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
- Variety / Cultivar
- Way to Consumer
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 …
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.
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.
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.
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 transport route of the tea from the producer to Europe – and thus a good part of the route of the tea from the tea garden to your cup – has lost much of its former importance for the quality of tea over the past decades. Until well into the 20th century, the main reason why green tea was largely unknown in Europe was the fact that it could not withstand months of storage in ship hulls under hot and humid conditions. Black tea has therefore dominated the European tea market for centuries. Today, on the one hand, a lot of tea comes to us by air from the producer country within a few hours. On the other hand, modern container ships only need a few weeks for the sea route from Asia to Europe. In addition, the hermetically sealed container offers the tea much better transport conditions than the storage in the hull of the classic tea clipper.
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.
Test Your Tea Knowledge – Lesson 2
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