Exciting news! Our website for our upcoming event in October is now up! Please check it out and read all about our event. You can now purchase tickets, book into classes, register as an exhibitor, submit an entry into the Golden Leaf Awards and lots more! http://www.australianteaexpo.com.au
If you’re at all interested in tea, you’ve probably heard the term ‘orange pekoe’ (or OP) before. This is a tea grade; for instance, a tea may also be graded Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (or FTGFOP), which is one of the highest grades a tea can achieve (which is probably why FTGFOP is sometimes known instead as ‘Far Too Good For Ordinary People‘).
Interestingly, and rather contrary to what some will tell you, orange pekoe doesn’t have anything to do with orange notes, orange flavouring, or any oranges at all. It is instead a quirk of language use, and actually only tells us that the tea is a basic medium-leaf variety of average quality. Teas carrying this grade are plain tea; the herbs that may have been combined with them later are not a part of this grading system, and have no effect on the overall grade of the lone tea.
This grading system is used for the tea trade that occurs in the West, and applies mostly to teas that have been grown in current and former British colonies such as Sri Lanka and India. Black teas are the only types of tea that use this system. It is relatively unknown in most parts of China.
The term ‘pekoe’ refers to silver downy hairs found on both the buds of camellia sinensis, and the leaves. It is possible that it originated as a mispronunciation of the Chinese word that was used for a tea called “white down”. ‘Orange’ seems to have come from either the fact that finished black tea can have a bright orange tinge to it, or due to the Dutch marketing the tea as orange when they transported it to Europe, so as to make the tea sound royal (after the House of Oranje Nassau).
In our last post we went through the necessary skills and traits a qualified and well-respected tea taster should possess. In this post, we will be covering how a tea taster conducts their job.
Firstly however it is important to note that tea is a beverage that has been around for many thousands of years, and has survived all sorts of economic slumps, collapses, and the falls of entire civilisations. As such, a job in the tea industry has a bit more permanence than many other jobs, with job security generally being quite high. Tea has proven to be something that will always be in demand, and its relatively flexible expense ensures its survivability.
Actually performing their job, however, is an interesting and highly technical process. Using a very particular and specialised spoon, the tea taster takes in the tea by slurping it so that it accelerates to exactly 125 miles per hour. This causes a fine mist to form inside the mouth which helps both the olfactory and gustatory senses absorb every aspect of the taste and scent. After thoroughly tasting the tea, it is spat back out into a special pan. The tea taster can then move on to the next cup.
A tea taster will use a stringent methodology under which they will evaluate teas, and also has a standard reference with which to compare them.
Today, tea tasting is a combination of age-old tried and tested methods and scientific methods and understanding unearthed in the modern world. This has both harmonised and standardised tea tasting around the globe.
We often hear of people such as wine tasters; they sample the wine and grade it for quality. But have you ever heard about tea tasters?
A tea taster works within the tea industry as a professional who specialises in sampling teas. It is a complex and artful career path, and those who taste teas are gifted with sensitive tongues and a good sense of intuition.
So, what type of person makes a good tea taster?
Firstly, their taste buds must be highly active and undamaged. In addition, their olfactory sense must also be in good condition, as both of these are required to tell the subtle differences between alkaloids in the samples of tea. A capable tea taster will be able to identify many subtle aromas from within a cup. In turn, this means that the taster should avoid sensory-destroying substances and habits such as spicy foods, alcohol and smoking.
Secondly, they must have a diverse knowledge of the tea plantations and how the teas they are tasting have been manufactured. This knowledge will help them identify these characteristic from inside the teas immediately, and will also them identify mystery teas whose characteristics and sources are unknown.
Thirdly, they must love the earth and all her fruits. To truly appreciate the uniqueness and beauty of tea, they should understand nature and be actively interested in both harvesting and preserving it, allowing it to be the best it can be. A good tea taster may graduate from biology, home science, agriculture, horticulture or food technology.
More to come in Part 2.
Tea has long been known as a sort of meditative drink.
Focus and attention span are very relevant topics in our currently busy days and lives; often we bustle about so much that we are doomed to forget the simple joys of just sitting and thinking, perhaps, yes indeed, with a cup of tea in hand. Tea is neither a boisterous nor abrasive drink, but instead is good at promoting alertness, a sense of calm and relaxation.
Perhaps we could stress a little less if we all took that ten minutes, every so often, to sit down, close our eyes, and drink up that warm, beautiful taste.
In any case, I’d like to take a moment to talk about a hormone called cortisol. As many of you may already know (especially those of you involved in sciences to do with the human brain and body, or who have suffered from an anxiety disorder), cortisol is the body’s stress hormone. Your body releases cortisol in stressful situations to help you deal with the problem; for instance, it will cause a function called gluconeogenesis, which increases your current blood sugar so that you have more energy to work with than in normal situations. It also gives you the typical “stressful” mental state.
However, our current lives are a breeding ground for cortisol, and as anyone with an anxiety disorder will tell you, too much stress is never any fun. Excess anxiety can both be caused by and result in cortisol release, and once in this state even small events can cause distress. Many Westerners who have no such disorder still present higher levels of stress than they should, simply because of the current complexity and speed of the western lifestyle.
Now, here’s something interesting; several studies have shown that tea, both green and black, can help reduce cortisol production in stressful situations. Although the affect is minimal, every bit of reduced cortisol production can benefit those that suffer from having too much of the hormone, and should be considered.
This affect, however, may not even be tea’s greatest asset towards stress reduction. As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, tea is a meditative, zen-like drink. Meditation, or at the very least quiet reflection, has shown to be helpful in people suffering from anxiety, and tea is the perfect drink to promote both of these. The caffeine in tea helps keep the mind alert, while the action of drinking keeps you from annoying, distracting actions like fidgeting.
Maybe it’s time you sat down and took a step back from life?
Oolongs are an interesting breed of tea.
Many tea drinkers have only heard of “Black” tea, “Green” tea, and herbals, as that is simply what is stocked most commonly on the supermarket shelves. But there’s another extremely viable, extremely delicious form of tea that everyone should appreciate at least once in their lives: oolong tea.
Oolong teas are a vibrant in-between of green tea and black tea, offering qualities of both but never reaching either’s extremes. The reasoning for this lies in the process used to create oolong teas.
When the camellia sinensis (tea) leaves are picked off the bush, they are subjected to a process that gradually (or sometimes very rapidly) increases the oxidation levels in the leaves. Green tea is usually described as unoxidised or very lightly oxidised; typically the levels are very low or non-existent. Black tea, on the other hand, has been fully oxidised, which gives it its blackened colour and fuller taste.
So where does this leave oolong tea?
Oolong tea is right in the middle of green tea and black tea on the oxidation chart. It encompasses a wide range of oxidation percentages and can have more characteristics of green tea, or more characteristics of black tea, as a result. Typically, increasing the oxidation level of a tea will lower its catechin count and increase its caffeine levels.
Taiwan and China are especially famous for their oolong teas, and produce a large range for consumers to pick through. Some are among the most highly revered teas in the world.
The humble herbal tea, as many of you have already discovered, is indeed not a tea at all.
This distinction can be traced back to how the word “tea” was originally used. That is, tea is a plant that is steeped in water to produce the drink we know as tea – the catch being, that plant can only be a variety of camellia sinensis.
So what does that leave our humble little herbal ‘tea’ with? Not much? Not so! Herbal teas actually have a proper name, which is ’tisane’ (pronounced tis-aine). This name helps distinguish them as not containing any trace of the plant camellia sinensis, and also distinguishes them from herbal tea blends, which contain both tea and herbs to create a finished product.
Although the word tisane is still relatively unknown, it is gradually being uncovered by the tea drinking community and we are all too happy to facilitate and spread its use.