Thursday, September 15, 2011

Chatter 40 Tea

The most widely consumed behaviour modifying substance in the world is caffeine, found most commonly in tea and coffee and these are the two most widely consumed drinks in the world. Eat your heart out all you beer, wine spirits and soft drink makers.
Everything we eat and drink has a history and some times a very long one. Tea has a been around for about 4500 years when it first came to the notice, probably accidentally, of the Emperor Shen Nong in China.
The Chinese appreciated tea's special qualities, and its commercial value, and tried to prohibit export of the tea tree seeds. In the17th and 18th century both the Dutch, and the English, who had major interests in the far East, managed to steal large numbers of the seeds and cultivate them in India and Java. I can tell, from personal experience, that stealing plants remains popular today, especially from my front garden, if they are in nice pots!
Not much of this.
Fresh tea leaves are packed with colourless bitter phenolic compounds. When the leaf is damaged enzymes are released which, in the presence of oxygen, combine these phenols into more complex aromatic molecules which may become coloured, astringent and more, or less, bitter. This enzymic action is referred to as 'fermentation' but that is not the common meaning of the word. The amount of fermentation is the determinant of the main types of tea. Black tea is an exception being influenced by bacterial action.
There are sub categories within these but the main ones are
Red and Black
Green tea has been withered and heated to prevent enzymic activity.
White tea was supposed to be made only from the finest buds, picked at dawn by delicate young virgins. It is very little fermented and can be extremely expensive, in some cases over $1000/ Kg.
Yellow tea is also made only from the bud and one two or three leaves, barely fermented and kept heated in humid conditions until the leaves turn yellow.
Blue tea, also called oolong tea, is more bruised and more fermented
Red tea is still more bruised and allowed to remain in heated humid conditions until the leaves turn reddish.
Black tea is really fermented, involving bacterial action, and may be aged for years. Pu er tea is a form of black tea which may have been matured for decades.
Tea may also be classified by its origin, for example China, India, Java, Formosa, Kenya, Japan and so on.
Other classifications include brick tea, Russian Caravan tea, which refers to its transport not its origin, orange pekoe, which is a strong flavoured black tea, nothing to do with oranges, Earl Grey tea which is flavoured with Bergamot oil, souchong tea which means large leaves and so on.
The more the leaves are fermented the darker their colour and the less bitter and astringent they become.
The less fermented the tea the cooler the water in which it should be brewed. White tea should be steeped in water at no more than 80 degrees and for at least 5 minutes.The Chinese use a large volume of leaves and rince them briefly. They then mrew their tea several times. The character of the tea alters each time it is brewed. Black tea should be infused with water at near boiling point for about 30 seconds to a maximum of 5 minutes. The caffeine content is released very rapidly. As time passes more of the leaf solids are released. Standing longer makes the tea harsh and it begins to lose its aroma. The Chinese and the Japanese have developed elaborate tea ceremonies
The water used in making tea has a significant influence on its taste. Distilled water and bottled waters are generally not recommended.
As with so many herbs and spices tea has been reported to assist in a myriad of health problems. It's not worth listing them because you name it and some one will say it does it. Since it involved boiling water it probably contributed to a decrease in water borne disease though it's introduction coincided with considerable advances in sanitation.
What we do know is that it contains caffeine which may help, for a time, to improve concentration and dissipate tiredness. It also contains antioxidants which mop up harmful free radicals. White tea is best for this followed by green tea. For the rest I have my doubts.
This is the name that should be used for all herbal infusions, often called 'tea', that do not contain tea leaves or buds.
Not long after Samuel Pepy's in 1660 noted in his diary that he "tried a Cupp of tee" tea was introduced to England's royal court. In a comparatively short time it beacame an obsession with the British.
Initially from China tea was also imported with tea ware that is cups, tea pots and bowls. This, in itself, spawned new industries in England, particularly in porcelain. Spode, Wedgwood, Royal Worcester and others began to produce fine quality bone china. Unlike the Chinese handle less bowls the English added handles and saucers. Sugar was also used in England creating the development of tea services with tea spoons, sugar bowls, sugar tongs and even tea caddys and special lockable containers for the more expensive teas.
At different levels tea became a feature of English life. Unlike the elaborate Japanese and Chinese tea ceremonies the English rituals were class dependent. For workers it was a refreshment, a break break from work. For the aristocracy it was an opportunity to display their fine tea ware.
The addition of dainty foods turned this into 'afternoon tea' or of food turned this into a meal. evening meal is often interchangeably called dinner or tea. Tea has given it's name to many things associated with it today.
Like wine tea vary enormously in price from as little as $50/Kg to $1000's however most retailers have very few teas over about $600/Kgm. It may be sold in tea bags for convenience or as leaf tea and simple varieties are available in every grocery or supermarket. There are several major tea retailers in Australia. My personal favourite is T2. They have outlets in all Australian states except Tasmania. They always have a range of teas to taste and will give genuine customers a sample if something is not out for tasting. They also carry an extensive range of tea ware, containers and gadgets. Most of their teas are in the $12 to $15 / 100 gm.

In preparing this article I referred to
"The Oxford Companion to Food" Davidson
"On Food and Cooking, The Science and Lore of the Kitchen" McGee
"Curiosi-tea" Camelia Cha
and two essays about tea submitted to the University of Adelaide Principles of Gastronomy course by Kevi Sutter "Tea, a Drink with Jam and Bread"
and by Pascal Bruckner "Tea is the Beverage of Ceremonious Peoples" as well an assortment of things Google turned up.
There is, of course, a great deal more that can be said about it but it is easy to find a wealth of material if something catches your interest.
Do have a Cupp of Tee while you think about it

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