The French and Their Tea

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An interesting article appeared on the BBC’s website in April; it was about France and French teas in comparison with Britain and their treatment of tea. As it turns out, France is reentering the tea market and is quickly becoming famous for their unique and beautiful blends.

The strange thing is, France once upon a time had a tea habit that seriously rivaled the English tea consumption rate. However, as time went on it eventually extinguished to the point where it was very difficult to find a good-quality cup. Only aristocrats and very unwell people drank it on any sort of regular basis, and good tea had to be almost exclusively self-imported.

You can read all about France’s tea story in the BBC article, here: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-26962095

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Trials of a Tea Addict: The Morning Ritual

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I wake up in the morning. Notably this is not with any pleasure about the sight of the sunlight pouring through my window, the sight of a new day – violent storm clouds are already filling up my mind. An ache in my stomach that has nothing to do with hunger suggests that, once again, it is time to perform the Morning Ritual.

Of course I was up too late the night before. I blink awkwardly as the sun assaults dilated pupils, breaking and entering my retinas without so much as a warrant. But as I check my clock, I of course discover that I haven’t even the smallest amount of time to gather my wits; I’m running late for my bus, which in turn means I’m running late for a lecture at university that I probably shouldn’t miss.

I stumble slightly upon rising, stagger to the side, and stub my toe on the way out of my room. The tight feeling inside my chest is telling me stop, please, you’ll feel much less ill if you just lie back down, but I know better. I’ll feel a different kind of ill if I lie back down; the sickness of mind that comes with being irresponsible.

I’m blinking again. This time my eyes are adjusting, and the pain of exposing them so abruptly to the heavenly stream of protons pouring through my windows is waning. Now I’m in the kitchen, searching, searching…

One switch. Click!

The kettle boils. Tea is poured into my steeper. And then the concoction brews in my mug.

Finally, I drink, and the debris floating in the air from the chaos of the morning drops to the floor, allowing it to be swept away and ignored. Another morning is triumphed over.

… But there’ll always be tomorrow.

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An Overview of the Tea Plant

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Tea comes from the leaves and buds of the plant known as camellia sinensis. This plant is a relation of camellia japonica.

There are over more than 500 different tea varietals but the two main types are camellia sinensis var sinensis and camellia sinensis var assamica. Camellia sinensis var sinensis is grown in China and can grow up to six metres in height and last more than 100 years, while camellia sinensis var assamica is mainly grown in India and Sri Lanka to a height of approximately 30 metres with a lifespan of about 30 to 50 years.

Terroir is the word used to describe the characteristics of the plantation on which the tea is grown, and includes variables such as the soil, climate, altitude and location (latitude). These important factors influence the end flavour of the tea and the growth of the camellia sinensis plant. The terroir therefore changes the characteristics of the plant and accounts for the different flavours and aromas in tea.

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Uncovering the Truth: Tea is Full of Pesticides?

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Damning truth or fantastic fiction? Tea Biz’s latest post gives us a much more insightful look into the world of tea growing and how pesticides are used.

Uncovering the Truth: Tea is Full of Pesticides?.

(And don’t worry, tea addicts. As far as we can tell, the news is fairly good.)

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The Story of Jhentea and its Family History

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Jhentea is a teashop in Taiwan that has a fascinating history, with four generations of tea experts and production in Taiwan, after their ancestors, Hon Chen’s offspring, escaped from Communist China. It began as a small family business cultivating tea in the Fujian Province, with great-great-grandfather Hon Chen – a very well-known and respected tea master within the local community. Chen’s offspring had already expanded small parts of this business in Taiwan when communist rule overcame China, and were fortunate enough to be able to escape there. Their main trade was Wu-Yi tea plants that grew to create beautiful oolong teas. This business grew such that it was able to trade with global customers.

The first tea garden to be owned in Taiwan by the family was bought by Li Chen, Hon Chen’s son. It cost 2 Dragon Dollars (a currency used in China long ago) and was on Taipei’s mountainside. Taiwan’s beautiful climate had made it renowned as a land of new opportunity, and its weather complimented the art of growing tea beautifully. In this tea garden, Wu-Yi and Oolong was cultivated, despite not being native to the region – the climate was still ideal.

Japanese rule became a big problem for many residents in Taiwan, bringing with it waves of hardship and fear. As a result, the family, led by Li’s son, Jeder Chen, moved their production of tea to a different side of Taipei Mountain. They settled in a mountainous region of Yi Lan, and began to plant. A small community had formed in an effort to hide out here, and much effort and community spirit went into helping each other through the hardship.

Jeder had fled to the mountainous region of Yi Lan with Dong Lai Chen, his second wife. It was there they raised 7 children together, however after the true hardship of Japanese rule was over, Jeder Chen returned with his first wife. Dong Lai Chen was left on the plantation and raised her children alone, each learning and doing what they could manage on the plantation. Through her experience and knowledge, Dong Lai became the first female tea master in the region – however as a female, she was forced to work hard to gain a reputation among other tea masters.

Full-production of tea was reassumed after 1942, when the Japanese occupation was nearly over and Chiang Kai-Shek assumed power. Tea had become a valuable trade commodity, and Taiwan’s oolong teas became some of the most highly-regarded all over the world.

Fu Chen, Dong Lai’s eldest daughter, became the major cultivator in the Chen family tea garden, while 4 out of the other 6 siblings became involved in the family’s legacy as well. Fu Chen became the second female tea master in the family, and opened the Chen family’s first shop. She married SeHo Fang, who had a vision for a retail store, as well as the branding of their crop. It was named Long Yuan, similar to “dragon dollar” in Chinese.

Fu Chen’s beautiful teas won many competitions, and was a regular entrant. Her daughter, Ai Fang, was brought up in the way of tea and became the family’s third female tea master, continuing four generations of valuable tea knowledge and exceptional cultivation.

Ai Fang is particularly concerned with educating her customers about everything related to tea, and has a modern view of the world. Her daughter, Kuei Fang, became an artist and travelled to New York – however she discovered that what her family created was quite rare, and so much effort was rarely put into a good cup of tea as her family had done. In response to this, she and Ai entered a rebranding project of Long Yuan into Jhentea, to bring the shop into the modern age. It is their wish for this to help bring Ai Chen’s story and knowledge of tea onto a worldwide platform, so that even more people can appreciate tea.

You can find out more about Jhentea at http://www.jhentea.com/our-story/

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How to Process Your First Tea

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Now that you’ve harvested the tea leaves from your very own tea bush in Growing Your Own Tea, Part 1 and Growing Your Own Tea, Part 2, you may be wondering; how do I make these into something wonderful? If you wish to go back to olden times – say, 3,000 BCE, you could always just take the leaves straight off the tree and brew them; for tens of hundreds of years, this was the only known method of making tea. However, now that all sorts of tea processing has been invented you’re probably much keener to process it into something a little more refined. This will be your first processing project. If your tea plant has had adequate amounts of nitrogen (particularly ammonium) while shooting, it will be perfect for green tea.

For this project, we will be making green tea. Green tea is one of the least processed and least oxidised teas available, and is thus the least strenuous to create – especially for a home-brewer who is new to the job. For a very long time only varieties of green tea were available in China, until eventually other, more complicated teas were made. Green tea, on the whole, is much easier to work with.

First you will want to spread the leaves over a large surface for anywhere from 2 – 3 hours; varying the time they are left out for will produce different results with regards to taste, so feel free to experiment and see which brings you the best flavour. Do not spread the leaves too thickly during this stage; the thinner the layer, the better – this is a stage where the moisture content of the leaves is reduced, it won’t be very effective if they’re all clumped together. This part of the process should be done in the shade.

While they are drying, sift through them to find any debris that shouldn’t be there, as well as discoloured leaves. Such things should be removed, as they will ruin your final product.

Now, as you’ll recall, green tea isn’t oxidised – in fact, your first goal is to halt the oxidation process altogether. This can be achieved either through frying the leaves in a pan, or steaming them. In this case we will steam them with a steamer, exactly the same way you would with vegetables. This should be done for roughly one minute, thus reducing the moisture content of the leaves to just over 50%.

Preheat your oven to 120ºC (or 250ºF). While the oven is preheating, be sure to spread your leaves out evenly over a sheet of baking paper. When the oven is ready, place the tray inside for 20 minutes, thus further reducing the moisture content.

After this, you should store your leaves how you would store any other tea you own; in an airtight jar well out of the way of sunlight. Do not store it anywhere where things like mildew could form – the last thing we want is for the tea to develop fungus or mould.

You may have noticed that these instructions do not involve a rolling stage; it is not strictly necessary for your first tea, however it will produce a greater quality of tea if done properly.

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Growing your Own Tea, Part 2

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Perhaps you’d like to read Part 1, first? Read Growing your Own Tea, Part 1.

Growing the Tea

Make sure your tea plant gets sufficient water, but never too much; this can cause your tea plant to drown, especially if the soil doesn’t have adequate drainage (read: don’t plant in clay-like soil types). While your tea plant should always be wet, at no point should it ever be swimming. A quick sprinkle once or twice a day is more than sufficient.

If it floods and you are desperate to save the tea, attempt uprooting, draining and potting until the effects of the flood are over – otherwise the plant may become drowned and die.

Do not harvest the tea leaves the first time they grow. In order to survive effectively, the tea plant needs to be around three years of age before it is pruned and plucked, otherwise you will compromise it during a vital stage of development.

Pruning should be conducted after about three years of age, particularly if your plant is becoming too big to be manageable in its location. Tea plants tend to grow one to two metres tall, but can reach even higher if you allow them.

That’s all there is to it! As long as you treat your tea plant with love and care, it will reward you generously with all the tea leaves you could ask for. Please remember, however, that these tea leaves should still be processed before you throw them in your water to steep. Ancient Chinese people may have enjoyed unprocessed tea for many years, however it does not bring about the leaves’ full potential.

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