Tea is also a healthy beverage with a good dose of anti-oxidants and polyphenols in each cup
After water, tea is considered the most popular beverage in the world. Loved worldwide for its stimulating and refreshing features, tea is also a healthy beverage with a good dose of anti-oxidants and polyphenols in each cup. Tea comes from a plant called ‘Camelia Sinensis’, and all the variety of true teas come from the same plant. Tea originated from China, and it is believed that the usage of tea leaves to prepare a hot beverage started as a happy accident in 2737 BC when leaves fell into the boiling pot of water being prepared for the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung; needless to say, that the emperor liked the resultant beverage, and the rest is History.
After China, India is the second largest producer of teas in the world, with Assam, Darjeeling, Nilgiris, and Kangra being the prominent tea-growing regions in India. Indian teas have been a preferred choice for people the world over, and although Indians are a large consumer of teas, roughly 10% of the world’s tea export is done by India.
Right from tea cultivation to its processing and later on, tea brewing is a fine art. Teas are broadly classified based on how it is processed, which gives the produce from the plant ’Camelia Sinensis’ it's identity.
On the scale of tea processing, white tea is the least processed of all tea varieties, thereby maintaining the tea’s natural flavour. Post-plucking, the tea leaves are immediately sun-dried, and that’s all the processing a white tea needs. White tea carries a delicate and subtle flavour and its pale amber colour. White tea is one of the healthiest teas, rich in Antioxidants and anti-ageing properties. Sipping on White tea like a silver needle is a connoisseur’s delight.
One of the most popular teas in the world, Green Tea, receives minimal processing avoiding any oxidation. Tea leaves are withered, dried, rolled, and packed for distribution. High in antioxidants and Polyphenols, green tea is considered one of the healthiest beverages., with earthy flavours and pale golden colour.
Next on the scale of processing is the semi-oxidised Oolong tea. A flavourful Oolong is fermented for a short period, and the percentage of caffeine in an Oolong tea is higher than in green and white tea. Oolong's flavour largely depends on its growth and processing region and may range from a floral to a woody finish on the palate. Owing to increased caffeine, as well as substantial antioxidants, Oolong is a healthy as well as stimulating beverage.
The most popular and widely consumed tea in the world is Black Tea. Black tea is produced following a series of processing steps, including withering, rolling and fermentation to attain the oxidised tea with a strong flavour and its characteristic stimulating feature. A popular method of CTC (Crush – Tear – Curl) is often used for producing Black tea. A Large quantity of Black tea is produced and consumed in India; the Indian Masala chai, where tea leaves are boiled along with spices like cardamom, ginger, black pepper, cinnamon, clove etc., with the addition of hot milk, uses Black tea for its caffeinated solid character and results in a delicious and aromatic hot beverage.
A true tea connoisseur, however, would advise enjoying the tea without milk, brewing it by steeping leaves in pre-boiled water, however not very hot, to avoid burning the tea leaves and with it the flavour. Although brewing time for a tea depends on the tea one is drinking, an ideal time varies from 3 to 5 minutes, depending on how light or strong you prefer. Certain delicate teas may require less brew time, especially for good-quality green or white tea. Please do not leave it on a boil like a masala chai in preparation, and use the steep and brew method to attain the best flavour of tea in the resulting hot beverage.
For the Masala Chai lovers, though, there is nothing better than cooking the tea with herbs and spices, ginger and milk, waiting for a few good rolling boils, and enjoying sipping it out of an earthenware ‘Kulhad’. Like the cultivation and processing of teas, the preparation and tea-drinking style requires a specialised way for specific teas. Knowing and trying it out the way it is done will let you enjoy its full flavour and make you fall in love with this fantastic and popular hot beverage of the world, Tea.
Sidharth Bhan Gupta, Founder of 361 Degrees Hospitality, is a Hospitality / Food and Beverage / Restaurant Consultant, Travelling across India on a Cultural and Culinary Exploration.