Luxury living: A guide to gourmet teas
Learn how gourmet teas are processed, about the different varieties and how to store and prepare fine teas.
If you’ve been to your local specialty supermarket lately, you’ve probably seen at least half of an entire aisle devoted to tea. The tea craze is definitely upon us. Actually, this is nothing new. Chinese legend tells us that in the year 2737 B.C., the Emperor Shen Nung was sitting under a tea tree preparing a cup of purified water. A few tea leaves fell into the water as it simmered, and a very popular beverage was born!
What makes the difference between a regular tea and a gourmet tea?
First of all, you should know that tea all comes from the same plant. What makes the differences arise is where the tea is grown, under what conditions, and finally, how it is processed. Just as wines are best when grown under certain conditions, tea is best when it is grown at high altitudes. High altitudes cause the plant to grow slower, which produces a better quality of leaf. Also, when the leaves are harvested, the youngest leaves are picked for the highest quality tea.
Gourmet tea can be found all over the map. Sri Lanka, China, India and Japan all produce superior teas.
What are some types of gourmet teas I should be aware of?
Green tea gets most of the buzz these days, since studies found that green tea is high in antioxidants, a cancer fighting agent. Green tea is simply tea processed with less oxygen. The more oxygen added during processing, the blacker the tea leaves become.
Types of green tea include Sencha, a smooth and delicate tea; Jasmine Pouchong; a jasmine scented tea; Green Snail Spring, a rare hand-processed tea; and Oolong, a tea grown in a cloudy and humid environment.
Black tea also contains antioxidants, and is the most well known tea in the United States. Types of black often blended with various flavors; and Darjeeling, from the Darjeeling district in India, often described as “wine-like”.
There are many more types of tea that the tea connoisseur will be interested in trying. Tea is much like wine, no two are ever exactly the same, and the varieties are endless.
How should gourmet tea be stored?
To ensure freshness, tea should not come into contact with light, and should be stored in a container with a tight-fitting lid. The place where the tea is stored should be cool.
How should I prepare the tea?
For hot tea, true aficionados prefer a ceramic teapot that has been gently heated with hot water before the addition of the tea. Use a teapot with a built-in strainer, or have a tea strainer on hand. Tea balls can be problematic, as tea leaves expand when they make contact with water, and all of the flavor may not be released. Gourmet teas are rarely sold in bags, so be prepared!
Steep the tea in water that has almost, but not quite reached the boiling point. Boiling water will cook the fine tea leaves, and compromise their flavor. It also makes sense that the better water you use the better pot of tea you will enjoy. The finest tea in the world will not disguise the scent of chlorinated water!
It is important that you pay attention to the taste, rather than the color, of the tea when you are brewing it. Steep the tea for a couple of minutes, and then give it a taste. You can continue to steep the tea, or in the case of some of the more delicate teas, give it another infusion.
Many people, particularly those in Southern hot climates, prefer to drink iced tea. It is important to prepare it with care, in order to prevent clouding. Teas with a high acid content can cloud cool water by changing the pH level. To remedy this problem, simply add some orange, lemon or lime slices to the pitcher of tea.
Enjoy the process! It is not for nothing that for centuries, across many cultures, tea-time has been a favorite part of peoples’ day.