Tea1

This is the very pungent, tart fruit pod of trees originally from Africa, now common in Asia, India, and the West Indies. The taste is bittersweet with citrus overtones. The pulp is very sticky and difficult to work with. Tamarind paste and concentrate, fresh products, are available in the produce sections of many ethnic markets. They keep for 2-3 weeks, refrigerated. Both products made from the pulp of the tamarind pod, need to be reconstituted.

Indigenous to India, the tamarind tree towers up to 24m in height. Related to the carob tree, it grows in tropical and sub-tropical climates, particularly in Africa, Southeast Asia, the West Indies, and certain Middle Eastern countries.

Each cylindrical reddish brown tamarind pod, which can measure 10 - 15 centimetres in length, contains 1 - 12 hard, shiny, dark-cinnamon-coloured seeds. A dense pulp containing fibrous filaments surrounds them. The pulp is bittersweet and highly acidic.Tea is made from the dried leaves of the tea plant, a bushy evergreen that can grow to a height of 9 metres in the wild. Commercially grown tea plants, however, are pruned back to a more modest height of about 1.4 metres to facilitate picking. The shrubs are likely indigenous to a region covering Tibet, western China and northern India.

The tea plant's elliptical, persistent leaves are bright green, slightly hairy, partially serrated and scattered with glands containing an essential oil. The best teas are cultivated at high altitudes where the plants grow slowly in relatively cool climates. Once a year, they bear tiny white flowers similar in appearance to camellias; these lightly scented blossoms fetch a high price. Tea plants continue to produce leaves for close to a century.

In tea plantations, the leaves are picked up to 20 to 30 times a year. Increasingly, traditional handpicking is being replaced by mechanized means. Only the young leaves at the tips of the branches are harvested. Although the best teas are made from the leaf buds and next two leaves, the third, fourth and sometimes fifth leaves are also used to produce a less high-quality beverage. The end bud is known as a "pekoe," a term derived from the Chinese pa ko, meaning "white down," in reference to the delicate down that covers the lower surface of the emerging leaf.

There are three broad categories of tea plants, originating respectively from China, Southeast Asia and India. These varieties are divided into a huge range of subcategories. Depending on the process, the leaves are used to produce black tea (fermented), oolong tea (semi-fermented) or green tea (unfermented).

There are five steps in the production of black tea: withering, rolling, fermentation, drying and grading. During withering, the leaves lose part of their water and become flaccid. Rolling destroys the leave's inner membranes, thus freeing and mixing components required for fermentation. Fermentation, which is carried out in a wet environment, is aimed at developing the aroma and coppery colour of black tea; the duration of this step depends on the desired results. The main purpose of drying is to end fermentation and extract the remaining water. During grading, the leaves are sorted according to quality.

The main sources of black teas are Sri Lanka, India and China. India is known for highly aromatic teas such as the fruity Darjeeling.

Oolong tea, which comes from Taiwan, is partially fermented. Its characteristics are half way between those of black tea and green tea. Its greenish-brown leaves have a richer flavour than green tea but a more delicate taste than black tea. The best oolong teas are produced during the summer months.

Green tea is unfermented. The enzymes in the leaves, which cause discolouring and fermentation, are deactivated by several minutes of steam heating. The leaves are then rolled and dried like black tea. They are fired as soon as they are picked. Green tea is more astringent than black tea, as its tannins are less oxidized. Although it formerly dominated the market, black tea now monopolizes 98%of world production. Green tea is particularly popular in China, Japan and Muslim countries.

In addition to black, oolong and green teas, consumers can also choose between a variety of flavoured, instant and decaffeinated teas.

The leaves of flavoured teas have been mixed with spices, orange peel, bergamot or flowers (jasmine, gardenia, rose, lotus, cinnamon, mint, etc.). Earl Grey tea, for example, is flavoured with bergamot oil.
Instant tea is made from tea that has been steeped and evaporated, which has been very popular in many countries since the 1950s, has existed for much longer in countries such as Japan.

Decaffeinated tea is tea from which part of the caffeine (an alkaloid also known as "theine") has been removed; this reduces the stimulating effect of the resulting beverage. As the caffeine content of tea varies widely, however, some decaffeinated teas can contain almost as much of the alkaloid as regular teas.

History

Although the exact origin of tea growing is uncertain, the practice is said to have been initiated by a Chinese emperor over 4,500 years ago. The leaves have been used since ancient times to produce a drink more popular than even coffee. Indeed, next to water, tea is world's leading beverage. There are various legends about the discovery of the drink known as tea, which dates back to the dawn of Chinese civilization.

According to the best-known tale, in 2374 B.C., reigning sovereign Chen-nung decided to boil some water to quench his thirst. He placed the pot in the shade of a tea bush, and a breeze blew some leaves into the hot water. Upon tasting it, Chen-nung was pleasantly surprised by its flavour and aroma. Tea nevertheless became a popular drink in China only around the 16th century. Prior to this period, people had chewed the leaves and, around the year 1000, began drying and crushing them and adding boiling water. Tea has long been a ritual drink in Japan. The plants were first grown in Java and other tropical and subtropical regions. The Dutch introduced the beverage to Europe in the 17th century. The drink became popular in France and, above all, England, where, in the 18th century, all classes of society set began to partake twice daily in what has become a veritable institution: the tea break.

In North America, English and Irish colonialists made tea a highly popular beverage – up until the Boston Tea Party in 1773, when settlers opposed to taxation without representation stormed tea ships in the Boston harbour and dumped their cargoes overboard.

Today, England is the world's number-one tea consumer. The beverage is also popular in most other English-speaking countries, including Australia and New Zealand, as well as in Arabic countries, where it is prepared with sugar and mint, and in Russia. The world's leading producers are India, China, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Indonesia, Turkey and Russia.

Nutrition

Tea contains a number of substances, including caffeine, essential oils, enzymes, tannins and phenolic compounds. When drunk plain, it has only 2 – 3 calories per 185ml. It also contains potassium and magnesium.

Theine, an alkaloid belonging to the methylxanthine family, is identical to caffeine. Tea also contains small amounts of two other methylxanthines, namely theophylline and theobromine. The caffeine content of tea varies depending on the type of leaves used and how long they are allowed to steep (the longer the beverage steeps, the more caffeine it contains).

Tealeaves have more caffeine (2.5 – 4.5 percent) than coffee beans (1 – 2 percent). However, as fewer leaves are used to make a cup of tea, the beverage's caffeine content is lower. A stimulant, tea eases digestion and has various other effects on the body. Its impact seems to be less negative than that of coffee, as the effects of theme are mitigated by the other nutrients contained in tea.

Unlike the consumption of pure caffeine, tea drinking brings about a slight drop in blood pressure. According to research carried out in Japan and epidemiological studies performed in the 1980s, green tea may be a natural protection against cancer, and five cups of green tea per day are thought to help prevent strokes. Further studies will have to be carried out to confirm or invalidate these findings.

The tannins in tea, like those contained in coffee, hinder the absorption of iron found in vegetables, fruits, cereals, nuts, eggs and dairy products. (Some people believe tea to have an even more negative effect than coffee with this respect). Tea that is steeped for over 5 minutes is bitter due to its high concentration of tannins, which can be neutralised by the addition of milk.

Buying

Buy tea in a store with a high inventory turnover to obtain optimum taste. Bulk tea is almost always cheaper than tea bags; in addition, it is often of higher quality, as the leaves are uncrushed. Tea bags often contain inferior quality leaves mixed with tea powder and dust and bits of branches.

Storing

Keep tea in an airtight container in a dark, cool place (under 30°C). Ideally, it should be stored in a sealed metallic container, which will protect it from dampness and odours. Less fragile than coffee, it can be kept for up to 18 months; for optimum flavour, however, you should use it within 6 months. Chinese teas keep for up to 3 years.

Preparing

The preparation of tea has evolved over the ages. Whereas people used to boil the leaves, today's preferred method consists in steeping.

It is easy to make good tea if you follow a few simple rules…

  • Heat the teapot with boiling water, empty it and add the tea. For medium-strength tea, use 1 teaspoon of tea per cup plus an extra spoon for the teapot (or an equivalent number of tea bags).
  • Pour hot water over the tea and let the mixture steep for 3 – 5 minutes.
  • Stir the liquor to distribute the aromatic components and serve the tea (or remove the tea bags or tea ball).

Water temperature and steeping time are crucial. Water that has boiled for too long is flat and makes mediocre tea. Ideally, you should pour the water over the leaves just before it reaches a full boil. The length of time you allow the mixture to steep has an impact on the taste, bitterness and caffeine content of the resulting beverage. As mentioned above, 3 – 5 minutes is enough; for stronger tea, add more leaves rather than extending steeping time. A tea ball is a handy solution if you wish to make a single cup.

Hot tea can be drunk plain or with sugar or milk; it can also be flavoured with lemon, orange, a drop of vanilla or almond extract, or a clove. Methods of preparation and tea-drinking customs vary from one culture to another.

Iced tea, which is particularly popular in North America, can be made from scratch or from instant powder, which is pre-sweetened, flavoured and contains various additives.

To make iced tea, let the hot beverage steep for twice as long as for hot tea. Remove the bags or leaves, add sugar and garnish with slices or lemon or other fruits. As the tea cools, it may become somewhat cloudy under the effect of the tannins. If you wish, you can also make iced tea from cold water. Use 8 – 10 tea bags per 600ml of water and let the mixture steep in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours.

Using

Like coffee, tea can be used to flavour various foods, especially sherbets and pastries. Prunes and other dried fruits that are soaked in tea take on a very pleasant taste. Green tea is used to flavour soba noodles. Tea can also be used for a number of non-culinary purposes, including skin and hair care and to polish glass, mirrors and varnished floors.

 

Varieties

  • Herbal Tea
  • Black Tea
  • Green Tea
  • Oolong Tea
  • Flavoured Tea