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Myths & Variants as to the origin of tea
Did you know that the tea bag was invented inadvertently?
In 1908 The New York tea importer Thomas Sullivan was sending tasting tea samples to his customers. Because he could not ship loose tea, and the shipping was too expensive in heavy tin cans, he packed the samples in small mousseline bags. However, the customers did not unwrappe the tea and dipped the whole bag into the water. They found the invention of the tea bag pretty handy - even though if it was not foreseen by Sullivan.
Tea has played a significant role in Asian culture for centuries:
According to one legend Bodhidharma founder of the Zen school of Buddhism, after meditating for nine years, he accidentally fell asleep. He woke up in such disgust at his weakness, he cut off his eyelids and they fell to the ground and took root, growing into tea bushes.
In one popular Chinese legend around 2737 BC, Shennung, the legendary Emperor of China, inventor of Chinese medicine, was drinking a bowl of boiling water. The wind blew and a few leaves from a nearby tree fell into his water and began to change its color. The ever inquisitive and curious monarch took a sip of the brew and was pleasantly surprised by its flavor and its restorative properties.
All teas come from the same plant. The differences stem from how they are processed.
Freshly harvested leaves contain 75-83% moisture while processed tea has a moisture content of less than 3%. Tea production is simply a drying process. However some chemical changes take place by natural fermentation which gives different varieties of teas.
Black Tea undergoes a full fermentation process composed of four basic steps - Withering, Rolling, Fermenting, and Firing (or Drying).
There are two types of Black tea processing
Orthodox this is the traditional method or the hand method.
CTC (Crush, Tear, Curl)
Green tea is often referred to as "unfermented" tea. The freshly picked leaves are allowed to dry, then are heat-treated to stop any fermentation (also referred to as oxidation.)
Oolong tea is generally referred to as "semi-fermented" tea for the manufacture of oolongs; the leaves are wilted in direct sunlight, and then shaken in bamboo baskets to lightly bruise the edges. Next, the leaves are spread out to dry until the surface of the leaf turns slightly yellow. Oolongs are always whole leaf teas, never broken by rolling. The least fermented of oolong teas, almost green in appearance, is called Pouching.
White tea it is the least processed of its many varieties. The new tea buds are plucked before they open and simply allowed to dry. White tea is not oxidized or rolled, but simply withered and dried by steaming.
Flavored tea is created when the additional flavorings are mixed with the leaf as a final stage before the tea is packed. For Jasmine tea, whole jasmine blossoms are added to green or oolong tea. Fruit-flavored teas are generally made by combining a fruit's essential oils with black tea.
The best tea leaves are small and young, and plucked from the tip of the tea bush (this is known as "Orthodox" method).
Categories of leaf size used as deciding factors for picking.
Flower Pekoe Tiny shoots and unopened buds are picked.
Orange Pekoe Youngest opened leaves are picked.
Souchong Older, coarser leaves closer to the trunk of the shrub are picked
Another factor in the picking of young leaves is calling a "flush" This is when there is a sprouting of new buds and leaves on a plant. These fresh young leaves and buds are then picked. A tea plant may flush more than three times within a single growing season.
On receipt of tea at the factory from the estate, the fresh tea leaves are weighed and recorded.
Sorting & Cleaning
The dry tea leaves received are sorted & cleaned
Tea leaves are spread on racks or troughs to reduce their moisture content.
Rolling & Breaking:
Tea leaves are rolled in order to break down their structure and release their natural juices and enzymes. This begins the fermentation process.
Takes place when tea is spread on trays in a cool, humid atmosphere to oxidize the leaves. It changes the chemical structure of the leaf, the leaves turn from green to coppery red. The longer a tea is allowed to ferment, the stronger flavor it will have and the darker it will become. Some teas are not fermented at all.
Firing & Baking:
The leaves are dried and the fermentation process is retarded. In this stage, the leaves move through hot air chambers to stabilize the leaves and lock in the flavor.