The tea plant, Camellia Sansis, is a cultivated tree that originates in an area between India and China. There are three main varieties – China, Assam, and Cambodia – and a number of hybrids in between.
The China variety grows as high as nine feet. It’s a hardy plant that can withstand cold winters and has an economic life of at least 100 years! How’s that for a good investment?
The Assam variety is a single-stem tree ranging from 20 to 60 feet. Regular pruning and plucking keeps its height to a more manageable 4 to 5 feet and gives it an economic life of 40 years. This is grown in India in Darjeeling and Munnar.
Tea leaves are generally hand plucked every 5- 10 days. When the tea plant is plucked two leaves and a bud are cut. An experienced plucker can pluck up to 30 kg tealeaves per day which would result in 1kg of black tea for example. There are some tea leaves which are cut with golden scissors to protect the leaves from bruising which impacts the flavour. The more processing tea leaves undergo, the darker they will turn. So green tea and white tea are the least processed. They are simply steamed quickly.
How do I know all this? Well I was very fortunate to meet Lalith of The East India Company who is a font of all tea knowledge. He’s usually at their London shop near Oxford Circus if you are ever in the area and happy to take you through the individual histories of the teas they sell.
Tea leaves contain polyphenols and antioxidants making this a very healthy drink. Lalith taught me how to ‘taste’ the tea. It’s similar to wine tasting I suppose and takes a little getting used to.
- The tea should firstly be brewed with freshly boiled water because this has the highest oxygen content and so you’ll get the best flavour.
- Take a sip of the tea (no milk or sugar) and hold it in your mouth.
- Here’s the hard part – suck some air into your mouth and then swill the tea around (in your mouth!) to bring out the flavours.
I find tea to be incredibly restorative. I have to start my day with a strong cup of Assam or Darjeeling. Unlike Lalith I’m afraid I still need milk and some sugar in this. But through the day I have English Breakfast or Earl Grey. Lalith advises moving to the lighter teas ending with a green tea in the evening for calm and balance.
As well as on it’s own, tea is great in cocktails, baking and cooking. You can put it in food or infuse the food with it’s flavour by steaming it in.
Recipes using tea