International Tea Day: How To Choose Your Tea
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The history of tea is rich and complex, spanning thousands of years and multiple cultures. In India, tea holds a special place in the country’s history, economy, and culture. Tea has a fascinating history in India, deeply intertwined with colonialism, trade, and cultural adaptation. While tea is native to China, its cultivation in India began during the British colonial era. It is said to have been brought here in the early 19th century by Robert Bruce, a British explorer who discovered indigenous tea plants growing wild in the Assam region of northeastern India.

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In the early days in China and Japan tea was used for its medicinal properties. Over the years it became an intrinsic part of these cultures leading to elaborate tea ceremonies and rituals in both cultures. In the Islamic world in countries such as Morocco, Turkey, and Iran where tea reached via the Silk Road trade routes it became popular as a drink served as an alternative to alcohol.

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In Europe, while tea initially remained a luxury item enjoyed by the aristocracy it slowly became an important commodity for trade. The tradition of afternoon tea, often referred to as "high tea" has its roots in Britain and this then evolved and has been embraced across Europe

India boasts a diverse tea culture, with various regional specialties and preparation methods. Chai stalls are a common sight across cities and towns, serving as social hubs for people of all backgrounds. Darjeeling, Assam, and Nilgiri teas have received Geographical Indication (GI) status, highlighting their unique origin and quality.

Understanding Different Types of Tea

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Whether you're seeking a morning boost, a midday refreshment, or an evening relaxed routine, there's tea for every occasion. All true tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant and is categorised mainly into five types, depending on the processing method:

Green Tea: Light, fresh, grassy. Known to be high in antioxidants.

Refreshing and revitalising, green tea is perfect for a midday pick-me-up. The Matcha tea which is growing increasingly popular is believed to provide a sustained energy boost.

Popular Varieties: Sencha, Matcha, Gyokuro

Black Tea: Bold, robust, malty. High in caffeine.

The caffeine helps you kick start the day, making black tea a popular choice to begin the day with.

Popular Varieties: Assam, Darjeeling, Earl Grey

Oolong Tea: Ranges from floral and fruity to rich and toasty

Offers a balance between the richness of black tea and the freshness of green tea. Ideal for relaxing and unwinding during a busy day.

Popular Varieties: Tie Guan Yin, Da Hong Pao

White Tea: Mild, delicate, sweet, subtle. Is low on caffeine and high on antioxidants. Considered a luxury tea, white tea is perfect for special occasions or moments of indulgence.

Popular Varieties: Silver Needle, White Peony

If you prefer the taste of black or green tea but want to avoid caffeine, opt for decaffeinated varieties. Decaf black tea and green tea are available in various flavours.

Apart from these five types of tea, there is a range of herbal teas growing in popularity as well. Naturally caffeine-free and soothing, herbal teas are perfect for winding down in the evening. The floral Chamomile tea is believed to have a calming effect and aids sleep. Peppermint tea is cool and refreshing, Rooibos is caffeine-free and rich in antioxidants and Hibiscus tea is floral and is believed to help in digestion. Teas are also blended with other flavours and ingredients, creating unique profiles. For example, Earl Grey is black tea flavoured with citrus.

How to check the quality of tea

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While not everyone is a tea connoisseur, there are a few things you can keep in mind to check quality before you buy tea.

  1. Look for whole, intact leaves or buds. Avoid teas with excessive broken or crushed leaves.
  2. Check for consistency in leaf size and colour. High-quality teas often have uniformity in appearance.
  3. Avoid teas with dull or faded colours, which may indicate poor quality or age.
  4. Gently sniff the dry leaves to assess the aroma. High-quality teas typically have a fresh, fragrant aroma that reflects the tea's flavour profile.
  5. Consider the tea's origin which can influence its flavour, aroma, and overall quality. Teas from renowned tea-producing regions may command higher prices due to their superior quality and unique characteristics.

Purchasing sample packs or visiting a tea shop to try different types before committing to a larger quantity, maybe a good idea. Follow the recommended brewing instructions for each type of tea to ensure the best flavour. This includes water temperature, steeping time, and the amount of tea used. Local markets often have unique and fresh options, including local blends and herbal teas.