|TIPS FOR BETTER UNDERSTANDING TEA - Hint: It's a lot like knowing wine|
Whether they are tea novices or tea experts, people often make comparisons between tea and wine. Of course, similarities or differences between tea and coffee are also debated. But we think you’ll see why tea-wine analogies are very useful for learning more about tea.
- Many different flowers, herbs, and spices can be brewed in hot water to make an herbal beverage. And it's common that people call this tea. But technically “true tea” is only the dried leaf (contains caffeine) specifically from the plant Camellia Sinensis. In the same way, there are folks that enjoy plum, cherry, rice wine (sake) or other fermented fruit beverages. But as with tea, real true wine is only made from grapes.
- Theoretically, you can make any type of wine from any grape. How you pick and process the grape, and how and if you use the skins, will determine if it’s a white, blush, or red wine. Similarly, you can make any tea from any Camellia Sinensis leaves. But how you process the leaves, how much or how little wilting, shaking, rolling or oxidation or fermenting is allowed, will determine if it becomes a green, white, yellow, oolong, black, or puer tea.
- Again, you can make just about any wine from any grape. However, certain varietal grapes such as a Zinfandel, Pinot noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Syrah, or Sauvignon Blanc are used to make their own distinct, pure single-grape wine. Likewise, there are many different variations of the Camellia Senensis tea plant, some naturally occurring (called a varietal), and some human-influenced (called a cultivar). They are best used to make their own very specific type of tea, with a unique “orthodox” process that has been handed down through the ages. You would expect to pay more for a crafted tea. But you could also make a random style of tea from a mix of varietals or cultivars and expect to pay much less.
- Tea is an enzyme-rich plant that is complex and very sensitive to its environment. Over the centuries, humans discovered picking seasons, varietals and cultivars, adjustments of temperature and humidity, altitude and rainfall and different ways to distress leaves or leave them alone. This can create an almost limitless variation in taste and appearance - It’s no different when making wine. Some of the best results are due to the terroir of a very specific and authentic region. A true French Champagne or Bordeaux, a California Cabernet or German Mosel are tied to their geographic region. Comparably, a Darjeeling black tea only from Darjeeling, India, a Sencha green tea only from Shizuoka, Japan or a real puer only from Yunnan, China, will have specific flavors derived from the soil and environment where they grew.
- Some wine masters make a specialty wine from a single grape. Other wine makers are highly skilled at blending different grapes to create something completely different. Some tea farmers will grow and process only an Assam black tea from India, or only a Ceylon black tea from Sri Lanka. Whereas, some tea blenders will take the Assam and Ceylon (possibly adding a bit of Keemun and Yunnan black tea from China) and make a high-end English Breakfast-style blend with lively aromas, creamy smoothness, balanced sweetness and lingering aftertaste.
- So far, we’ve only covered pure wine and pure tea as they have been made for centuries. What about scented and flavored versions? Adding Jasmine flowers, bergamot (the Italian orange in Earl Grey) and many other flavorings to tea leaves is very popular. The quality of full-leaf tea that is flavored should be good, but does not need to be quite as fine, high grade, or expensive as an orthodox tea. This is no different than keeping a high grade wine pure, but using a good wine for blending an enjoyable Sangria, or a dessert wine.
Let us know if this helps, and if you have any questions.