Alright, ladies, gents, gender-fluid, and just actual fluid, it’s time to talk about Jon’s singular addiction: tea. Well, excepting his cured meat addiction. And his Karl Urban addiction. Look, Jon’s got an addictive personality, and likes to overemphasize his dedication to things. But he does love tea, and tea history. And the third person, since he’s been using it for like, five sentences now.
Tea is the second most consumed drink in the world, ahead of beer, and just behind water. (It’s presumably actually ahead of water in many parts of the world. Looking at you, Mexico.) But what exactly is tea? Where does it come from? And how best can we drain it of its essence to fuel our own bio-engines? Here’s your one-stop shop for tea trivia and techniques.
Trouble Brewing in the Past
Tea is, properly speaking, the plant Camellia sinensis, or rather, the dried and treated leaves of that plant. As a fun fact, the Latin name for tea is kind of dumb: It’s of the genus Camelia, which was named after a botanist Reverend Georg Kamel, a guy Carl Linnaus just decided to honor, and since he was the dude who invented modern taxonomy, no one got to argue with him. Except, originally he had it in the genus Thea, which meant, well, “tea”. “Sinensis” is latin for “from China”. So Carl Linnaus originally named the tea plant, which originated in China, “Chinese Tea”. And they say science is confusing.
Like, this is probably just water! We can do science!
It got a little confusing, and less clean 65 years later, when another guy went “Hey, these tea plants are totally just a different kind of Camellia” so we moved the names over.
But, to be a ‘true’ tea, the leaves must come from this plant. Otherwise, it’s an ‘herbal’ tea. And yes, that’s the only distinction for what makes an herbal tea: the fact that it doesn’t use ‘real’ tea leaves. Chamomile, Peppermint, any leaf you can boil to make flavored water that doesn’t come from camellia is an herbal tea.
I got some herb for you, kids. Hehehe. Actually, that’s camellia sinensis. That ISN’T herbal tea.
“So it’s all one plant?” I hear you asking, your befuddled confusion grating on my ears. “Then what’s the difference between green tea and black tea?” Good question, dum dum. To answer, let’s talk about rust.
The Four Teatimes of the Apocalypse, and your friend, Oxyclean!
Oxygen is a great element that we need to live, and is also a ravening beast that consumes all it touches. Hence it is that “oxidization” is a great force for destruction, for, as we all know, oxidized iron rusts into uselessness and tetanus. Except that this is a very narrow view of what oxidization is, which is a complex interplay of chemical and electron exchanges between objects. Rust is just the most well known and immediately visible version. Oxidation is also what causes sodium and fluoride to bond, creating salt. (TECHNICALLY, only the sodium is being oxidized, while the fluorine is being reduced, because oxidization is the LOSS of electrons or increase of oxidation state in a reaction) You know what? Maybe science IS confusing after all.
This could be raw chlorine! Or Sulfuric acid! We can’t do science!
What makes any of this gobbledygook (I pride myself on being the kind of person who knows the exact spelling of nonsense words) relevant is this: the primary difference between tea categories is the level of oxidation and processing they undergo. Now, as I covered in my actual tea post, there are four main categories of tea, so let’s go through them one by one.
Tight Tea, White Teas
As can be guessed, white teas are the least processed or oxidized. It’s essentially the raw leaves, picked very early, and dried. The flavors it generates are the most subtle because of this. It’s like the difference between fresh and driedherbs: the more you dry them, the more concentrated the flavors get. White teas are thereforethe most delicate teas. In the west, they’re often paired with fruit flavors, being bright and clear with floral notes.
*Guqin playing intensifies*
Because of this delicate nature, as I noted in my last note, white teas have the briefest steeping time, and the lowest steeping temperature: a White tea should be steeped for at most 3 minutes, at 190 degrees Fahrenheit .
Green with En-Tea
Green tea is the second least oxidized, and is made in two distinct but related ways: in order to protect the teas from oxidizing, green tea is cooked before drying. And how you cook it affects the flavor, and is generally an indicator on where it comes from. The Chinese panfry or roast the tea, which gives a broad array of flavors, from smoke notes to citrus-like qualities thanks to sugars being produced and caramelized. The Japanese steam their leaves, which keeps their color vibrantly green, and makes them very herbaceous and grassy. It’s a taste you might not be a fan of on the first sip, but it grows on you.
Looks like it might grow IN you too, haha.
Green tea gets steeped a little longer than white, from 2-4 minutes, and at the higher temperature of 200 degrees Fahrenheit (note that it’s still not quite boiling).
Go Long for Oolong
Oolong tea is, in my opinion, sadly overlooked in Western civilization. We’ll drink green and black teas, but few of us have heard of white tea, or Oolong. And that’s a shame. Firstly, oolong’s got the coolest name, also going by Wu Long, the name translates to “Black Dragon”, which is rad as shit. Secondly, oolong has the widest array of flavors because of the number of steps it takes to produce. First, the tea is withered, meaning it’s just, well, left to shrivel up for a while. This causes it to lose water, and start the oxidation process. Oolong is oxidized anywhere from 10% to 80%, before being rolled, roasted, and dried. Handling any step in a different way makes a different tasting tea.
Don’t lie to me, China. These are magic mushrooms. I’ve been to a rave or two in my day.
Oolong is the first tea that can be steeped by boiling, if you want. (Technically, you can boil ANY tea, it’s just going to make them more bitter than usual.) Steep for 3-5 minutes, and you’re fine.
Once you go Black, the British Attack
Black tea is the best known in Western circles, and is essentially as dry as tea can get. They require 80-100% oxidization, but otherwise are created like an oolong. This is where you find Irish Breakfast and Earl Grey and so forth, where tea “blends” come to the fore. I put quotes around blends to draw your attention to an important fact I haven’t explained till now: Tea plant flavor is very volatile. A few more days of rain one year, and the same field of tea suddenly has a new flavor. The British and other Western tea companies would mix tea leaves from different plants to create a sustained flavor.
This tea, however, seems to give us a view into a post-apocalyptic future. Great. Magic Death Tea.
Black teas are the standard of tea cooking, with boiling water brewed 5-7 minutes, though you should always check your package for variation. (Also check if a specific tea is brewed differently. Ba Dum Tish)
So, 1000 words later, have we mastered tea? Of course not. Hell, there’s another type of tea I didn’t discuss, plenty of specific varieties I didn’t elaborate on, and we haven’t even TOUCHED sweet or iced tea. But hey, I ain’t a textbook writer. I’m just here to give you a taste. So if you want to know more, look it up. Or harass me to write more. I fold easily under pressure. Just like a tea leaf.
NEXT TIME: THERE’S NO SCRIPT FOR THESE, SO I HAVE NO GODDAMN IDEA.