Tuesday, February 19, 2008
TEA TERMINOLOGY--IT'S TIME TO GET IT RIGHT!!
Now this post will seriously only matter to those who care, who are curious, and who are crazy when it comes to getting things right. All 3 would be me!! For all the rest of you, you'll look at the title alone and skip down to read something else. "WHO CARES?" will be the first thought in your mind. Well, while I don't understand that, I respect you. There are plenty of other good "reads" on here, so go navigating. All you other fanatics, fickels, and "funny like that" kind of people, read on; listen to the tea-cha!
My mom is a Cosmetology Instructor (I know, you're wondering what this has to do with anything. Keep reading; be patient!). I remember so many times she would mention that cosmetologists, once they were learned and skilled of course, did not appreciate when the unlearned and unskilled population of non-cosmetologists (everybody else) would say things in their presence like 'wash your hair' instead of 'shampoo your hair' or "I need to get a perm" when you really needed to get a "relaxer" (this was mostly for ethnic clients and African American clients who wanted some of the kink or coil relaxed from their natural strands). Well obviously us non-cosmetologists were using improper terminology. We were requesting things we knew we wanted done to our hair except we were really asking for something altogether different without knowing it. This is what people do when it comes to tea. For they know not what they're looking at, drinking, or asking for. But most of the time, they know what they want. YOUR TEA-CHA TO THE RESCUE!! I CAN HELP YA PEOPLE!! (You see what happens when a commoner gets a little learned about something?! It's not just cosmetologists obviously. Lord help me!!) Anyway, here we go...
Camellia Sinensis is the plant or bush (can grow into a big tree though!) that tea leaves come from, real or actual tea that is (black, green, white, yellow, red). The colors mentioned here only tell you about the processing the leaf underwent and two of the colors (black and red) can be used interchangeably. They're both describing the same kind of tea, but the choice of color depends on what part of the world you're in. I mention all this because, everything you drink in a tea cup, that's not coffee, is not tea either. Let me help you see this clearly:
Tea is tea. When you drink anything else, it is probably a fruit, floral, or herbal infusion or, less likely, it could be a tisane. When you go to a tea or coffee house and you ask for tea, you're really asking for the resulted extraction from the steeping of tea leaf with water, in a cup. This is a true cup of tea. When you ask for chamomile, rose, lemongrass, orange peel, blueberry, or any other single or combination of floral, fruit, and/or herbal matter, you are no longer (or shouldn't be) asking for tea, you're asking for a simple infusion (unless the list of ingredients include the words green or black). You must be able to distinguish between the two because only tea can come from the camellia sinensis bush. This bush does not grow fruit, other herbs besides itself, nor other flowers besides it's own bloom, which is not used in tea production. Again, you can only get tea from a tea bush. Everything else you're drinking is just that...something else.
Some stores who think they've finally figured this out and want to impress you, will now say they've distinguished between true tea and everything else by saying you can order tea or a tisane (their word for the "everything else"). Still incorrect. Tisane is a French word, a variation of the word ptisan (pronounced ti zan' or tiz' un) which has two definitions (1) a drink made by boiling down barley with water and other ingredients or (2)any similar decoction, as of herbs. This last definition, I think, is the reason we use the word when we think of herbal, fruit, or floral infusions, because I don't think most people are out there ordering barley groats boiled in water. That brings me to the word decoction. Decoction comes from two words that mean to boil down or reduce. When you place things in a pot or kettle that are hard to extract the essence or flavor from (like some flowers, stems, roots, some herbs, nuts, etc.), mix them with water, and boil them, you are bringing forth or creating a decoction. Some matter has to be boiled to get what you are trying to extract from it. True tea (or tea leaves) would be too delicate for that, and most fruit or floral infusions, even though they require boiled water to be steeped properly, don't need to be boiled together with the water to extract the flavor or essence. So, you're not getting a true tisane when you ask for those tasty infusions of fruit and flower either. Again, you're getting an infusion.
Infusion is easy to remember. It is the liquid extract that results from steeping a substance in water. An infusion can be your true cup of tea or your "everything else" then, but for the sake of clarification and correctness, the truth is that "everything else" can't be tea, so...order up (and educate someone); order tea if you want tea and order an infusion if you want an herbal, fruit, or floral beverage. You probably won't be ordering a decoction, so if you want to forget this word and put it out of your mind, at least for now, do so. I guess I've given you enough other stuff to remember besides something that you won't be using.
In the future, I will tell you the difference between all of the colors of tea, or what the colors really mean. I will explain to you what you're really buying when you purchase off the shelf in your local grocery store. I will tell why the name orange pekoe has nothing to do with flavor or color. If you're interested, we're going to have fun with this tea thing. By the time we're done, we'll all have at least basic knowledge of what we're buying, what we're asking for, and what we want and love. Have a tea-liscious Tuesday! (yes, I know that was lame, but I had to do it.)
BTW, Robin (Pensieve -you all can google her blog name until I figure out how to make it a link on my blog) WON the tea contest. Yes, Robin, you won yourself a bag of Sencha Superior tea from Hibiki-An!! It is wonderful!! I will be delivering directly to you. How convenient!! Read my blog and watch for the next contest coming up within the next month. There will be more wonderful tea-liscious or cool give-aways!!
Thanks for entering for those who did. See ya' next time!