|Written by Rachel|
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Since childhood Rachel has been an avid tea enthusiast. She likes to taste different flavours of Asian tea and is happy to share her knowledge with any student seeking an introduction to tea appreciation.
Off the shelf
Most supermarkets stock tea. Typically it is sold in tea bags and there are many familiar brands available. Often green tea and herbal tea are offered too.
People read about the healing benefits of green tea and go to their local supermarket, purchase a box and expect results. This is not likely to occur.
When books such as Green Tea Living make reference to green tea, they are talking about premium grade matcha tea powder or loose leaf green tea.
Products like these need to be bought from a tea specialist.
Herbal tea is not actually tea. It is a herbal infusion. It cannot be called 'tea' because it does not come from the camellia sinensis bush.
6 classes of tea
There are 6 classes of tea:
When most people drink tea, it is black tea. Common varieties: Assam, Earl Grey, Nilgiri, Lapsang Souchong, Ceylon, Keemun and Darjeeling.
White tea is not rolled or oxidized. It has a pale yellow appearance when brewed. Silver Needle and White Peony are the most common flavours available.
Yellow tea is a rare variety of tea. It has a more mellow taste than green tea. Whilst yellow tea is considered to have the same health benefits as green tea, it is easier to digest.
Example varieties: Meng Ding Huang Ya, Huo Shan, Huang Ya and Jun Shan Yin Zhen.
Over the centuries green tea has been prepared and consumed in different ways. Read The Book of Tea for a full history. In modern times people drink green tea in 3 main ways:
Tea bags produce an inferior quality tea.
Green tea leaves are the most common way to consume green tea. Sencha is an everyday variety. Dragon Well (Long Jing) and Fujian Mao Feng are drunk for their reputed health benefits.
Powdered tea (Matcha) is very popular in Japan. There are different grades relative to purpose.
With powdered tea, you are not just drinking the infusion, you are consuming the plant itself (suspended in warm water).
This is Rachel's favourite tea. Black in appearance, pu erh is aged over time. There are two types of pu erh: raw and ripened.
It is often sold in a circular 'cake' that has to be broken with a tea knife/pick in order to brew it. Sometimes pu erh is stored in tangerine peel in order to infuse the tea with a different flavour.
Oolong tea is created through a unique processing method. The different colours, flavours and smells are carefully cultivated using exclusive approaches.
In terms of taste, oolong offers a very wide variety depending upon how the tea was produced.
If you were to read The Book of Tea (Kakuzo Okakura), the Japanese tea ceremony sounds most intriguing.
Leonard Koren went to a major tea ceremony demonstration in modern Japan and found the ceremony most disappointing. It had devolved into an empty crowd pleasing ritual; arty and facile.
The spiritual origins and purpose of the tea ceremony had been replaced with dogma, empty performance and costumery.
Unfortunately, the somewhat older Chinese tea ceremony has been lost and more recently re-invented to fit a cultural interest niche.
Rachel often buys tea from The Tea Makers of London. Her tea equipage and crockery have been bought from many different suppliers over the years. Locating unusual tea cups and pots is part of the fun.
• Green Tea Living
• The Book of Tea
• In Praise of Shadows
• Wabi-Sabi: For Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers
• Wabi-Sabi: Further Thoughts
• Lost Japan
• The Tea Enthusiast's Handbook
18 April 2005
Last updated 18 January 2021