li Shan, Ali Shan, Shan Lin Xi, Dong Ding, and Bai Hao Oolong.

Oolong tea is like a sophisticated, mature lady: knowledgeable and strong, able to endure hardships and challenges.  In contrast to green tea, oolong tea can be brewed at temperature at 90-100 C (195-212 F) without making the tea too bitter. The first steeping reveals the light aroma and sweet taste.  With subsequent steeping, the aroma changes and the taste has more bite; the initial floral taste may become fruity or even nutty.  Good oolong tea can be steeped 5 to10 times or more, with subtle differences in each steeping. This discovery process is a distinctive aspect of good oolong tea; as with a sophisticated lady, every encounter reveals new discoveries and increasing depth.

With a teenager and a sophisticated and mature lady in a family, let’s get ready to introduce the father figure, the assertive gentleman—Black Tea.  To be continued…

What is Your Cup of Tea? (1)

There are over a couple hundred varieties of tea in China and there are many ways to classify them: by locality, by harvest season, by processing method, and by the form of the finished product. The varying characteristics of tea –color, aroma, taste, and form –are largely the result of enzymatic oxidation.  This process is traditionally called “fermentation,” even though it is not actually caused by yeast or other organisms.

The simplest and most rational way to classify tea is according to the degree of fermentation.  With this method, there are four types of tea:

  • Unfermented :  green tea
  • Partially fermented:  oolong tea, white tea, and yellow tea.
  • Fully fermented:  black tea
  • Post-fermented:  pu-erh tea

In this tea family classification green tea is like the innocent teenager: lively and full of energy, yet still a bit timid.  It retains the green color and natural fragrance of fresh tea leaves.   Without the interference of the fermentation process, green tea has a hint of the grassy taste of the fresh leaves, with a subtle sweetness.  This results in a very delicate flavor.

Good green tea is handpicked, and consists of only the new shoots and tender leaves.  Storing green tea in an airtight container is important because when it comes into contact with the air, the freshness of its color and taste can be easily lost –just as a teenagers’ enthusiasm is fragile and can change on the instant.  The freshness of green tea is very important. Green tea should be consumed within a year.

Making green tea is like dealing with a teenager: one must be gentle.  Green tea should be brewed at 80 C or 175F, lower temperature than other kinds of tea and steeped for only about two minutes.  If the temperature is too high, or if it is brewed too long, the tea will be bitter and astringent –just as treating a teenager too harshly or with too much pressure will lead to rebellion.

While other teas that can be steeped many times, even the highest quality green tea can only be steeped at most two or three times.  It is like talking with a teenager, who may be clever and interesting, but after an hour or so you know them well.  However, even a short moment of connection with that youthful energy can be very delightful.

Over the last few decades, the heath benefit of green tea has become the subject of many scientific and medical studies.  Green tea is rich in catechins, a group of powerful antioxidants, and there is evidence that green tea can help lower the risk of developing certain types of cancers.  This has created a great interest in drinking green tea in the health-conscious community.

Green tea, the younger teenager in the family member will eventually grow up to become a mature and sophisticated lady—Oolong Tea.

Shan-Tung Hsu
Author of “The Essence of Tea”