pouring a cup of tea

Oolong Tea – A Tea That Just Keeps on Giving (with Every Steep)!

The wonder of tea is that as well as there being so many different types to choose from, within those types each tea often boasts a bevy of different fragrances and flavours. Oolong tea is one such type. Half fermented and, because of this, standing between green (unfermented) and black (fully fermented) teas, the various tastes of an oolong brew can range between fruity or floral to deep and roasted.

While much of this is down to good growing conditions, a really great oolong also owes a lot to the skill of the tea maker. A craft that involves a complex rolling, roasting and cooling method, the skill in this and the resulting shape of the leaf will determine whether the oolong is a light tea, a dark tea or a ruined tea with a taste and smell similar to a ton of spilt perfume or, even worse, a pot of boiled socks!

With its warm, humid climate, Taiwan is one of the best producers of tea, with oolongs grown on this small island nation accounting for 20% of total world production. The oolongs here are renowned for their light, fragrant flavours, somewhat similar to green tea, and are in contrast to many of the oolongs grown on mainland China which generally have a richer, roasted character.

The most popular Taiwan oolong is high mountain oolong, which early Chinese settlers brought from mainland China to Taiwan during the late 17th century. Over hundreds of years this tea was carefully cultivated in Taiwan’s mountainous centre becoming what is often referred to as one of the finest oolong’s – if not teas – in the world.

Nonetheless, taste is all down to personal preference and there are a host of other oolongs that should be sampled, including Iron Buddha (also called Tie Guan Yin, Chinese Oolong or Buddha of Mercy), Phoenix Tea and Da Hong Pao (also known as Wuyi Cliff Tea and Big Red Robe).

However, regardless of whether your cup of oolong is light or deep in taste and aroma, a key feature of all oolongs is that the more they are steeped the better the flavour. Unlike the regular black teas that people in the west primarily drink which, if steeped, will turn into a pool of murky brown water and will probably stain your tea cup too, oolong teas can evolve their taste be being steeped several times.

A tradition of Taiwan tea drinkers which is catching on among tea enthusiasts in the West is to drink oolongs Gong Fu style. This involves successive brews of loose tea in small Yixing clay teapots. The tea is then poured into ceramic cups and enjoyed steep by steep.

The aim is to draw out the oolong’s flavour more fully with each successive infusion. In this way you and whomever you’re sharing your drink with, can enjoy the tea’s evolving taste and bouquet.

Concentrating the mind on fragrance and flavour is also somewhat meditative and a truly pleasant way to relax after a hard day’s work or to power up for a busy time ahead.

Black Tea

Black Tea – A Staple of East and West

Outside of water, tea is the most popular drink in the world. Of the huge variety of teas available, the most commonly consumed is black tea. One of the main reasons for this is the fact that the flavour of black tea can last several years, unlike, for example, it’s green cousin which loses its aroma and taste within 10 to 12 months. Because of this, traders in ancient China brought black tea leaves back to Europe, kickstarting a trend in tea-drinking that would last for centuries right up to this modern day.

Black tea differs from other popular teas such as green and oolong in that it is fully fermented before being roasted. It’s also more oxidized than white, green and oolong teas and boasts a stronger flavor with more caffeine content than any other class of Chinese tea.

The tea itself can be stored for a long time and though caffeine levels do tend to decrease naturally as time goes by, the tea’s full flavour often improves with age. However, it’s important to store the leaves in an airtight container – and preferably not in the kitchen or, at least, not close to where you’re cooking – as tea easily absorbs other odours.

While unfermented green tea has been consumed in China for well over 2,000 years, black tea only originated during the Late Ming/Early Qing Dynasty of the mid-17th century. The tale of the tea’s discovery has it that a troop of soldiers passing through Fujian Province camped out at a tea factory in the Wuyi Mountains. Their time there prevented any ongoing tea production, particularly as they insisted on using all the charcoal usually used for drying green tea. Once they had packed up and left, the farmers, trying to save the bulk of their orders, decided to place the leaves over a smoking fire of pine wood to dry instead. This caused a chemical reaction in the leaves, creating a smoky, fruity flavoured tea with an unusual red tinge. And, yes, you’ve guessed it – the first batch of Lapsang Souchong had just been developed!

Since then whole collections of black teas have been created, each resulting from the particular process of exposing picked tea leaves to the elements of air, heat and moisture. In doing so a natural chemical breakdown of the leaf’s cell structure occurs which creates new components such as theaflavins, said to be beneficial for those suffering with high cholesterol, heart disease and cancer.

As the fermentation processes were developed, each tea factory kept their methods close to their hearts in the hopes of developing their own fresh, distinctly scented brew. As it is, hundreds of different types of black tea proliferated, each one as delicious as the next and now black tea is both widely popular in China and a much loved-staple of the Western diet.

Tea Leaves

What is in tea?

Ever wondered what’s in your cup of tea? Here are some quick facts about the cuppa:

  • A number of chemicals are contained in the leaves of Camellia sinensis. These include amino-acids, carbohydrates, mineral ions, caffeine and polyphenolic compounds.
  • These chemicals are what gives tea its characteristic colour and flavour.
  • Tea leaves contain 75-80% water. This is reduced to 60-70% during the first withering stages.
  • When tea is oxidised the polyphenolic flavanols react with oxygen to create a unique flavour and colour of the infused liquor.
  • More than 550 chemicals have been identified in the aroma of black tea.
  • The taste of the tea mainly results from the various polyphenolic compounds being modified by caffeine.
  • Black and green teas contain similar amounts of polyphenols (flavanoids), although quantities vary in direct types of tea.
  • Green tea contains simple flavanoids called catechins while oolong and black teas contain more complex flavanoids call theaflavins and thearubigins.
  • Flavanoids act as antioxidants in the body and help work against the effects of ‘free radicals’, which are formed in our bodies as a result of many forms of pollution. These are thought to cause age-related diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
Tea makes Everything Better

Matcha Green Tea

Matcha Green Tea is a finely milled green tea powder and is the main ingredient for traditional Japanese tea ceremonies.
It has gained popularity thanks to its numerous health benefits and its very distinct flavour that captivates even non-tea drinkers. Matcha can be used in a number of things and doesn’t always have to be in a tea form, which is another reason why many use it these days.

Basically, Matcha is green tea leaves that are ground up by stone into a fine and delicate powder. Since this usually takes a lot longer to make than other teas, Matcha Green Tea can be a bit more expensive than its regular tea counterparts but it’s so worth the price! The best Matcha Green Tea comes from Japan, however, it’s still grown in lots of places. The actual practice of milling these types of tea leaves actually first came out of China back in the 10th century, so it’s an age-old process favoured by many. Those that pick Matcha tea leaves only pick the best buds, making for a superior product.

Matcha can be enjoyed either cold or warm, and can be used in different things like cocktails, lattes, in cooking to accentuate the taste of a savory dish and mixed into sweet confections like cakes and macarons. It has a naturally sweet taste with grassy notes and this makes it a great additive to a number of things.

Matcha isn’t just great in food and drinks, it is used in health and beauty products due to it being high in antioxidants. Matcha Green Tea is more beneficial than regular green tea since you actually drink the whole leaf and not just brewed water. It’s said that one glass of Matcha Green Tea is like drinking 10 glasses of regular tea in terms of its antioxidant content and nutritional value. Drinking it regularly can also help you de-stress since it is rich in L-Theanine, which is a rare amino acid that promotes relaxation and wellbeing. A cup of Matcha Green Tea a great pick-me-up which is why I have a cup in the morning to energize me for the day.

Have you tried Matcha? Do you use it in cooking? I would love to hear about it.