Aug 8, 2008

Teahouse of the August Spoon - 4

TODAY, I would like to introduce our leading lady, Camellia Sinensis. She is full of complexities. How she chooses to captivate her audience depends entirely on timing and preparation. She can be bold, flamboyant, zesty, delicate, subtle, soothing, mysterious, medicinal, and riddled with underlying surprises.

I could easily break down the basics of tea, but Bill Waddington, proprietor of the TeaSource shop in St. Paul, Minnesota has already done that for us. For many, this will be a review. Others will welcome this as a simple primer.

Kinds of Tea - From TeaSource:
All tea comes from the same basic plant, the Camellia Sinensis plant. The differences between teas arise from processing, growing conditions, and geography.

The Camellia Sinensis plant is native to Asia, but is currently cultivated around the world in tropical and subtropical areas. With over 3,000 varieties, tea is the most consumed beverage in the world after water.

Tea can be divided into five basic categories:
black, green, oolong, white, and puerh.

Black tea
is allowed to wither, which precedes a process called oxidation (sometimes incorrectly referred to as fermentation) during which water evaporates out of the leaf and the leaf absorbs more oxygen from the air. Black teas usually undergo full oxidation, and the results are the characteristic dark brown and black leaf, the typically more robust and pronounced flavors of black teas, and, when brewed appropriately, a higher caffeine content compared to other teas (50-65% of coffee, depending on the type and brewing technique).

Green tea
is allowed to wither only slightly after being picked. Then the oxidation process is stopped very quickly by firing (rapidly heating) the leaves. Therefore, when brewed at lower temperatures and for less time, green teas tend to have less caffeine (10-30% of coffee). Greens also tend to produce more subtle flavors with many undertones and accents that connoisseurs treasure.

Oolong tea
(also known as wulong tea) is allowed to undergo partial oxidation. These teas have a caffeine content between that of green teas and black teas. The flavor of oolong (wulong) teas is typically not as robust as blacks or as subtle as greens, but has its own extremely fragrant and intriguing tones. Oolongs (wulongs) are often compared to the taste and aroma of fresh flowers or fresh fruit.

White teas
are the most delicate of all teas. They are appreciated for their subtlety, complexity, and natural sweetness. They are hand processed using the youngest shoots of the tea plant, with no oxidation. When brewed correctly, with a very low temperature and a short steeping time, white teas can produce low amounts of caffeine.

is an aged black tea from China prized for its medicinal properties and earthy flavor. It is perhaps the most mysterious of all tea. Until 1995 it was illegal to import it into the U.S., and the process of its production is a closely guarded state secret in China. It is very strong with an incredibly deep and rich flavor, and no bitterness, and an element that could best be described as almost peaty in flavor.

Bill Waddington was recently a guest on the American Public Media broadcast of The Splendid Table, hosted by award winning writer, author, and speaker, Lynne Rossetto Kasper. In this episode, Bill offered a foolproof method for brewing iced tea.

I do want to share that my iced tea philosophy has changed radically in the last few years. My dad passed down the tradition of making sun tea and, until recently, it was a summer ritual for me. To my dismay, it has been proven that sun tea is not a healthy alternative. Basically, if someone wants to produce bacteria, just place moist vegetal matter in the hot sun. Oddly enough, the only thing that broke during our 1977 move, was my sun tea jar.

Here is Bill's Cold Brew Iced Tea method (I prefer loose tea, allowing it to float freely in the steeping water until it is strained off.):

Place 8-10 rounded teaspoons of tea in a gallon jug, either loose or in two #4 T-Sacs. Fill the jug with cold water. Let steep overnight (at least 8 hours). Strain or remove the T-Sac. Serve over ice. This method requires less tea and produces a smooth, light, and refreshing iced tea. When using a Beehouse pitcher, place 4-6 rounded teaspoons of tea in the infuser basket.

Here is Bill's list of Suggested Iced Teas:
Black Teas: Nilgiri Tamil Nadu, Kenya Pekoe, South India Iyerpadi, Sumatra BOP, China Black Special, Hunan Black, Ceylon Vithanakanda

Flavored Black Teas: TeaSource Gold, Prairie Passion, Georgia Sunshine, Strawberries & Cream, Lemon Solstice, Berried Treasure, Blueberry, Black Currant, Raspberry, Peach, Lychee

Oolongs: Formosa Choicest, Magnolia Oolong, Sweet Flower Oolong, Passionfruit Oolong

Flavored Green Teas: Bittersweet Green, Genmaicha, Sweet Ginger Green, Moroccan Mint, Green Tea with Mango, Green Tea with Mandarin, Green Tea with Pomegranate, Green Tea with Cherry, Green Melange, Sencha Peach Pancake

Herbals: African Skies, Lemon Sunset, Peach Paradise, Basket of Berries, Scarlet O'Peara, Hibiscus Punch, Orange Blossom Special, Starfire Licorice, Montana Gold, Red Berries
The first 2 people to comment on this post will receive some tea from


  1. Now I want a sweet cup of tea! :)

    Have a lovely weekend!


  2. Your tea post is great, and I now know lots more about tea. Thanks for the time you spent writing this. I would love a cup of tea, thank you. smile!


  3. Hello Karen!

    Thanks for this very informative post! Tea or coffee please...why tea of course! :o)



  4. Shoot - I am the fourth!!! I really enjoyed your information all about teas! There is so much to learn about just about everything! I know I always struggle with iced tea - every summer I start from scratch and can't remember how I made it the year before - and there seems to be a HUGE difference in the taste of sun tea/iced tea, and some years I just never do get it right.......anyway, that is my question - will have to study up on your tips!

    Thanks for sharing what you know!

    Hugs from Michigan - Diane


Thanks for stopping by!
♫ Karen