Tea comes from an evergreen shrub, the tea plant (or camellia sinensis), native to the eastern plains of the Himalayas.
It is prepared by infusing the dried leaves and has been consumed since ancient times. Today it is the most consumed drink in the world after water.
All tea families can be found with the same shrub, since the only difference is either the selection of leaves or buds, or the fermentation that follows.
Yes, but which family would be best for you? How do you best prepare for it?
We will try to help you in your initiation process by proposing this guide.
- The different families
- Tea in bulk or in bags
- Learn step by step
- Choosing the right infuser and cup
- The essentials to equip yourself well
The different families of tea
You may not know it, but the different tea families do not represent different tea bushes. On the same bush, you can get all the families. The difference in families comes from the growing and drying techniques that are brought to the tea leaves. Incredible, isn't it?
There are 5 main families of tea, which themselves have derivatives or variants.
But to keep it as simple as possible, here are the main ones:
- The White Tea
- Green Tea
- Black Tea
- The Aged Tea
The White Tea
Green tea is now grown all over the world, but the biggest producers are China and Japan. Each producer has its own way of producing it, which makes green tea as unique as it is diverse. The key step in the manufacturing process is the roasting, which is done in a steamer or wok, on withered leaves (which prevents them from fermenting or turning too brown). It is notably its complexity that makes green tea unique. Healthy, energizing, delicious and rich in antioxidants, green tea is the most popular and healthiest beverage in the world, after water. The properties of green tea are multiple: rich in tannins, it is these antioxidant polyphenols that give tea its aroma and its particular bitter taste. The activity of theanine on the brain has shown a reduction of mental and physical stress, a relaxing effect and increases the production of alpha rhythm in the brain. Green tea also contains vitamin C.
Green tea is also used in the production of flavored teas such as genmaicha, which combines it with rice, or gunpowder, which is the basic ingredient of mint tea.
Its aromatic profile ranges from light and floral to astringent and herbaceous.
Matcha is the tea of the Japanese ceremony Cha No Yu. You will find it under the name matcha with sometimes a grade or a harvest name. It is made with green tea leaves that are passed through a grinder to obtain a very fine jade colored powder. It is considered the superhero of the tea world because of its fine grinding, the nutrients are more concentrated when you drink it. It is also used a lot in cooking.
Yellow tea is originally a green tea that is covered with a cloth after roasting. It obtains a yellow coloring of its leaves, making a mellow and sweet tea in the mouth.
Wulong (or Oolong) tea
Wulong (or Oolong) tea is the result of a Chinese manufacturing process, which can also be found in Taiwan.
It is a tea whose oxidation has been interrupted during the process. More mature leaves are used, which contain less tannin and caffeine.
It could be placed between green and black tea in the roasting. Indeed, its character is associated with the flavor of green tea, and its power with black tea. It can therefore be dark and woody, as well as subtle and floral.
Black tea is recognizable by its degree of oxidation: it is fully fermented! It is produced all over the world, but the two biggest players are East Africa and South Asia.
There are two manufacturing methods: the orthodox method or the CTC method.
For the orthodox method, the leaves, which are larger, are twisted, resulting in a complex and delicate tea.
For the CTC method, the leaves are smaller and rounded, giving a darker and fuller-bodied tea.
Black tea is often used for original teas, such as Chai, Darjeeling or Assam.
In terms of flavor, it is an aromatic, powerful and generous tea.
Aged Tea (Pu-Erh)
Also called dark tea, Pu-Erh is one of the oldest types of Chinese tea. It dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and takes its name from the city of Pu'er in Yunnan, southwest China. At that time, tea was transported by horseback, and it was necessary to find a way to pack the tea so that it could withstand the long journeys. So the people of Pu'er invented a special way of making tea, compressing it into "cakes", thus allowing the tea to improve and not deteriorate. It is not a tea for the impatient: it takes at least 30 years for a good pu-erh to reach maturity, the oxidation being slowed down by the compression.
On the tasting side, its flavor is powerful and sweet, with notes of earth.
In bulk or in bags?
The tea bag was invented in the United States in the early 20th century. Originally, the idea was to put tea leaves in a paper bag. But this operation was slow and complicated, and therefore costly, so it was soon decided to grind the tea leaves into a fine dust. This improved productivity, at the expense of quality.
We often forget that a good tea is mostly whole leaves, whose delicacy is preserved from the grinding that is necessary for the bagging.
A broken or powdered tea develops a greater strength in the cup, the tannins being released in large quantities because of the grinding. The aromatic finesse of the tea is therefore lost.
To summarize, we always advise you to buy your tea in bulk, and to brew it in a container that allows it to open and release its aromatic profile.
But don't worry, since the 1980's, we can find teas packaged in bags, often made of natural cotton (muslin), which can contain whole leaves. These are good alternatives, when you travel for example, to have quality tea.
Learn step by step
If you wish to fully initiate yourself to tea, it is preferable to follow a step-by-step path. This will allow you to go progressively from strong flavored teas to more and more subtle teas.
We therefore advise you to start with teas with strong flavors and very robust, to move towards more subtle teas by their holding in mouth, their texture and their olfactory power.
In terms of family, start with flavored teas, then black teas, wulongs, green teas and finally white teas.
Choose quality teas and equip yourself as best as possible to facilitate your initiation.
There are also a few criteria that must be met in this regard:
- Measure your tea well.
In the western method, we recommend 2gr for 10 to 15cl of water. In the Chinese way, your tea leaves should represent 30 to 50% of the volume of your teapot or cup.
- The quality of your water.
Assume that great tea deserves great water. Chlorine and limescale are the enemies of tea. The carafe filter is your best ally.
- Respect the brewing temperature.
Not all teas brew at the same temperature. Some green teas will not brew above 40 degrees while some black teas will only release their potential in 90 degree water.
- Monitor brewing time.
As with the temperature of your water, the length of time you steep your tea is crucial to getting the best out of it. A tea that has been brewed too long will be very bitter, even undrinkable.
- Serve at the right temperature.
The ideal temperature for drinking tea is between 40 and 50 degrees Celsius. But you can also drink it warm, cold or iced!
Choosing the right infuser and cup
To get the maximum pleasure from your tea tasting, choose the right utensils. For example, tea lovers use a different teapot for each of their favorite teas.
Choosing your brewing system
Ideally, you should have a different infuser (teapot, beaker) for each family of tea used. Strong teas impregnate the containers in which they are infused with their aromas. In order to avoid mixing aromas and spoiling your tastings, this is a good solution.
Also recommend a small to medium capacity infuser. Large volumes (1.2 liters and more) are to be avoided.
How to choose your cup.
The main accessory of your tastings is of course your cup. It actively participates in the development of your mouthfeel, especially through the contact with your lips.
First of all, your cup must be thick enough not to absorb all the heat of the tea. It must be heated beforehand, so that your tea is not "shocked" by the coldness of your cup. As for coffee, the ideal is a ceramic or porcelain cup.
The essentials to equip yourself well
Being well equipped in the world of tea is - much like coffee - the first thing to do if you want to enjoy your teas in the best way. The goal is to get the most out of your teas.
As seen above, one of the first things is to respect the brewing temperatures. Variable temperature kettles are your best friends! You can also equip yourself well with a brewing beaker and ceramic cups.
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