English Tea Time / English high tea, English teaCTS28

Ever since the late 1700’s, tea time has been an integral part of English life. When people from other countries imagine life in England, they almost always picture the English sitting down at a table set with delicate china, socializing over hot cups of tea and little cakes. 

Even I used to think that High Tea and Afternoon Tea were the same thing: dainty little social events, where one drank tea, ate sweets and little sandwiches. But now I know better. Don’t make the same mistake when you are talking about these English tea ceremonies. 

There are two types of tea time in England: 

◦Low tea or afternoon tea

 ◦High tea or “meat tea”

 Low Tea

 

Afternoon tea (low tea) comes to mind when people think of English tea ceremonies. It all began back in the mid 1800s, when the Duchess of Bedford started having a tray of tea with bread and butter served to her in the mid-afternoon. In those days, lunch was served at noon but dinner was not eaten until 8 or even 9 o’clock at night. The Duchess found herself hungry during those long afternoon hours. It became a regular occurance and as she began to invite other high-society ladies to join her, having Afternoon Tea became the ‘in-thing’ for the upper-class women. Along with tea, there would be small pastries with clotted cream or preserves, delicate sandwiches, and scones.

 High Tea

 

Many people use the term “High Tea” to describe the event I’ve mentioned above, probably because it sounds more elite. But High Tea is a much different thing. It was served later (around six in the evening) and consisted of a full, dinner meal for the common people. Tea was still served, but there would also be meats, fish or eggs, cheese, bread and butter, and cake. It was more of a man’s meal, than a ladies social diversion.

High Tea Versus Low Tea

Afternoon tea or low tea is what Americans picture when they think of tea time: tea served with light snacks such as crustless sandwiches, crumpets and scones. This custom originated among the upper classes, as they had both the time and the money to have an extra meal between lunch and dinner.

High tea, on the other hand, is a full meal served with tea, including meat, bread, side dishes and dessert.

The custom of high tea originated in working class homes, where it was the main meal of the day. Amusingly, Americans tend to say “high tea” when they are really referring to afternoon tea.

High or Meat Tea

While afternoon teas can be extremely high in calories, high teas are even more substantial and nourishing.

Working class people did not have time for a leisurely round of snacks and gossip between lunch and dinner. They were working. Tea time for them meant an early supper, served as soon as possible after work.

Dainty snacks simply were not enough. So, the custom evolved of serving a substantial meal in the early evening. High teas can include cold cuts, shepherd’s pie, baked beans on toast, steak and kidney pie, cakes, custards, sweets and pickles.

Tea, of course, is obligatory.

File No:english high tea- CTS28

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Japanese Tea Ceremony / Japanese tea ceremony CTS27

The Japanese tea ceremony, also called the Way of Tea, is a Japanese cultural activity involving the ceremonial preparation and presentation of matcha, powdered green tea. In Japanese, it is called chanoyu or chadō. The manner in which it is performed, or the art of its performance, is called temae. Zen Buddhism was a primary influence in the development of the tea ceremony.

Tea gatherings are classified as chakai or chaji. Chakai is a relatively simple course of hospitality that includes the service of confections, thin tea, and perhaps a light meal. Chaji is a more formal gathering, usually with a full-course meal, followed by confections, thick tea, and thin tea. A chaji may last up to four hours.

Tea ceremony developed as a “transformative practice”, and began to evolve its own aesthetic, in particular that of wabi. Wabi, meaning quiet or sober refinement, or subdued taste, “is characterized by humility, restraint, simplicity, naturalism, profundity, imperfection, and asymmetry [emphasizing] simple, unadorned objects and architectural space, and [celebrating] the mellow beauty that time and care impart to materials.” Murata Jukō is known in chanoyu history as the early developer of this, and therefore is generally counted as the founder of the Japanese “way of tea”. He studied Zen under the monk Ikkyū, who revitalized Zen in the 15th century, and this is considered to have influenced his concept of chanoyu[7]

By the 16th century, tea drinking had spread to all levels of society in Japan. Sen no Rikyu, perhaps the most well-known—and still revered—historical figure in tea ceremony, followed his master, Takeno Jōō’s, concept of ichi-go ichi-e, a philosophy that each meeting should be treasured, for it can never be reproduced. His teachings perfected many newly developed forms in Japanese architecture and gardens, fine and applied arts, and the full development of chadō, “the “way of tea”. The principles he set forward—harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility—are still central to tea ceremony.

Many schools of Japanese tea ceremony have evolved through the long history of chadō and are active today.

Venue

Almost any place where implements for the making and serving of the tea can be set out, and where the host can make the tea in the presence of the seated guest(s), can be used as a venue for tea. For instance, a tea gathering can be held outdoors, in the open air. This is known as nodate. On the other hand, a tatami-floored room with adjacent mizuya space for the host to conduct preparations of the various items to be used is required for a full chaji.

Tea rooms that are designed specifically for use for the wabi style of tea developed by Sen no Rikyū are usually small, typically 4.5 tatami. Rooms larger than 4.5 mats may be used for tea as well, particularly with larger numbers of guests, though they are often general-purpose rooms not exclusively used for tea ceremony. Building materials and decorations are deliberately simple and rustic in wabi style tea rooms. Sometimes chashitsu are in free-standing buildings known in English as tea houses.

Seasons

 

Seasonality and the changing of the seasons are important in tea ceremony. Traditionally the year is divided by tea practitioners into two main seasons: the sunken hearth season, constituting the colder months (traditionally November to April), and the brazier season, constituting the warmer months (traditionally May to October). For each season, there are variations in the temae performed and utensils and other equipment used. Ideally, the configuration of the tatami in a 4.5 mat room changes with the season as well.

Koicha and usucha

 There are two main ways of preparing matcha for tea ceremony: thick and thin with the best quality tea leaves used in preparing thick tea. Historically, the tea leaves used as packing material for the koicha leaves in the tea urn would be served as thin tea. Japanese historical documents about tea ceremony which differentiate between usucha and koicha first appear in the Tenmon era (1532-55). The first documented appearance of the term koicha is in 1575.

As the terms imply, koicha is a thick blend of matcha and hot water which uses about three times as much tea to the equivalent amount of water than usucha. To prepare usucha, matcha and hot water are whipped using the tea whisk, while koicha is kneaded with the whisk to smoothly blend the large amount of powdered tea with the water.

Thin tea is served to each guest in an individual bowl, while one bowl of thick tea is shared among several guests. This style of sharing a bowl of koicha first appears in historical documents in 1586, and is a method considered to have been invented by Sen no Rikyū.

The most important part of a chaji is the preparation and drinking of koicha, which is followed by thin tea. A chakai may involve only the preparation and serving of thin tea (and accompanying confections), representing the more relaxed, finishing portion of a chaji.

Equipment

 

Tea equipment is called chadōgu. A wide range of chadōgu is available and different styles and motifs are used for different events and in different seasons. All the tools for tea ceremony are handled with exquisite care. They are scrupulously cleaned before and after each use and before storing, and some are handled only with gloved hands.

The following are a few of the essential components:

Chakin: The “chakin” is a small rectangular white linen or hemp cloth mainly used to wipe the tea bowl

Tea bowl: Tea bowls are available in a wide range of sizes and styles, and different styles are used for thick and thin tea. Shallow bowls, which allow the tea to cool rapidly, are used in summer; deep bowls are used in winter. Bowls are frequently named by their creators or owners, or by a tea master. Bowls over four hundred years old are in use today, but only on unusually special occasions. The best bowls are thrown by hand, and some bowls are extremely valuable. Irregularities and imperfections are prized: they are often featured prominently as the “front” of the bowl.

Tea caddy: The small lidded container in which the powdered tea is placed for use in the tea-making procedure.

Tea scoop: Tea scoops generally are carved from a single piece of bamboo, although they may also be made of ivory or wood. They are used to scoop tea from the tea caddy into the tea bowl. Bamboo tea scoops in the most casual style have a nodule in the approximate center. Larger scoops are used to transfer tea into the tea caddy in the mizuya (preparation area), but these are not seen by guests. Different styles and colours are used in various tea traditions.

Tea whisk: This is the implement used to mix the powdered tea with the hot water. Tea whisks are carved from a single piece of bamboo. There are various types. Tea whisks quickly become worn and damaged with use, and the host should use a new one when holding a chakai or chaji.

Usual sequence of a chaji

 If the gathering is held at a tea house having a waiting bench along the roji, the guests will wait at the bench until summoned by the host. They ritually purify themselves by washing their hands and rinsing their mouths with water from a small stone basin, and proceed along the roji to the tea house. Guests remove their footwear and enter the tea house through a small door, and proceed to view the items placed in the tokonoma scroll alcove and any tea equipment placed ready in the room, and are then seated seiza-style on the tatami in order of prestige.

If a charcoal fire is being used to heat the water, the host will lay the fire in the presence of the guests. Following the laying of the fire, guests are served a meal in several courses accompanied by sake, followed by a small sweet eaten from special paper called kaishi, which each guest carries, often in a decorative wallet or tucked into the breast of the kimono.They will then return to the waiting shelter until summoned again by the host.

The host ritually cleanses each utensil——including the tea bowl, whisk, and tea scoop——in the presence of the guests in a precise order and using prescribed motions. The utensils are placed in an exact arrangement according to the particular temae procedure being performed. When the preparation of the utensils is complete, the host prepares thick tea using set movements. When the tea is ready it will either be served to the first guest by an assistant or the guest will retrieve the bowl from the host.

Bows are exchanged between the host and the guest receiving the tea. The guest then bows to the second guest, and raises the bowl in a gesture of respect to the host. The guest rotates the bowl to avoid drinking from its front, takes a sip, and compliments the host on the tea. After taking a few sips, the guest wipes clean the rim of the bowl and passes it to the second guest. The procedure is repeated until all guests have taken tea from the same bowl; each guest has an opportunity to admire the bowl before it is returned to the host, who then cleanses the equipment and leaves the tea room.

If a charcoal fire is being used, the host will then rekindle the fire and add more charcoal. This signifies a change from the more formal portion of the gathering to the more casual portion, and the host will return to the tea room to bring in a smoking set and more confections, usually higashi, to accompany the thin tea, and possibly cushions for the guests’ comfort.

The host will then proceed with the preparation of an individual bowl of thin tea to be served to each guest. While in earlier portions of the gathering conversation is limited to a few formal comments exchanged between the first guest and the host, in the usucha portion, after a similar ritual exchange, the guests may engage in casual conversation.

After all the guests have taken tea, the host cleans the utensils in preparation for putting them away. The guest of honour will request that the host allow the guests to examine some of the utensils, and each guest in turn examines each item, including the tea caddy and the tea scoop. The items are treated with extreme care and reverence as they may be priceless, irreplaceable, handmade antiques, and guests often use a special brocaded cloth to handle them.

The host then collects the utensils, and the guests leave the tea house. The host bows from the door, and the ceremony is over. A tea ceremony can last up to four hours, depending on the type of ceremony performed, the number of guests, and the types of meal and tea served.

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Health Benefits of Tea / CTS26

Tea offers health benefits to those who drink it because it is high in antioxidants, especially white and green teas. Antioxidants help protect your body from reactive oxygen agents in your body such as free radicals. These agents can lead to chemical reactions in your body that can cause harm. 

Tea Benefits 

Recent research shows that any tea derived from camellia sinensis has cancer-fighting properties. The leaves of this plant contain chemicals called polyphenols, which give tea its antioxidant properties.

Polyphenols in tea have been known to: 

Help protect cells from the normal, but damaging, physiological process known as “oxidative stress.” Although oxygen is vital to life, it’s also incorporated into reactive substances called free radicals. These can damage the cells in our body and have been implicated in the slow chain reaction of damage leading to heart disease and cancer.

 – Help prevent blood clotting

– Help lower cholesterol levels

– Help neutralize enzymes that aid in the growth of tumors

– Help deactivate cancer promoters

– Help stimulate the immune system

 Tea also has fluoride for strong teeth, virtually no calories, and half the amount of caffeine found in an equally-sized cup of coffee. Whether decaffeinated tea has the same level of polyphenols, and thus the same health benefits, as regular tea has not yet been studied. Caffeine is a natural component of tea leaves. It is not yet known if removing caffeine also removes polyphenols.

 Apart from polyphenols, tea also contains a variety of ingredients that are beneficial to one’s health. These include theanine (an amino acid unique to tea), vitamins, minerals, and methylxanthines. These are the components that are the source of the healthful properties of tea. These are known to:

 – Help fight against mutagenic agents

– Help fight high blood pressure

– Help fight against viral and bacterial infection

– Help improve the functions of the digestive and excretory systems

– Aging

If you are the type to fret over the appearance of wrinkles, age spots and other signs of growing old, oolong tea may be the answer to your worries. In a recent experiment carried out jointly by researchers from the US, Taiwan and Japan, mice which were fed tea displayed fewer signs of aging than mice that were fed water.

 – Allergies

The wonder cup just got even more wonderful. Green tea, rich in antioxidant treasures that protect against heart disease and cancer, now shows promise as an allergy fighter. In laboratory tests, Japanese researchers have found that the antioxidants in green tea, block the biochemical process involved in producing an allergic response. Green tea may be useful against a wide range of sneeze-starting allergens, including pollen, pet dander, and dust.

 – Arthritis

Green tea catechins are chondroprotective and consumption of green tea may be prophylactic for arthritis and may benefit the arthritis patient by reducing inflammation and slowing cartilage breakdown.

 – Bone Strength

Tea flavonoids may be bone builders. A report in this week’s Archives of Internal Medicine looked at about 500 Chinese men and women who regularly drank black, green, or oolong tea for more than 10 years. Compared with nonhabitual tea drinkers, tea regulars had higher bone mineral densities, even after exercise and calcium-which strengthen bones-were taken into account.

 – Cancer

“Tea is one of the single best cancer fighters you can put in your body,” according to Mitchell Gaynor, MD, director of medical oncology at the world-renowned Strong Cancer Prevention Center in New York City and co-author of Dr. Gaynor’s Cancer Prevention Program. The latest tea discovery? Strong evidence that both green and black tea can fight cancer-at least in the test tube-though green tea holds a slight edge. In a new study, both teas kept healthy cells from turning malignant after exposure to cancer-causing compounds.

 People who drink about 4 cups of green tea a day seem to get less cancer. Now we may know why. In recent test-tube studies, a compound called EGCG, a powerful antioxidant in tea, inhibited an enzyme that cancer cells need in order to grow. The cancer cells that couldn’t grow big enough to divide self-destructed. It would take about 4 cups of green tea a day to get the blood levels of EGCG that inhibited cancer in the study. Black tea also contains EGCG, but at much lower concentrations.

 – Cholesterol

Tea can lower ‘bad’ cholesterol levels. Researchers at the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center in Beltsville, Maryland, asked test subjects to eat low-fat, low-calorie prepared meals and drink five cups of caffeinated tea or caffeinated and non-caffeinated placebos that mimicked the look of tea. Levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol dropped 10 percent among the test subjects who drank tea.

 – Heart Disease

Drinking black tea may lower the risk of heart disease because it prevents blood from clumping and forming clots. In a recent study, researchers found that while drinking black tea, the participants had lower levels of the blood protein associated with coagulation.

 Better to be deprived of food for three days than tea for one,Ó says a Chinese proverb. Research is showing it may just be true. Dr. Kenneth Mukamal of Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center reported that out of 1,900 heart-attack patients, those who drank two or more cups a day reduced their risks of dying over the next 3.8 years by 44 percent.

 – Weight Loss

Trying to lose weight? Reach for a cup of green tea instead of a diet beverage. Compared to the placebo and caffeine, green tea extract consumption produced a significant 4% increase in 24-hour energy expenditure. If you consume 2,000 calories per day and don’t gain or lose weight (you’re in energy balance), an increase of 4% would translate roughly into an 80-calorie daily difference. Over a year, this could result in 89 pounds of weight loss.

 Recent evidence shows that in the battle of fat loss, green tea may be superior to plain caffeine. According to a new study, green tea appears to accelerate calorie burning – including fat calories. Researchers suggest compounds in green tea called flavonoids may change how the body uses a hormone called norepinephrine, which then speeds the rate calories are burned.

 To sum it up – by drinking 2-4 cups a day of tea, you can reap in the numerous curative and preventive tea benefits.

 File No:Health Benefits of Tea- CTS26

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Tea Leaf / tea leaf CTS25

Tea is a caffeinated beverage that is most often served hot. Tea leaves, which come from the tea bush, are steeped in hot water, which allows the flavor, and caffeine that is in the leaves to infuse with the hot water making it a beverage.

Before the tea leaves can be steeped in hot water they must be processed. There are several different ways to process tea leaves, and each method of processing the leaves results in a different type of tea.

 Different Kinds of Tea Leaves

 

There are four main types of teas. Tea leaves all come from the same tea plant, the Camellia sinensis. The leaves become distinct from each other through the different methods of processing them. In high-quality teas, only the young leaves are plucked from the bushes, but this method requires about 2,000 to 3,000 leaves to produce 1 lb. of finished tea. When dried leaves are soaked in hot water, they infuse the water with their distinct flavor. Raw tea leaves are processed by oxidation and drying.

 Green

Leaves intended for green tea are either steamed or pan-fired to stop any oxidation. Because they are heated immediately after being picked, they remain green in color. In China, green tea leaves are steamed, but in Japan they are fired. In both methods, the leaf becomes soft. The next step in the process is to roll the leaves. Tea makers roll leaves in different styles, including a long roll, a ball, twisting or even flat. Where the leaf is grown typically determines the rolling style. Heating or firing the rolled tea leaves dries them out so they are ready for use. The green color in the leaves gives green tea special health benefits through its antioxidants. This tea only takes a day or two to process. To brew green tea you usually just drop the processed leaves directly into a pot of hot water. The leaves will unfold to reveal their full shape. You can then use a filter to strain the leaves out of the hot water, or you can drink the tea with the leaves in the water. Some people enjoy eating the tea leaves after they brew green tea. Although you can buy green tea that has been packaged in tea bags, green tea is best when it is brewed from the whole leaf.

 Black

Black teas contain the most processed leaves. First the leaves are laid out on racks and withered for 14 to 24 hours. Next, the leaves are rolled and twisted to release the natural enzymes and to prepare them for oxidation. They still retain a green color at this point. After rolling the leaves, they are ready for oxidation. They sit in a cool, humid area and begin to ferment as polyphenols and pectin combine with oxygen and enzymes. Oxidation gives black tea its color and flavor. The length of fermentation time depends on the style and maker of the tea. Finally, the leaves are dried or fired to stop oxidation and seal in the desired flavor.

Black tea has been completely oxidized and is very dark or sometimes red. The tea beverage that is made from black tea is often red, but the dry leaves are black.

 Oolong

Oolong teas are somewhere between green and black tea in regards to processing. The leaves are withered and partially oxidized after picking and before drying. The first step is withering. The leaves are left to wither for several hours, but less than a day. Once the leaves are wilted, they are shaken to cause small tears in the leaves so the oxidation process can begin. As the leaves are exposed to air, they become darker. The amount of time leaves are oxidized depends on the style of oolong. Some are only 10-percent oxidized, while others are up to 70-percent oxidized. The tea leaves are heated or fired to stop the oxidation and dry them out.

Oolong tea has been oxidized more than green tea so it is usually a darker tea. It only takes a few days to process oolong teas. Both green and oolong teas tend to be of higher quality.

 White

White tea leaves are the least processed of all types of tea. The leaves are plucked young, then steam dried or air dried. In contrast, other teas have four to five processing steps. Because the leaves are steamed immediately after picking, they retain their green color. It is a very rare tea that is made from the youngest leaves of the tea bush and they are not oxidized at all. White tea is often expensive because it is so rare.

 How Much to Buy

If stored properly, tea will last up to six months. Flavored teas last about half that time.

 

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Tea Set / tea set CTS24

A tea set, in the Western tradition, is a set of dishes sold in a group for use at afternoon tea or a formal tea party.

Tea sets vary greatly in quality and price, from inexpensive to high-end.

  

A typical tea set contains the following items:

– teapot

– teacup and saucer

– sugar bowl

– milk pitcher also known as a creamer or jug

 In addition, a formal tea service would include:

– coffee pot

– kettle with spirit light

– slop bowl or waste bowl

– tray 

History of Tea Set 

The accepted history of the tea set begins in China during the Han Dynasty (206-220 B.C.). At this time, tea ware was made of porcelain and consisted of two styles: a northern white porcelain and a southern light blue porcelain. It is important to understand that these ancient tea sets were not the creamer/sugar bowl companions we know today. Rather, as is stated in a third century A.D. written document from China, tea leaves were pressed into cakes or bricks. These patties were then crushed and mixed with a variety of spices, including orange, ginger, onions, and flower petals. Hot water was poured over the mixture, which was both heated and served in bowls, not teapots. The bowls were multi-purpose, and used for a variety of cooking needs. In this period, evidence suggests that tea was mainly used as a medicinal elixir, not as a daily drink for pleasure’s sake. 

Historians believe the teapot was developed during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.) An archaeological dig turned up an ancient kiln that contained the remnants of a Yixing teapot. Yixing teapots, called Zi Sha Hu in China and Purple Sand teapots in the U.S., are perhaps the most famous teapots. They are named for a tiny city located in Jiangsu Province, where a specific compound of iron ore results in the unique coloration of these teapots. They were fired without a glaze and were used to steep specific types of oolong teas. Because of the porous nature of the clay, the teapot would gradually be tempered by using it for brewing one kind of tea. This seasoning was part of the reason to use Yixing teapots. In addition, artisans created fanciful pots incorporating animal shapes. 

The Song Dynasty also produced exquisite ceramic teapots and tea bowls in glowing glazes of brown, black, and blue. A bamboo whisk was employed to beat the tea into a frothy confection highly prized by the Chinese.

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Tea Brewing / tea brewing CTS23

Brewing the perfect cup of tea from loose leaves is simple and straightforward. There is no right or wrong way to make tea. Feel free to experiment and let your palate be the guide.

 Here are some tips to brewing good tea:

 Start with fresh, cold good-tasting water

 The best tea is only as good as the water with which it is prepared. We recommend using filtered or bottled spring water with a natural mineral content that is neither too hard nor too soft. Distilled water is not recommended since water purified of its mineral content produces a flat tasting infusion. The freshness of the water is important as fresh water contains more oxygen, which enhances the taste of the tea. Never use hot tap water or water that has already boiled for a long time as this will result in a flat and dull tasting tea with little aroma. 

Preheat the teapot 

It is important to preheat the pot or cup in which the tea will be steeped. If hot water is poured into a cold vessel, the temperature of the water will drop too quickly and the full flavor of the tea will not be extracted. To preheat the pot: pour a little of the boiling water from the kettle into the pot and then pour this water off into the drinking cups to warm them.

Measure the appropriate amount of dry leaves

Ideally, 3 grams of dry leaves should be used for every 6 ounces of water. Since you may not have a gram weight scale, we recommend starting with one rounded teaspoon of dry leaves for each 6-ounce cup. Since different teas have widely varying weights, it is important to adjust the amount of dry leaves accordingly. With lighter weight teas such as large, wiry oolongs and whites, try 2 teaspoons per 6 oz cup.

  

Select the right water temperature

 Black, Dark Oolong, Herbal – These types are best prepared with water that has come to near boiling. Don’t let the water boil too long or the oxygen content will be reduced and the tea will taste flat.

 Green, White, Green Oolong – These types should not be prepared with boiling water as this will cook the leaves and destroy their flavor. Japanese greens tend to taste best with water at 170-180º F. China green teas tend to taste best with water at 185º F. Generally, the finer the green tea, the lower the water temperature should be. To brew green tea without a thermometer: pour the water at the moment that bubbles begin to rise from the bottom of your kettle, or bring the water to a boil first and then let it cool for two to three minutes before pouring.

 Steep for the proper length of time

 The time it takes for tea to brew depends on the leaf size. The smaller the leaf, the faster the tea infuses. Until familiar with a particular tea, steep for a minute or two, then taste. Pay attention to the taste rather than the color. When the tea tastes right, serve or pour off all the liquid to avoid oversteeping. Here are some general guidelines: 

Japanese Green Teas: 1-2 minutes

Chinese Green Teas: 2-3 minutes

White Teas: 2-5 minutes

Green Oolong Teas: 2-3 minutes

Dark Oolong Teas: 3-5 minutes

Black Teas: 3-5 minutes

Herbal Infusions: 5-10 minutes

Some green, oolong and white teas are good for multiple infusions. Just add fresh hot water to the pot and increase the steeping time slightly for each subsequent infusion. Repeat until the flavor starts to fade.

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Chinese Tea / Chinese tea, Chinese tea leaf CTS22

The practice of drinking tea has had a long history in China, having originated from there. The Chinese drink tea during many parts of the day such as at meals for good health or simply for pleasure. Although tea originates from China, Chinese tea generally represent tea leaves which have been processed using methods inherited from ancient China. According to popular legend, tea was discovered by Chinese Emperor Shennong in 2737 BCE when a leaf from a Camellia sinensis tree fell into water the emperor was boiling. Tea is deeply woven into the history and culture of China. The beverage is considered one of the seven necessities of Chinese life, along with firewood, rice, oil, salt, soy sauce, vinegar..

Some writers classify tea into four categories, white, green, oolong and black. Others add categories for red, scented and compressed teas. All of these come from varieties of the Camellia sinensis plant. Chinese flower teas (花茶), while popular, are not a true teas. Most Chinese teas are consumed in China and are not exported, except to Chinese-speaking communities in other countries. Green tea is the most popular type of tea used in China.

Within these main categories of tea are vast varieties of individual beverages. Some researchers have counted more than 700. Others put the number at more than 1,000. Some of the variations are due to different strains of the Camilla plant. The popular Tie Guan Yin 鐵觀音, for example, is traced back to a single plant discovered in Anxi 安溪 in Fujian Province (福建省). Other teas draw some of their characteristics from local growing conditions. However, the largest factor in the wide variations comes from differences in tea processing after the tea leaves are harvested. White and green teas are heat treated (shāqīng (殺青)) soon after picking to prevent oxidization, often called fermentation, caused by natural enzymes in the leaves. Oolong teas are partially oxidized. Black and red teas are fully oxidized. Other differences come from variations in the processing steps.

Tea leaf selection 

The highest grades of white tea, yellow tea and green tea are made from tender tea shoots picked early Spring. These young tea shoots may consist of a single terminal bud, a bud with an adjacent leaf or a bud with two adjacent slightly unfurled leaves. It is generally required that the leaves are equal in length or shorter than the buds.

The more oxidised tea such as red tea or oolong tea (烏龍茶) are made from more mature leaves. The Anxi Tieguanyin (鐵觀音), for example, is made from one bud with two to four leaves.

Not all high grade green tea is made from tender tea shoots. The highly regarded green tea Liu An Gua Pian is made from more matured leaves.

Traditionally these tender tea shoots are picked before 5 April, or Qing Ming Jie. The standard practice is to start picking when 5% of the garden is ready, or when the tea buds reach certain size. In some tea gardens, tea shoots are picked daily, or every 2 days. 

Categories 

Chinese tea may be classified into five categories according to the different methods by which it is processed.

1) Green tea: Green tea is the variety which keeps the original colour of the tea leaves without fermentation during processing. This category consists mainly of Longjing tea of Zhejiang Province, Maofeng of Huangshan Mountain in Anhui Province and Biluochun produced in Jiangsu.

2) Black tea: Black tea, known as “red tea” (hong cha) in China, is the category which is fermented before baking; it is a later variety developed on the basis of the green tea. The best brands of black tea are Qihong of Anhui , Dianhong of Yunnan, Suhong of Jiangsu, Chuanhong of Sichuan and Huhong of Hunan.

3) Wulong tea: This represents a variety half way between the green and the black teas, being made after partial fermentation. It is a specialty from the provinces on China’s southeast coast: Fujian, Guangdong and Taiwan.

4) Compressed tea: This is the kind of tea which is compressed and hardened into a certain shape. It is good for transport and storage and is mainly supplied to the ethnic minorities living in the border areas of the country. As compressed tea is black in colour in its commercial form, so it is also known in China as “black tea”. Most of the compressed tea is in the form of bricks; it is, therefore, generally called “brick tea”, though it is sometimes also in the form of cakes and bowls. It is mainly produced in Hubei, Hunan, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces.

5) Scented tea: This kind of tea is made by mixing fragrant flowers in the tea leaves in the course of processing. The flowers commonly used for this purpose are jasmine and magnolia among others. Jasmine tea is a well-known favourite with the northerners of China and with a growing number of foreigners.

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