When I first started drinking tea, there was only one type; English breakfast, you either liked tea or you didn’t and quite honestly if you didn’t, everyone wondered what was quite wrong with you. “Milk, no sugar”, “Milk, two sugars” was the most complicated a cup of tea got, unless you’re my mother. My mother likes a cup of hot water, with a dash of milk and a teabag that’s been dipped in and out so quickly the edges of the bag doesn’t get wet let alone have time to actually brew!
Nowadays the drinking of tea has become a little more complex. Many answers can be derived from that simple question “Fancy a cuppa?”
“Oh, I don’t drink caffeine, have you got herbal”
“I only drink Green”
“Have you got soya milk? I’m vegan”
“Is it fairtrade?”
“Have you got a Lapsung Souchong or a Russian Caravan tea?”
Back in 2014, I was lucky enough to visit a tea plantation in Kerala, India. Turns out, there’s a lot more to tea than “Milk, no sugar’ after all. So if your brew needs a shake up rather than just a stir, read on for the TEA facts that you never knew.
Firstly, some essentials:
All teas (white, green, black, oolong and pu’erh) are made from the leaves of the same species, this wonderful specimen, the Camellia Sinensis evergreen plant (Thanks for your good work Camellia over all the years!)
Kanan Devan Hills Plantation, Munnar, Kerala
The significant differences of tea type develop in the processing of the leaves and how they oxidise, so black tea for example is far more oxidized than green tea.
Exploring the The Tea Museum, Munnar. (This is tea, I promise!)
Some teas should be brewed with water that is boiled at different temperatures so not to scald the tea. However, remember to never use water from the kettle that has been boiled twice as this removes the oxygen and nitrogen from the water and you’ll end up with a dull cuppa!
Like my Granny would say, “If you’re making a pot of tea make sure you warm the pot first, otherwise when the boiled water hits the cold pot the water instantly reduces in temperature thus compromising your brew!” Granny knows best.
Even decaf teas still have a level of caffeine within them as caffeine is naturally occurring in the plant.
A bit about the teas:
The least processed, these leaves are not rolled or crushed so retain a silky appearance, contain least caffeine of all teas, (10-15mg per cup) This one shouldn’t send you over the edge!
Leaves can be picked in the morning and brewed the same day, it’s the least oxidized, with very low caffeine, and a good meditative aid!
Leaves are withered and rolled, then partially oxidized, so mid-way between a green and a black tea and fired in a pan sometimes with charcoal which gives a smoky flavour, yet it still retains a freshness like a green tea, caffeine levels between a green and a black tea.
Once picked, the leaves are allowed to wither before being rolled and crushed, and so they become fully oxidized and they turn black, most popular tea in the western world, caffeine 40-60mg per cup, a must on deadline day…
Aged and fermented, notorious for curing hangovers, see now you’re listening…. This little beauty can be even darker than black tea, with caffeine levels 60-70mg per cup for black pu’erh, 30-40mg for green pu’erh, although can take up to a year for the fermentation process. It’s time to switch your PG tips to your Pu’erh fix…
Yerba Mate (as in Mahtay)
A medicinal drink of ancient origins so they say, after harvesting, the branches of this holly plant are dried sometimes with a wood fire which gives a smoky flavor, or sometimes steamed. This guy can be a bit bitter if you over heat the water too much though so watch out! Earthy and roasted to grassy flavours.
Rooibos (this one’s for you Rach)
A naturally caffeine free herbal tea, an oxidized tea turning from green to bright red, low levels of tannins, full of minerals and naturally sweet in flavor, this is the champion of the decaf world.
Here are some Caffeine levels of the different teas and other drinks for your reference!
So now we’re all semi clued up we’ve got no excuse not to make the perfect brew. Here’s a colour guide for everyone to initial so no matter whether you’re an ‘Earl gravy’ or an ‘Iron brew’ we can get it right!
Mine’s a Tio De Janeiro please!
Oh and in case you were wondering, your Lapsang Souchong is a smoky tea made using the coarser leaves of the plant which are less desirable than the leaves closer to the bud, nonetheless they roast these guys over firewood to give a pretty knockout smoky bonfire kind of flavour! The Russian Caravan is a blend of teas containing Lapsang Souchong, Oolong and Keemun, which has a sweet, malty and smoky taste.