Tea FAQ (Part I)

Q: Where does tea come from?

A: Tea has been an item of trade and tribute for at least three thousand years. It was first cultivated and brewed in China, and many of the best varieties still come from China. Some of the finest oolongs in the world are grown in Taiwan. Japan also produces a considerable amount of green tea, most of which is consumed domestically.
After the British took up tea drinking, they began cultivating the plants native to India in order to have more control over the trade. India, Sri Lanka, and other South Asian countries produce a large portion of the world harvest.

Q: Are potatoes fattening?

A: No! It's all those delicious toppings we use that add calories and fat. The potato contains zero fat and a 5.3-ounce potato is only 100 calories.

Q: What are some of the most popular varieties?

A: Black, unblended:
  • Assam (India)
  • Ceylon (Sri Lanka)
  • Darjeeling (India)
  • Keemun (China)
  • Nilgiri (India)
  • Sikkim (India)
  • Yunnan (China)
Popular blends:
  • English Breakfast
  • Irish Breakfast
  • Russian Caravan
Scented/Flavored:
  • Jasmine (China; green, scented with jasmine flowers)
  • Earl Grey (international; black, scented with oil of bergamot)
  • Lapsang Souchong (China and Taiwan; black, scented with smoke)
  • Many varieties of flavored teas
Oolong:
  • Ti Kuan Yin [Tai Guanyin] (Mainland China)
  • Formosa Oolong (Taiwan, many varieties)
Green:
  • Genmaicha (Japan)
  • Gyokuro (Japan)
  • Spider Leg (Japan)
  • Mattcha (Japan, used in the Tea Ceremony)
  • Sencha (Japan)
  • Hojicha (Japan)
  • Genmaicha (Japan)
  • Longjing [Lung Ching, Dragon Well] (China)
  • Baozhong (China)
  • Gunpowder (China)
Other:
  • Pu-erh (China)

Q:Why is Darjeeling tea expensive compared to others?

A: An acre of land yields around 500 kg of dry tea in fine tea growing areas of Darjeeling, about a third of the yield of many non-specialty teas grown at lower elevations. Each bush yields only 100 grams of finished tea, the result of 20,000 individually handpicked leaves. Lower production is somewhat compensated by higher price level out of famous muscatel flavour. Above all, the cost of cultivation is highest in Darjeeling.

Q: What does organic tea mean?

A:Tea qualifies as ‘organic’ only when active use of environment friendly techniques are employed and the system is approved by inspecting authority to be truly ‘organically farmed’.

Q: What is biodynamically grown tea?

A:Biodynamic agriculture is different from just organic. It uses organic methods of agriculture plus cosmic energy to plant, harvest, and prepared natural fertilizers and pesticides. It was introduced by the German scientist Rudolph Steiner and is currently used by some of the forward-looking tea estates.

Q: How to best prepare tea infusion?

A:Heat the water to just below boiling. Put one heaped teaspoon of Darjeeling tea per cup in a pre-wormed tea pot. Pour boiling water over the leaves. This may be varied to suit taste and local water. However, let it seep for 4 to 6 minutes before straining. Green teas should be seeped for lesser time than black tea. Add milk and sugar to taste.

Q: What is Chai?

A:Tea has acquired many names in many languages of the world. Chai is a word used for tea mainly in India. In Chinese language too the tea is called Ch’a.

Q: What is Masala Chai?

A:Masala in India means spice and tea preparation with spices is referred to as masala chai. Masala is traditionally a family recipe with the main ingredients being cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, ginger, black pepper, lemongrass and mint.

Q: What is true tea?

A:Tea is the dried leaf of the Camellia sinensis plant. Indigenous to both China and India, the plant is now grown in many countries around the world. Teas that do not contain flavorings or additives, we call ‘true’ teas.

Q: What is herbal tea?

A:Herbal tea is not actually tea, but rather an herb or a mix of herbs. Only in the United States are these herbal mixtures called tea. They are usually referred to as an infusion or tisane in other parts of the world.

Q: What is medicinal tea?

A:Medicinal teas are made from specific herbs, flowers and extracts that may be beneficial. Wide varieties are available – some have significant scientific backing to their claims, others do not. True teas have been widely studied for their health benefits. Green tea as well as black tea both contains polyphenols researched for their antioxidant and other healthy properties. In addition to, the green tea is richer in vitamin C which makes it more popular.

Q: What is the difference between Green and Black tea?

A:All tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant, a warm-weather evergreen plant. How the fresh leaves of the tea plant are processed and their level of contact with oxygen are what determine which type of tea it becomes. During oxidation, tea leaves undergo natural chemical reactions that result in distinctive color and taste characteristics. Black tea is allowed to oxidize whereas green tea is not oxidized at all. Oolong tea falls somewhere between green and black teas because the leaves are only partially oxidized.

Q: What are the difference between loose-leaf teas and the tea in a tea bag?

A:The industry term for what goes into tea bags is ‘fannings’ or ‘dust’. Only the smallest particles of tea, trailings of mass production, make it into tea bags. Usually, the tea is processed entirely by machine. From picking through packaging, the human-hand never enters the process; the result is correspondingly soulless. Technically, it is possible to put good-quality tea into a bag. We still have major reservations about tea bags. Whole-leaf tea needs room to unfurl and release its flavor. This isn’t possible in a small tea bag. Breaking up the tea leaf so it can steep within a bag alters the character of the tea. Small particles quickly release all of their tannins into hot water, promoting over-steeped, bitter tea that dries the tongue. Tea bags are not able to withstand several infusions. All their flavor is quickly dispersed. Decaffeinating tea bags is less effective because the tannins release almost as quickly as the caffeine. Finally, part of enjoying tea is watching the leaf unfurl as it steeps—it can tell you a lot about the tea.

Q: Is there something wrong with tea bags?

A: Occasionally, tea connoisseurs will express contempt for tea bags, for the following reasons: 1. Most of the tea that goes into bags is not very high quality. As noted above, tea bags usually contain broken grades so that they will infuse quickly. 2. Whole-leaf teas come in a larger number of varieties; and the most interesting and enjoyable teas are sometimes not available in bags. 3. Bags are semi-non-biodegradable additions to the biodegradable tea leaves. 4. Connoisseurs like to have something to sneer at.
Seriously, though, most tea drinkers use tea bags some of the time, simply because it may not be convenient to brew loose leaves (at work, for example). Use what works for you.