Lesson 2 : (What Makes) The Tea in Your Cup

The Tea in Your Cup – Prologue

In lesson 1, we’ve taken a closer look at the tea plant, Camellia sinensis. In lesson 2, we want to forge a bridge from there to the tea that’s in your cup. What tea is that tea in your cup? Of course, now you’ll think you know the answer, but do you really? Well, let’s get back to this question at the end of the lesson …

Because, what might appear as a simple question initially, becomes a good bit more complex, if we rephrase the question to:

What makes the tea in your cup?

In fact, there is a number of factors that together make the tea in your cup that very tea. Altogether, there are 8 major groups of factors that influence the identity – or quality – of any specific tea on its way from the tea garden to your cup. At this, the term “quality” is completely neutral and stands for objective properties.

8 Quality Factors of the Tea in Your Cup

What Makes the Tea in Your Cup? – 8 Quality Factors of Tea
  1. Origin
  2. Terroir
  3. Variety / Cultivar
  4. Cultivation
  5. Picking
  6. Verarbeitung
  7. Way to Consumer
  8. Preparation

For a better understanding, I would like to comment briefly on each of these factor groups. However, I will cover each factor group in detail in the following next 8 lessons.

1. Geographical Origin

The geographical origin provides you with information about which culture – and tea culture – your tea has emerged from. This way, it provides you with clues to the history and background of your tea, and the people producing it. In addition, knowing where your tea comes from also gives you some hints regarding some of the other factors making your tea …

2. Terroir

If you look up the term “terroir” in Wikipedia, they’ll explain it as “interaction of soil and climate”. This means soil condition, seasons, temperature, precipitation, humidity, altitude, surrounding flora and fauna, etc.

3. Variety / Cultivar

There are numerous, if not countless different tea plant varieties or cultivars existing today. And each of them has distinct individual properties, down to the taste and effect of the tea produced from it. You might want to look this up in Lesson 1 again.

4. Cultivation

This factor about HOW a tea is cultivated, or “cultivation styles”, if you will. Wild picking, close-to-nature cultivation, organic farming, biodiverse cultivation, monocultural cultivation are all examples of possible cultivation styles.

5. Picking

The factor picking is about WHAT is picked WHEN and HOW. That is, the three question words correspond to the factors picking period or time, picking standard and hand or machine picking.

6. Processing

Here, on the one hand, the 6 different possible ways of processing freshly picked tea leaves come into play: green tea, oolong tea, black tea, white tea, yellow tea, dark or Pu Erh tea. On the other hand, the processing style also plays an important role, eg. manual artisan processing vs. industrial mass processing.

7. Way to Consumer

The tea’s way to the consumer means more than just overcoming the physical distance between the tea factory and your cup. In addition to aspects of means of transport and trade route, the factor further processing comes into play. For example, whether the tea leaves will reach the end consumer “as is, or whether they become part of a “blend”, are flavored or further processed together with other foods.

8. Preparation

Once your tea has finally made it into your tea shelve, only preparation still stands between it and your cup. However, there’s quite a lot that still can go wrong there – literally on the last few meters! Factors that matter are water quality, preparation vessel, dosage, infusion temperature and infusion period. While some types of tea may be quite “forgiving”, others will punish you with significant loss of taste for even small deviations from applicable specifications.

The Tea in Your Cup – Epilogue

Well, let us now go back to our question at the beginning. Do you really know what tea is in your cup? Because this is only the case, if you know at least a little something about all of the above factors. Now, go through all 8 points for that tea in your cup… How much do you really know it?

Lesson 3 of My Little Tea School – The ABC of Tea will reveal the reasons, why the origin of the tea in your cup is one of its most important features.

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