Black tea is fully oxidized, that is, the chemicals in the tealeaf have undergone enzymatic reactions in the presence of oxygen. The result is a rich and warm flavor spectrum from sweet and floral to slightly smoky. Due to full oxidation, the leaves have a black coloration, hence its name in the West. In China and Taiwan, the tea is known as “Hong Cha” or red tea. This is due to the amber liquid produced when steeped. Chinese black teas are typically enjoyed without milk or sugar.
Black tea is traditionally grown in China’s Southern provinces and may be harvested throughout the year. More recently the Sun Moon Lake region of Taiwan is emerging as a major force in the world of Black Tea. The process of crafting high quality Black Tea is similar in China and Taiwan. Immediately after harvest, leaves are subjected to as long as 24 hours of outdoor and/or indoor withering. Then the tea is rolled by hand (or machine) for several hours to liberate oils and other substances all of which add to the flavor profile. A final oxidation process results in black tea’s familiar dark and rich nature. In the case of the high quality black teas such as those served at Teahouse 278, tea makers select only young tea buds and perform rolling by hand.
The black tea drinker should be aware that lower grade tea might be machine-picked, chopped and torn to achieve quicker results. The hand rolling process requires a lot of skill and experience. For example, exerting excess manual pressure may result in a sour or bitter taste.
By expressing more tea oils in a long aggressive rolling a more robust flavor develops. More gentle rolling produces a black tea with a more delicate profile.
A good quality Chinese black tea, notwithstanding its color, should be sweet and mild. Depending of the varietal, the palate will experience hints of caramel. For black teas from Yunnan, there is a mild maltiness with an aroma of berries and oranges. Most importantly, a black tea should not be astringent, because it is typically enjoyed without milk and sugar.
Many people have preconceived notions about good quality black tea. In the West, these notions are based on years of low-grade tea bags over-brewed in the “English Style.” This produces bitterness requiring milk and sugar for drinkability. Consider the possibility of enjoying a high quality properly steeped black tea that does not require a sugar and milk rescue.
A quick note on caffeine content in tea. Caffeine is highly water soluble. Following the Chinese custom of an initial rinse that is not consumed, much of the caffeine is removed. Caffeine extraction is directly proportion to steeping time. Our relatively short steeping time, compared to English methods of 5-10 minutes of steeping results in only a trace to no detectable caffeine in tea served in our tea house.
Most importantly tea contains theanine, a biological compound that helps with mental focus rather than stimulation. It’s this property that originally attracted Buddhist monks to tea as it assisted in their meditation practice.
Green Tea is defined as tea that does not undergo oxidation during processing. Leaves remain green because its leaves are not oxidized. As this type of tea implies, coloration is verdant and bright with flavors ranging from a dewy sweetness to creamy, toasty or nutty. There is a wide variation in green teas depending on the terroir of the growing region, processing methods and the particular cultivar used.
Teahouse 278’s selection of green tea comes from regions in China with deep-rooted traditions of manual green tea processing. Green tea production in China is concentrated along the Southeastern coast, primarily Zhejiang, Anhui and Fujian provinces. In many green tea farms harvesting continues throughout the year, however the highest quality tea come from the early spring harvest. Clean, subtle and fresh, highly anticipated tea made from an early spring harvest is a wonderful welcome to the season itself.
Each region has its own traditional styles of green tea craftsmanship. This even varies within a particular region even down to the villages and individual tea makers. The basic task confronting the green tea master is to prevent the tea plant’s natural enzymes from oxidizing the leaf. This is accomplished by applying heat to the leaf immediately after picking. This breaks down the enzymes responsible for oxidation. Typically this is done by roasting, steaming, or wok firing. The type and manner of heating the tea and the shaping and finishing method contributes to each tea’s unique appearance, aroma, and taste.
Attributes of the highest quality green teas are described as light, sweet and smooth. When purchasing green teas, we advise customers to avoid green teas that are described in terms of “strong” and “bold”.
Of all of the tea types, time of harvest probably is most critical for green tea. Spring teas are inherently lighter and smoother, while later harvest teas are stronger and may lose the sweetness of spring.
Fine Green Tea is often categorized according to the timing of the harvest with respect to the April 5 Qing Ming festival. This is a very important holiday for China as it marks a period of honoring one’s anscestors. It comes on the 104th day following the Winter Solstice and has become a public holiday in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. This date happens to be the best time to harvest green tea. Lasting for about two weeks most of the high quality green tea is harvested during this time. Tea produced during this period is known as ‘Ming Qian’ Tea harvested during this period is believed to contain the most concentrated flavor because of the flavor producing compounds that have been developing during the Winter. ‘Yu Qian” or pre-rain tea is picked after the Qing Ming Festival but before the onset of the Spring rains, marked by the Guyu Festival, an agricultural holiday that celebrates the spring rains. Tea picked after the spring rains is believed to be tough and less-flavorful and are not as desirable as Ming Qian or Yu Qian Teas.
Oolong teas are made from leaves that have been partially oxidized. In other words, their oxidation state lies between green tea and black tea. As a result of the partial enzymatic oxidation, there is a broad range of flavors and aromas. Teahouse 278 presents oolong tea from three traditional oolong-producing regions, the Wuyi Mountains in Northern Fujian and the Anxi region of Southern Fujian Province, China and from the high mountains of Taiwan.
Puerhs are aged and fermented teas from a variety of tea trees native to China’s southwestern Yunnan province. Unlike other teas that undergo oxidation, this type of tea is actually fermented by slow microbial activity as the tea ages. Puerh may be both loose leaf and pressed cake form. There are two types of Puerh: raw and cooked (Sheng and Shou). Each has its own method of production, though they both begin their journey in the same way. Picked leaves are first processed as a green tea: plucked, roasted, and left to dry in the sun. This is known as Mao cha. Sheng leaves are then left alone to age, while the leaves of shou Puerhs are gathered into large piles, where they sit for several months. Heat generated in the piles accelerates fermentation. Both types may be kept loose or pressed into cakes, bricks, or other shapes. As “living” teas, storage environment impacts flavor and rate of aging. Teahouse 278 serves dry-aged Puerhs to ensure complexity and sweetness. The nature of Puerh teas and the fermentation they undergo lend an inevitable earthiness of aroma. The taste of a good Puerh is very complex. The quality of a Puerh is determined by the base tea, its age and how and where it has been stored. Puerhs must be stored on shelves, off the floor and away from walls. Puerh teas stored in this manner should be quite sweet and smooth. The older the tea, the smoother and sweeter the flavor. Puerh should be stored in a very dry environment; if done properly the tea will retain every bit of complexity. There should be a decent hui gan (throat taste).
Scented teas have delighted tea drinkers since the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), a time when flowers and fruits dominated both tea and teacup. Jasmine, rose, Osman thus, lychee are some of the most well known and traditional types and may use white, green, oolong, or black teas as a base. Of these, Jasmine is the most popular and widely recognized. Scented teas are often paired with bold tasting foods, as their fragrances are usually quite pronounced. The best grades are scented with the blossoms from fields or orchards near the tea gardens and use high quality teas as their base.
Premium scented teas are created by laying batches of flower blossoms, fruit rind or other fragrant substances onto tealeaves. Flower blossoms may be mixed directly into piles of tealeaves, or fruit rinds may be placed in racks above the leaves so that their essential oils may drip onto them. They are removed and replaced with fresh batches, a process repeated over the course of several days.
A longer scenting process results in a stronger fragrance which lasts through more infusions.
From early to mid-Spring harvests our White teas produce infusions of exceptional smoothness with clarity of flavor and aroma. The term “white tea” comes from the silvery downy fur that appears on the young leaf buds of the Da Bai (Big White) tea plant. Native to Northern Fujian, Da Bai is a cultivar distinct from those generally used to make green, black or oolong teas. To be considered a true white tea, the varietal used must be from the Da Bai tea plant.
Because of their popularity, white teas are grown in regions outside of Northern Fujian, including Yunnan and Zhejiang, but tea experts believe that the best white teas still come from Northern Fujian, where their production can be traced back to the 12th century. Traditionally the least processed of all tea types, white teas were customarily plucked, gently withered and then sun dried. The slow process dried the leaves, but allowed slight oxidation to occur.
Today this process, called “fading,” is replicated in a humidity and temperature controlled room. Fading develops creaminess and the floral aromatics, and a gentle baking locks in those characteristics. Only Da Bai leaves that have undergone “fading” can be considered a true white tea.
Silver Needle is the highest grade of white tea and consists only of unopened tea buds. White tea quality is determined by when it’s harvested and how fresh the tealeaf is. Earlier harvest times yield younger leaves. The higher-grade white teas have a higher relative concentration of bud to leaf, as buds produce smoother infusions.
Terroir is a vital determinant of white tea quality. White tea grown and crafted in Fujian produces the most complex and delicious results. So there’s a reason why most commercial grade white teas are flavored -most are astringent when unaltered, lacking the freshness and quality to produce the natural floral aroma, creaminess and sweetness of a good quality white tea.