October 2009


“What is the best tea for me to drink?” and then, “What is your favorite tea?”

These are two questions I am asked often when sampling tea at market or Selby Gardens. I find it extremely fascinating to explore and chat about the different taste and enjoyment experience people have when drinking a cuppa. Some thoughts to share on this often complex pastime of drinking tea.

My usual answer to the first question, “What is the best tea for me to drink?” is quite simple, the tea that you like the best!

For me, Green Tea is simply the best tea because of the powerful health benefits associated with drinking green tea. The truth of the matter is that if you really don’t like green tea, the chances are that you will not drink sufficient quantity of green tea to achieve the promised healthy enhancements.

If you prefer a Rooibos tea, then you should drink it because you are certain to drink much more of it. And you will benefit from the high anti-oxidant levels and the unique combination of vitamins and minerals found in Aspalathus linearis. You may prefer a combination of botanical tea and herbals or indeed all herbals. Each tea offers unique health benefits as well as unique flavors, and only you can decide the one you like the best.

Now the second question, my favorite tea, has become quite complicated. I have many favorites and drink different teas at different times of the day.

I describe myself as an Orthodox tea lover and almost exclusively drink loose leaf tea. I just love the taste of Camellia sinensis in all its wonderful forms and natural flavors. I do not need the addition of fruits, flowers or added flavors in order to make tea more palatable or enjoyable because, to me, they mask the true flavor. And I want to taste the true flavor of loose leaf tea. Why only loose leaf tea? See Think Out of the Bag.

That does not mean that I will not drink or appreciate a finely blended tea with quality ingredients such as our Black Rose or Earl Grey (thanks for snapping the fab pix, Alexis Z) which are both perfect for afternoon tea. Also, see my post on Early Grey, Are you Spellbound?

I am now much more sensitive to caffeine and find I must stop drinking true tea around 5.30pm otherwise find myself enjoying my tea all night long!

This has meant a shift to herbals for that time frame. Like Rooibos, Naturally caffeine free Organic Honeybush fits that niche perfectly for me because of soothing and calming qualities.

Since I have been sampling tea to so many tea lovers each week I have come to realize that no two people are alike, regarding their taste in tea. Selby Select is by far our best selling tea and people absolutely love it. Though some people do not care for the flavor of this amazing Rooibos, no matter how high the praise.

MY POINT IS? There is a favorite tea out there for everybody. There is no good excuse for not drinking tea. As I have said before, find what you like and drink lots of it.

Cheers,
the Tea Lady

We have broken down the details of brewing a fine cuppa with our post “Infusion Confusion” now let’s put the record straight on multi steeping your tea.

We are talking about loose leaf tea rather than tea bags which are designed for one use only. See “Think Out of the Bag” post. Depending on the type and quality of loose tea, you should expect to make several steeps or infusions.

Follow your usual procedure to make the first cup of tea. If your preference is strong tea I suggest increasing the amount of tea, rather than the time you allow the tea to infuse. Make only the amount you require or decant into another pot to preserve your leaves and stop them from over infusing or tasting astringent.

This is an important step. It’s not the fault of the leaves as they simply carry on doing what YOU put them there to do!

Add more water to start the second infusion, releasing another round of flavor. Allow more time; I usually double my original infusion time. You may enjoy this cup more than the first; it has a roundness or smoothness which is most pleasing.

At Local Coffee + Tea we add the first and second infusion together making what we believe is the perfect cuppa. We call this multifusion!

Go ahead and infuse your leaves once again. You can continue this process until the leaves offer you no more surprises. If you are infusing a rolled leaf you will certainly be rewarded with many infusions, a cut leaf not so many. Our oolongs offer at least 4 steeps, and my personal favorite for beautiful multifusion flavors is Flowering Pomegranate.

Multi-steeping is also one of the reasons we love using tea makers with pressure release bottoms to brew loose leaf tea. The lid keeps the leaves moist and fresh if you are away from your tea making duties. You can also place the tea maker in the refrigerator if not using till later in the day or even the next day.

Experiment, play around with each tea. You will notice after the first steep, it is hard to overstep the tea and you should not experience any astringency. This is one of the reasons some people prefer the second or third steeps to the first. And remember it is suggested that oolongs are washed, basically discarding the short first steep or rinse. If you read our “Oooolongs” post you will note that I drink this batch and love it!!

Enjoy multi infusions as you drink loose leaf tea and keep in mind the great value loose leaf tea offers long after a tea bag is discarded.

Cheers,
the tea lady

Last month I vacationed in South Carolina where I had the opportunity to visit Americas only Tea Plantation in Wadmalaw Island. It was a brilliant visit with my family joining and one of the highlights of our trip.

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After leaving Charleston we approached the Charleston Tea Plantation, on tree lined roads dripping with Spanish moss feeling as though we were entering some bygone time and era. An unassuming plantation gateway leads to a welcome centre lined with rocking chairs, an abundance of butterflies and absolute quiet.

Breathtaking!

The entrance led us to the gift shop (of course) for some iced tea (delicious!) and to browse tea gifts before we walked through the factory area. TV screens explained how the machines process the tea taking only 20 hours from bush to finish!

A withering bed removes 12% moisture from the fresh leaves. A rotovane machine tears and ruptures the tea leaf exposing millions of cells to the air starting the enzymatic process. The oxidations process now begins.

Black tea is oxidized for only 50 minutes and oolong for 15 minutes. Green tea is lightly steamed and dried only, with no oxidation occuring. Each batch of tea leaves is dried for 25 minutes sealing in the properties of each type of tea.

Finally, all the teas are graded to remove any unwanted stalks or off bits. That completes the miracle process which is all done by one man!

Next the trolley bus took us out onto the plantation of 127 acres. All the 150,000 bushes are Camelia sinensis varietals which originated in China and India. The heat, humidity, well drained sandy soil and 75 days of rainfall here provide ideal growing conditions from April through September. Spring sees the first flush of leaves and harvest begins with 3-5 inches of new growth. Every bush will yield 7 to 10 cutting each season with new growth taking from 14-20 days depending on weather conditions.

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The plantation has a custom designed harvester called the “Green Giant”. This machine and one man are able to harvest fields which would take 500 manual workers to pick.

Cuttings are taken from selected varieties which take 6-12 months to develop mature roots. After planting it will take up to 4 years to mature. No pesticides are ever used in the plantation and the plants all looked so healthy and well cared for!

After the trolley ride we sat on the porch and chatted with Bill Fernandez, founder of the plantation and a 3rd generation tea taster! He has 42 years of experience in the tea industry and is one of only 28 professionals in the USA.

We really started to connect when discovering his grandfather was from Yorkshire. His Canadian/American accent with hints of time spent in London soon reverted back to those roots and we had a blast! Needless to say he drinks only the freshest tea.

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For me it was very special to see Camelia sinensis growing, to see and touch tea leaves. I may never get chance to visit China, India or Sri Lanka so this experience will always remain with me and add another special dimension to my personal tea journey.

I hope you enjoyed this whistle-stop tour through the Charleston Tea Plantation but most of all I hope you too will visit and celebrate this most amazing of local treasures.

Cheers,
the tealady