Tuesday, February 26, 2008


First of all you guys, I have to tell you this before the 'tea-cha' gets into her tea lesson today:). I just received (yesterday) my "this year's" shipment of J. Greens from Kyoto, Japan, and OH MY WORD!! I'm not kidding when I tell you that Sencha Fukamushi Super Premium has got to be a J. Greens tea lover's dream tea!! I wish I could share this with all of you guys. I am going to have to have a J.Greens tea party with you local folk so that you can taste what I'm talking about. Hubby and I drank 2 cups apiece last night and would have downed more if it weren't so late. BTW, they shipped me an extra bag of an organic tea that I had not ordered (they let me keep it instead of shipping it back--YESSSSS!!!!), so I've decided that it will be the next prize for the tea contest coming up in March. You will want to enter!! Okay now, on with the lesson....
I promised you guys last time that I would tell you what the colors of tea mean, what you're likely purchasing off the store shelves, and what pekoe, orange pekoe, etc. has to do with tea. It might surprise some of you that orange pekoe has nothing to do with flavor or color at all. Let's do this backward and start with the "pekoe" information then.
Have you ever noticed the ingredients or ingredient list on your boxes of tea, like Lipton, Tetley, or store brand iced tea? You're probably going to see the words 'pekoe' and/or 'orange pekoe.' It would be perfectly normal to think that if someone uses the word "orange" in a description of an ingredient that that represented either the color or flavor. In truth, it doesn't represent color or flavor, so if you thought that you were getting something that should have a slight 'orangey' taste to it, or smell, or color, it won't happen. Processors of this kind of tea or the tea industry in general give the following names for the sole purpose of grading or to identify tea leaf size (having nothing to do with the quality of the tea itself, although leaf size does affect flavor and end result in the cup):
S.- Souchong
F.O.P.- Flowery Orange Pekoe
O.P.- Orange Pekoe (a thin, wiry leaf with a tighter roll than F.O.P.)
T. and G.- Tippy and Golden (name used with whole leaf and broken leaf grades to indicate colorful tips in the dry leaf)
P.- Pekoe
B.O.P.- Broken Orange Pekoe
FANNINGS AND DUST (Read carefully. This part will be interesting)
F.- Fannings (Smaller than B.O.P., with less 'keeping' quality, and used for commercial tea bags (what most of us southerners especially are buying off the shelf for our regular iced tea--nothing wrong with liking it, if you do BTW (I have never liked the taste of it myself) The name "fannings" derived from traditional practices in which the broken grades were tossed in front of a fan, and the small particles blown off were called "fannings.") My guess is that while fannings are still fannings, they're not quite gathered the way they used to be:)
D.- Dust (smallest grade produced; quick liquoring)
I bet you just learned something didn't you?!!
Now about colors...they are based on fermentation or how the tea leaf, once picked, is processed. Colors will tell you not only what kind of tea you're drinking, but what it will taste like, from your most pungent to your most delicate. Here we go...
Black tea (called red tea in China because of the color of it in the cup) is the variety most familiar to us. It is processed in such a way that it allows for full oxidation (fermentation). After the drying process of the leaves and the leaves have turned a copper color, it is fired at a temp. of 120F, turning the leaves black. Black tea brews rather quickly and is pretty brisk and strong in flavor. If you've ever purchased iced tea bags, Chinese Keemun, Ceylon, Assam, or Darjeeling, to name a few, you're drinking black tea.
Green tea (my FAVORITE along with white) retains its original character because it does not undergo oxidation (The leaf smells like "earth" or newly plucked leaves). As soon as these leaves are picked, they are steamed or pan-fired so that the enzymes that cause oxidation will be destroyed. Most green tea is produced in China, Taiwan, Japan, and India. (You all know what I prefer by now:))
White tea is the least processed of the tea types and has a delicate flavor. For centuries, it was unknown in the west, and compared to green and black tea (especially black), it is still rare, but you can find it easier today than ever before. It is called white because only the unopened buds and leaves from the very tippy top of the bush is plucked, and the unopened buds have tiny, silver-white hairs that cover it, hence the name. This tea is simply sun-dried or steamed to remove moisture, and then it is immediately ready to be drank. This tea is grown in China's Fujian Province.
Yellow tea usually implies a tea that is processed similarly to green. The drying phase is slower though, and the tea is allowed to sit and "yellow." The liquor from the tea has a yellow-green appearance and the taste is similar to white and green. Yellow tea can also describe very high quality tea served in the Imperial Court of China or any imperially served tea. (I'm pretty sure then, that I haven't had this kind of tea although I'd like to:))
You might also hear about Oolong tea. It is semi-oxidized to give it a fruity flavor. Some people say then, that oolong is a cross between a black and a green. To make oolong, the leaves go through almost the same process as black, but are only left to ferment 15 to 80% of full oxidation. Oolong is produced in China and Taiwan, but Taiwan is better known for its very high grade oolongs. (I like these too, though I don't drink them nearly as much as green.)
Well I'm off to taste another of my new arrivals from Japan. I hope you have a green (or other color) tea moment today and everyday. Maybe we'll talk about the supposed health benefits of tea next week. We'll see. (If you find any typos in this post, sorry...I'm in the middle of homeschooling and I'm trying to get this done rather quickly...no time for editing this time:))

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