Tea for dummies 101
As we are rookies in the tea field ourselves, we have come across many myths regarding tea and we know it can get a little difficult understanding what is true or not, so we put together some points to help those who are just getting started in the tea world.
1. GREEN AND BLACK TEA COME FROM DIFFERENT PLANTS
Wrong! All teas come from the same plant - Camellia Sinensis. It is the processing that makes the difference (more info you can find here). It is true that the Camellia Sinensis. var. Sinensis is more used for green, white and oolong type teas and Camellia Sinensis var. Assamica is more used for black. But in our plantations, for example, there is a mixture of cultivars and we use all of them to make different types of tea.
2. GREEN TEA IS BITTER
A lot of people have the image that green is bitter and that's the way it should be. Actually, green tea gets bitter when you brew it with too hot water. The ideal temperature for green tea is 70-75 °C (158-167 °F), but it's always worth to check also the producer's suggestions because each tea is different. The lower temperature allows the aroma and taste to fully come out.
The bitterness is also affected by processing, so some green teas get bitter more easily than others, but a good green tea should be light and smooth, where you don't have to add anything and which doesn't get bitter even after a long steeping time.
3. A GOOD QUALITY GREEN TEA SMELLS LIKE CHICKEN SOUP
True! This was one of the biggest discoveries for as at Renegade Tea Estate. It sounded like a true myth, but once we got to making tea ourselves we understood that it's true. In fact, green tea with low quality smells like fish! In this case there has been probably been issues with hygenie or it has been stored incorrectly. So, stay away from fishy tea ;)
4. BLACK TEA IS VERY SHARP AND STRONG WITH LOTS OF TANNIN
Something we have heard during this year as much as the myth that green tea is bitter, is an understanding that you should always add milk, sugar or honey to black tea. Because otherwise it's too strong and has too much tannin in it (you feel it when your mouth gets dry after having a sip). While many black teas, mostly from India and Africa, are like that, then black teas coming from Georgia are not. Georgian black teas are typically very smooth, fruity and often even sweet.
As a matter of fact, as many people prefer stronger tastes, we tried to make a very strong black tea last year but failed, it still came out sweet and light. We'll try again this year :)
5. TEA INDUSTRY IS ROMANTIC AND PEACEFUL
Often the image of the tea industry is presented with beautiful pictures of smiling people and breathtaking views of tea plantations. Though the reality behind those pictures often takes our breath away in a negative way... For the majority of the tea sold in supermarkets, we don't really know where it is coming from, how it was made and who are the people behind it.
Many people also don't know that it's actually really hard work to pluck tea leaves and the conditions workers live in are unbearable to imagine for the western world. Even if the farms are certified by organisations that should protect the plantation workers, then in most cases only 1-3% of the price that we pay for tea in the shop will trickle down to the workers. When we pay 25-100 Euros per kilo for packaged tea, then usually less than 1 EUR goes to the farmer. At the same time, they are lacking drinking water and medical help...
It's not an easy problem to solve, requiring action from different levels on a global scale, but we as consumers can lead this change by purchasing teas from trustworthy producers and farmers. The next time you are buying tea, take this extra time to find out where it is actually coming from and who are the people behind it!
6. BLACK TEA HAS THE MOST CAFFEINE
We often hear that people don't like black tea because it has much more caffeine than green tea. This is not true! But it is a complicated story though. The caffeine levels depend on a lot of things - the cultivar, place of growth, how you harvest, process and steep the tea. So basically everything affects it...
There's not much consistency in the results of different tests and many scientists are actually on different opinions on what affects the caffeine levels.
So, we can't say which tea has the most or least amount of caffeine, but since many kinds of research have shown that some green and even white teas are on the top of the list with caffeine, then we can say for sure that this myth is NOT true!
PS! The tannins in tea prevent caffeine from being released very quickly and therefore instead of the instant kick that coffee gives, tea gives a more stable and longer effect. Also, the combination of L-theanine and caffeine relaxes the mind and keeps it alert.
7. TEA PLANT IS A ONE YEAR PLANT
Tea plants grow into very old age - the oldest known plant is said to be ca 3200 years old. In plantations, they usually grow up to 100 years, one of our plantations was planted in 1937 for example! When we rehabilitate a plantation, we cut the bushes down completely, but the roots are still the same when new shoots start to come up!
The tea plant, Camellia Sinensis, is also an evergreen shrub. When everything else is brown, the tea bushes still shine with their amazing green colour :)
8. TEA IS A SMALL BUSH
If you picture a tea plant in your head, what do you see? A small and cute-looking bush, right? So, tea is a bush, right? Yes, and no :) Those perfect-looking Google pictures are from plantations where the plants are constantly plucked and pruned to the desired height in order to increase productivity and to make it easier to harvest.
If you leave those plants on their own though...they reach for the stars! The Camellia Sinensis var. Sinensis (Chinese) is more like a shrub, growing up to 5 meters. The Assamica variation though is a true tree in its heart and grows even up to 15-20 meters!
AND the roots of some plants can grow to 6 meters long!
9. NO TEA LOVER WOULD EVER USE A TEABAG
Teabags...so what’s the case with these? While the word is a red flag to many tea connoisseurs, there are many people out there who prefer to use teabags and don’t get the fuzz about loose leaf tea....We are for sure not telling anybody that loose leaf is right and the teabag is wrong, it depends so much on one’s taste preferences and we do understand that a busy lifestyle encourages to use teabags. BUT while saying that, we would like to give some insight into the problems with teabags.
There are 2 problems with the majority of teabags - taste and quality.
- The taste is usually strong and flat, aimed for making strong brews which can be drunk also with milk and sugar.
- In order to enhance the taste, the tea is often infused with artificial flavours. A pineapple flavoured black tea should make some alarm clocks ring...
While taste is arguable, then there are quite a few issues which should be taken into account:
- The material of your teabag – all the used materials, from bleached paper to food-grade plastic, have some issues connected to them and most teabag materials raise questions whether you want to have it in your cup or how many years it will stay on earth after you use it...
- Most of the bags contain low-grade tea dust which comes from the leftovers of mass production. The leaves are machine picked and therefore can include basically anything – stems, other plants etc.
- Some companies are using good quality, bigger leaves, but the most common teabag is not suited for the leaves to unroll (like they do in a cup or a pot) and there for the tea doesn’t reveal its full potential in taste.
- Like with many teas in general, with the teabags the problem is even bigger - you don’t really know what is the origin of the tea, where it comes from, how it was grown and produced.
But there are also some quality teabag producers out there and maybe someday Renegade Tea Estate will even join the club. So, no, teabags are not from hell, but just be conscious while making the purchase so you know what you are drinking.
10. TEA IS COMPLICATED
It's not! Drink the teas you like and drink it the way you enjoy it. Don't get carried away by the tea gurus who have very specific rules on what is the right technique to brew tea, which tea is good or bad and so on. It's all about you, what you like and enjoy :)
What concerns all the hype about how tea cures different diseases, then we are not able to confirm or refute these without a proper scientific background. We do believe that tea does good to you, but it's for sure no miracle liquid that can cure everything :)
"Advances in Tea Agronomy" by M.K.V. Carr
"Tea: A Users Guide! by Tony Gebely