Tea Simplified: A Newbie's Guide to Being a Tea Drinker
There is a lot of info out there about tea. Are you new to tea? Don't get overwhelmed! It's not as difficult as it seems!
No matter the reason for your newfound interest in tea, we want to make it simple and enjoyable.
Here, we answer the questions you might have ask and some you may not have considered asking. No snobbery necessary, and no pinkies up!
Whether your vision of tea drinking is elaborate or simple, we can help you find the best method to get steeping.
The new picture of tea drinking begins with you. :)
What is tea?
Tea leaf comes from a shrub called Camellia sinensis. These shrubs have many different varietals around the world. Soil, growth conditions, elevation, and other geological factors all impact the flavor.
After harvest, tea makers prepare and treat the leaves with different methods depending on region. Every culture treats tea a bit different, in preparation and ceremony.
Tea processing may be drying, rolling, oxidizing, or fermenting. The least processed tea type is white tea, which is dried directly after harvest. Completely pure, white tea contains the highest concentration of antioxidants.
Next is green tea, which is steamed in Japan and pan-fired in China. Green tea has a high level of antioxidants because it is not oxidized. The further processing of the leaves helps to lock in chlorophyll, increasing levels of EGCG and other catechin antioxidants.
Oolong tea is bruised and broken, and the leaves are allowed to oxidize anywhere from 30% - 70%. Allowing them to oxidize reduces the antioxidant level but raises levels of caffeine and l-theanine (more on this later.)
A fully oxidized tea is called black tea and contains the highest level of caffeine. A niche tea called pu-erh is fermented and aged anaerobically; the flavor becomes very robust and woodsy.
Why drink loose leaf
Resist the temptation to steep the easy way and purchase your tea in bags. The tea within is much lower quality than its full-leaf counterpart.
Dust and fannings (most commonly in tea bags) are broken tea leaves. Brewing them releases tannins and astringency. Intact tea leaves contain untampered beneficial properties and brew with a much smoother and more full-bodied flavor.
How it's made
China exports the most considerable quantity of tea worldwide. They cultivate and process roughly one-third of the total tea harvest of the entire world! As mentioned in the "tea varieties" segment above, different countries craft different varieties and have regional specialties.
Many regions across the world have their geographic traits that impact the flavor of the leaves and customs in processing. Darjeeling teas, for instance, can only be grown in Darjeeling (a town in India.) They have specific practices and plant strains that make their tea unique and coveted.
Which one is for me?
Tea can reinvigorate or relax you, depending on the type you choose. Choose the brew for your mood or for the specific time of day. If you're looking for a morning tea to replace your coffee, black or pu-erh teas will do the trick. But, if you're looking to sip on something smooth and mellow, you might be better matched with a green or oolong tea.
How to brew
Loose-leaf tea may look intimidating, but preparation is super simple! Any vessel or apparatus with a strainer that sits beneath the water-line will work to make the perfect brew. The strainer performs the function of the tea bag (removing the leaf from water) but allows more space for the leaves to open up and expand.
You use roughly one teaspoon of leaves for every eight ounces of liquid. Be mindful of the temperature and volume, and you'll make a killer cup every time!
Loose leaf tea has magical pockets of flavor and depth released when you re-steep! Throwing out the leaves after the first wash wastes money, benefits, and awesome flavor. As the leaves unfurl, you can taste the subtle differences in tonality with each subsequent steep.
When have you re-steeped enough? That's easy! Just keep it going until you run out of flavor, then it's time to switch out the leaves.
Some teas have added fruit, spices, and herbs to impart flavor. While some might argue that tea on its own has so much depth of flavor to explore, there's no shame in drinking a flavored tea!
All tea leaves will have the benefits and antioxidants regardless of whether or not they have been mixed with other ingredients. Branch out and explore the more exotic varieties like chocolate tea and ginger peach! You might find a flavor that resonates with you.
Adding milk or sugar
Some people choose to add milk to their black teas. This is the traditional English way of serving tea. You can steam your milk for drinks such as a London Fog (an Earl Grey tea latte). You can also add sugar or honey. Though these additions may add negligible calories, they won't diminish the positive benefits of the loose tea leaf!
There are many methods for preparing iced tea. Cold-brewing is super easy and doesn't even require boiling water. Pour room temperature water over the leaves and refrigerate overnight! You can brew a concentrated hot tea and pour it over ice for instant iced tea. Icing the tea doesn't harm the positive aspects of the tea!
Now you know stuff!
With this knowledge, you are ready to begin your tea drinking journey. There is so much depth to this little leaf's history and culture! The most important part is to relax and enjoy yourself. You don't need to be an expert in the field to enjoy your sensory experience. Allow your tea drinking moment to be a little meditation away from all the chitter-chatter of life.