Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Quick Guide to Tea

Tea is perhaps the oldest beverage around. It was found in ancient China, when tea leaves accidentally fell into a boiling pot of water. The emperor drank it and found it to be delicious! Thus, tea became a staple in Asia. However, tea did not make it to Europe as a whole until much much later. Sure, some tea came to European towns through the Silk Road, but tea was not nearly as popular and easily available until the 16th century, when a Venetian author attributed long life to tea drinking. From there, tea spread like wildfire. It was first marketed to Europeans as a medicinal beverage, but it wasn't long before the courts of Europe took to tea and made it a refined beverage for the wealthy. Tea parties became popular amongst high class women and their friends. Soon, Dutch settlers took tea to what is now known as New York state. But it wasn't until the mid 1800's that High Tea, an English tradition, was created.

Tea is probably my favorite type of lolita meet-up to attend. Even if it isn't a traditional English tea service, it's still a lovely time. High Tea in England is like a small dinner and is also called meat tea. What this actually means is that tea is served with smoked meats and fishes, eggs, small sandwiches, and breads. In America, we use the term "High Tea" to refer to what the British call a Full Tea. Full Tea involves small sandwiches, hors d'oeuvre (appetizers), scones with clotted cream and jam, and assorted pastries.

Many American tea houses offer different choices for tea. For example, my favorite tea place offers a full tea service with the scones and the sandwiches and everything. However, they also offer a simpler tea, served with assorted scones and cakes. Depending on how much time you have, what you want to spend, and the different choices offered at your tea house, tea can be a fantastic meet-up to attend.

Types of Tea
Pretty much everyone knows about green tea and black tea. But there's also white tea, oolong tea, herbal "tea," and pu-erh tea. Each one has a distinct flavor profile, aroma, and color. However, these types only refer to when the tea is picked, how it is picked, and what is done after it's picked.

Green Tea
After the tea leaves are picked, they are immediately dried, baked, panfried to dry it out for packaging. Because it is immediately processed, many of the antioxidants and other healthy things are sealed in. This makes green tea a great choice for health conscious tea-drinkers.

Black Tea
The leaves are allowed to oxidize and develop deep and complex flavors. Each black tea is unique to the grower, with no two being quite the same.

White Tea
This tea is picked before the leaves are fully developed, right before the buds open. These are then air dried and packaged for sale. Because the tea leaves are picked before they are mature, this tea is more expensive. It also contains three times the levels of antioxidants as green tea, as well as other health benefits.

Oolong Tea
Oolong tea is somewhere between green tea and black tea. It's allowed to oxidize, but not as much as black tea. The resulting flavor is very smooth.

Herbal Tea
It's not really tea at all because it does not contain tea leaves. Instead it is made up of roots, seeds, flowers, other types of leaves, and other parts of plants and herbs. It often serves a medicinal purpose, but chamomile and peppermint teas fall under this category too. It's made the same way as tea with tea leaves is made.

Pu-erh Tea
Pu-erh tea is unique to the Yunnan province of China, just like Champagne is a type of grape only grown in the Champagne region of France. The leaves are allowed to grow a thin layer of harmless mold. This tea is known for its health benefits, particularly known for reducing high cholesterol.

No matter what type of tea you enjoy, tea is a delightful beverage for any time of day or year. Right now, my favorites are jasmine tea, an herbal tea called Rooibos tea, and oolong tea picked by specially trained tea-picking monkeys. However in the summer, I drink enough sweet iced tea to keep Lipton's in business for a long time. I make loose-leaf tea, but if you want to get a tea bag, then I highly recommend Tazo or Stash brand teas, as they are high-quality and retain their flavor for a long time. What's your favorite type of tea?


  1. I want a trained monkey to pick my tea

  2. Lupicia makes some fantastic tea, my favorites of which being their Sakurambo and Ume looseleaf teas. I'm not much for the standard teas, and fruity and herbal teas appeal to my palate. :)