Tea and #RAOPxStudioB (wow that’s a mouthful) go way back- in fact we almost always work together over cups of piping hot tea! A few years Alyssa had the pleasure of taking a job at Sloane Fine Tea Merchants, a local company with a lot of heart and SO much knowledge about tea.
If you think tea is simply those little squished bags of Red Rose hanging out in your grandmother’s cupboard, you’ve got a lot to learn. Working in the world of tea constantly surprised and enchanted Alyssa, and as she shared her newfound facts with me, I only found myself more and more interested as well. That said, both of our knowledge combined doesn’t even come close to more than the tip of the iceberg. If you want real tea expertise, you have to turn to Hoda Paripoush, founder of Sloane Tea.
Hoda has experience in perfumery, which makes her uniquely suited to create the most magical teas in all the land. After travelling the world visiting tea estates, she launched Sloane right here in Toronto. One of the few tea companies that blends on Canadian soil and directly trades with ancient tea estates, I’ve never met anyone who “gets” tea quite like Hoda.
So if you’re ready to learn about proper tea steeping times, the difference between Oolong and Green Tea, the definition of Camellia sinensis chinensis and more, cozy up with a cup of your favourite blend and keep reading!
Where does tea come from
All tea, be it black, green, oolong, or white tea (and even some other types) come from the same plant: camellia sinensis. The plant was originally discovered growing in China, and was later cultivated in other parts of Asia. There are two subspecies of this plant: the Assam varietal (Camellis sinensis assamica) and the China varietal (Camellia sinensis chinensis). Grown in India, Sri Lanka and in other parts of the world, the Assam varietal produces larges, bold tasting leaves. The China varietal, cultivated in China, Taiwan, Japan and in parts of Darjeeling produces smaller leaves with a more delicate flavour profile.
What makes different types of tea
The difference between types of tea is the state of oxidation. A black tea, for example, is fully-oxidized and undergoes a complete firing/baking process- hence why it is darker in colour. That being said, each tea type has a most unique and distinct flavour, with a variety of differences within each tea type. I highly encourage people to try tea types that they may not have tried previously, or even teas that they may have tasted before but were not fond of. Just as your palate changes with time, your experience will change as well, especially if you had a tea that was not properly prepared the first time. There is no end to the types of tea flavours available, so the more you explore, the larger your repertoire of fine and favourite teas will be!
Black Tea = fully oxidized
Oolong Tea = partially oxidized
White Tea = un-oxidized
Green Tea = un-oxidized
How to properly prepare each type
No matter what type of tea you are purchasing, you need to become very clear on the proper preparation methods. I say this because even if someone purchases one of the worlds most exquisite teas, if the crucial factors of water temperature and steeping time are ignored, then you can take an extremely high quality tea and ruin it very quickly.
Some teas require boiling water (such as black and herbal teas), some less than boiling water, and all need to be steeped for a different length of time.
When preparing a traditional black tea, the process is as such:
1. Warm the teapot with hot water.
2. Fill the kettle with freshly drawn water and bring it to a boil. Water that has been double-boiled will affect the taste of the tea.
3. Measure one rounded teaspoon of tea into the teapot for each person, and one extra spoonful of tealeaves “for the pot”.
4. Remove the kettle as soon as it boils and allow it to come off the boil for a minute or two.
5. Pour the not-quite-boiling water onto the leaves and leave to steep for 4-5 minutes.
6. Serve in fine bone china cups as the delicacy of the cup does seem to enhance the delicacy of the tea within.
7. Add a splash of milk or a slice of lemon to taste.
As green tea is un-oxidized, caution must be taken when steeping it as over-steeping the tea produces a bitter cup. As well, green tea is not to be steeped in fully boiled water, as too hot a temperature will also produce a bitter cup. Less than boiling water is what is ideal when preparing green tea, as it is with white and oolong teas.
Proper storage of tea is also of crucial importance, as it helps to maximize the shelf-life and freshness of tea. The oils in tea are highly volatile, and as such, they easily absorb surrounding odours. Hence, you need to store your tea in a space that is separate from your spices and items heavy in scent. In addition, the tea should be stored at room temperature in a low humidity environment, and away from direct light.
When it comes to pairings, it’s often a matter of preference. However, with milk specifically there is good reason for adding the milk last. If you are drinking an unfamiliar tea, it is easier to judge the correct amount of milk to add once you have seen the strength and colour of the tea. On the other hand, pouring the milk in first means that the fat in the milk emulsifies in a different manner when the tea is poured, which alters the flavour of the tea, providing for an even more creamier flavour. It also cools the tea slightly to a more acceptable drinking temperature.
However, milk is really only to be added in black tea, but not in all black teas. Darjeeling black teas, specifically, should never be paired with milk as it’s the equivalent of adding ice in your wine. Darjeeling tea is so delicate and refined in flavour that the addition of milk washes out the nuances of what makes it unique.
Green, oolong and white teas should always be savoured straight- without the addition of any milk products. Herbal teas, though they should be enjoyed without the addition of milk can often be paired with honey and other natural sweeteners (depending on preference). Personally, I don’t add sugar into my tea but I can never resist the pairing of a sweet biscuit or scone with the trimmings.
The difference between tea bags and whole leaf/loose leaf
The world of tea has come a very, very long way since it’s discovery, as have teabags. Though the charm of loose leaf tea will always remain, the innovation of the pyramid tea bag has made it so you can still enjoy the beauty of exceptional loose leaf teas with an incredible amount of convenience. Quality does not have to be compromised for convenience. At Sloane Tea, we use the exact same tea in our whole leaf sachets as you experience in our loose leaf tea caddies. The pyramid shape of the tea bag allows us to fill it with a fine variety of full premium tea leaves and exotic ingredients such as herbs, flowers and real fruit pieces. It’s innovative design allows for optimal flow of the ingredients into your cup, creating a consistent infusion every single time.
Fun tea facts
The origin of tea is infused with a fine blend of fact, myth, and ancient concepts of spirituality and philosophy. According to an ancient Chinese legend, the story of tea was born over 4700 years ago when a fortuitous blunder caused a few dry leaves to accidentally fall into a pot of boiling water that was being prepared for emperor Shen Nong in the hills of China. The emperor enjoyed drinking the infused water as it had a most unusual and delicious flavour. He felt so immensely invigorated and refreshed, and as he was a skilled scientist and ruler he set out to further research the plant whereby he discovered tea to possess medicinal properties.
Since that time, through exploration, discovery and experimentation, tea has exploded into the most widely consumed beverage in the world, second to water. It is a world that has become so very vast and specialized- just like that of fine wine.