According to the Tea Association of Canada, we here in the Great White North have been drinking tea since 1716, when it first reached our shores as part of a shipment for the Hudson’s Bay Company after a year in transit. Canadians have been tea drinkers ever since – about 10 billion cups are consumed here each year!
Some people like their tea black with a little cream and sugar, while others prefer green or white tea with a slice of lemon or a spoonful of honey. Then there are folks who enjoy sipping oolong tea with the giant leaves unfurled at the bottom of the cup. There is a multitude of ways that you can take your tea, and amazingly, they all start with the same plant.
What is Tea?
Tea comes from the camellia sinensis plant, which is indigenous to China and India. Tea is now also grown in places all over the world, but most commonly in Japan, Sri Lanka and Nepal. Differences in growing conditions will produce subtle differences in the way teas taste. But the flavour of tea comes from more than its growing conditions!
Some teas taste malty and robust, while others are sweet and grassy or light and floral. This diversity of flavour stems mostly from the way tea is processed. The different types of tea – black, oolong, green and white – are ultimately the result of what happens to the leaves after they’re picked.
This tea is prepared from leaves that are picked, withered, rolled and then left to oxidize before they are fired. Black tea is usually prepared with boiling water. This produces a strong cup of tea that takes milk and sugar well.
This tea is partially oxidized, and is therefore sometimes described as falling between black and green tea. After the leaves are picked, the tea is withered and bruised before firing. Oolong tea should be steeped in water that is below boiling and is typically taken without milk or sugar, though of course that’s not a rule!
Oolong teas not only can be steeped more than once, it’s actually a recommended practice! Some folks say the third steep is the best – try it yourself and see!
Green tea is picked and then dried before heated to halt oxidization. There are two distinct methods of heat processing green tea. The Japanese technique of drying green tea is steaming, while the Chinese method is pan firing. These different methods produce distinct flavors: Japanese style green tea is generally sweet and grassy, while Chinese style green tea is slightly toasty.
Nearly every day at Tealish, we hear from our customers that they thought they didn’t like green tea because they found it bitter, but after talking to us they changed their minds! The secret is in the water temperature: green tea should be steeped in water below boiling to prevent the bitterness of burned tea leaves!
White tea is the least processed of all the teas made from the camellia sinensis plant – it’s made from the youngest leaves and buds and is picked and then steamed or fired to halt oxidization. White tea has a very delicate flavour and should be prepared using water that is below boiling.
While many of us love tea just as is, flavoured blends are increasing in popularity, and Tealish has a whole wall to choose from! We also have herbal and rooibos infusions – these are not true teas in that they don’t come from the camellia sinensis plant, but since they are steeped in water we think of them as teas, too!
Which type of tea is your favourite? How do you take your tea?