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Beyond breakfast

Posted By flradmin On April 27, 2011 @ 12:03 AM In Food & Wine | Comments Disabled

The art and pleasure of fine tea


A special sip: Steep Me a Cup of Tea in Bismarck offers decorative varieties such as this flowering tea.

Story and photography by Beth Schatz Kaylor

If man has no tea in him, he is incapable of understanding truth and beauty. ~Japanese proverb

“Full-bodied.” “Very smooth.” “Hints of ripe summer fruit, balanced by a very slight brisk note.” Although this description could be apt for the latest rave review of a Napa pinot noir, this is actually a taste profile for a Darjeeling black tea plucked from TeaSource [2], a tea shop in St. Paul, Minn.

“In the worlds of both tea and wine, there is a huge spectrum of flavor profiles,” said Bill Waddington, owner of TeaSource and world-recognized authority on tea. “There are super dark rich wines, like Madeira and port and light white wines. It’s the same thing with tea. There are dark, dark, rich as sin teas, as well as light, spring-like teas. And just like wine, you can get inexpensive teas with just one flavor note, or you can invest in more expensive teas, where you can get 4 or 5 different flavors in a sip.”

According to TeaSource, tea is the most consumed beverage in the world after water. There are five categories of tea, all derived from the leaves of the same basic plant, Camellia sinensis, which is native to Asia. The difference between teas is based on where the leaves are grown and how they are processed. One of the biggest differentiators between teas is leaf oxidation, meaning how much water is allowed to evaporate from the leaf and thus absorb oxygen from the air.

White: The most delicate of all teas, white tea leaves are hand processed using the youngest shoots of the tea plant with no oxidation, resulting in subtle, sweet, light flavors.

Green: Green tea leaves are allowed to wither only slightly after being picked, halting the oxidation process, which helps produce more subtle flavors. Green teas also tend to have less caffeine than other types of tea.

Oolong: With partial oxidation, these teas fall in-between green and black, resulting in their own complex flavors that are more robust than green tea, but more subtle than black tea.

Black: The full oxidation of black teas results in dark brown or black leaves with robust, pronounced flavors and higher caffeine content compared to other types of tea.

Puerh: A very strong, aged black tea from China, puerh tea leaves undergo a fermentation process during aging, resulting in a very strong, deep, earthy flavor. Perhaps the most mysterious of teas in U.S., until 1995 it was illegal to import puerh tea into the U.S.


Loose leaf tea leaves, such as these green and black varieties offered at Steep Me a Cup of Tea, brew best when they are given room to expand in a mesh tea basket rather than a tea ball.

Herbal teas such as chamomile are also popular, but fine tea purveyors typically place them in a separate category, often referring to them as tisanes. “Americans pour hot water over anything and generically call it tea, but true tea comes from the one tea plant,” said Waddington.

There is a reason that tea found in most supermarkets seems a bit dusty. “If you attend a tea auction, they call that low grade of tea that fills most standard tea bags ‘tea dust,’” Waddington said. “It’s literally the dust particles left over after the higher grades are sold.”

For a person accustomed to “tea dust,” exploring the world of fine tea can seem intimidating. Terisina Hintz, who with her husband Jerry owns of Steep Me a Cup Of Tea in Bismarck, understands and has plenty of recommendations.

“When customers stop in looking for suggestions, I often ask them what they are in the mood for: fruity, chocolatey, almondy,” Hintz said. “There are so many choices.” Steep Me A Cup Of Tea [4] has suggestions for java junkies too.

“For coffee drinkers who want to start substituting their daily coffee with tea, we often suggest yerba mate,” Hintz said. Yerba mate is considered an herbal tea, but it is often roasted to produce a rich, full-bodied cup.

For anyone thinking that tea can only be enjoyed during breakfast, think about pairing tea with foods any time of day. For example, try a cup of a light black Darjeeling tea with creamy Brie and grapes, or Hintz’s favorite, tea with chocolate. “I like black tea with raspberry chocolate. Earl Grey tea, with flavor notes of orange and bergamont, goes really well with milk chocolate,” she said. “Tea is such a natural complement to chocolate, we even have a full line of tea-infused chocolates in our store.”

Procuring fine tea leaves is only half the story. Just as there are endless varieties and blends of tea, there seem to be countless ways to brew it as well. Amount of tea leaves, water quality, temperature, brewing time and equipment are all important in making the perfect cup of tea.

“Water temperature is critical,” Waddington said. “The most common mistake people make is brewing green tea in boiling hot water, the same way their grandmother taught them how to make Lipton; but green tea made with boiling water is so bitter you can strip furniture with it, and then people think they don’t like green tea.” Green tea should be brewed at 160-180 degrees F. When heating water, this temperature is typically reached when steam starts to gently waft out of the kettle.

When brewing tea, give the leaves some space to stretch out. “Tea is just a dried out leaf,” Waddington said. “When you rehydrate any food product, it expands. Those little tea balls on a chain are cute, but they make horrible tea because the leaves can’t expand and release their full flavor.” His solution to this common mistake? Try using a mesh tea basket, or spoon the leaves directly into the teapot to brew, and pour the tea out into your cup.
In the end, to best sip a cup of tea, take a note from the tea leaves: unfurl, stretch, release and enjoy.

For more information, visit Steep Me A Cup Of Tea at steepme.com [4] and TeaSource at teasource.com [2].

Article printed from Fine Living Review: http://finelivingreview.com

URL to article: http://finelivingreview.com/2011/04/beyond-breakfast/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: http://finelivingreview.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/084.jpg

[2] TeaSource: http://www.teasource.com/

[3] Image: http://finelivingreview.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/056.jpg

[4] Steep Me A Cup Of Tea: http://www.steepme.com/

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