The World of Tea
The most popular beverage in the world
Tea is the most drunk beverage (after water) in the world. Cultivated in China since ancient times, it spread to the Far East through Buddhist cultures, notably in Japan and Korea. Portuguese and Dutch merchants brought it to Europe in the 17th century, and Europeans brought it to their Asian colonies in the 19th century - the English in India, the French in Indochina, the Dutch in Indonesia.
The main producing countries
Today, the main producing countries are China, Taiwan (Formosa), India, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Japan, Vietnam, Nepal, Kenya and Tanzania.
A single plant, hundreds of different teas
All the teas come from a single evergreen shrub species grown in two varieties: Camellia sinensis Assamica (Assam) and Camellia sinensis sinensis (Yunnan). Yet there is an amazing variety of teas, which can be distinguished by their origin, cultivation, harvesting and post-harvest processing. Like wine, the nature of the soil (soil quality, exposure, climate, altitude) is a first classification criterion. The type of harvest plays a decisive role. It is the buds and the youngest leaves (small and light green) that give the most desired teas and it is therefore the most selective plucking (bud + one leaf, bud + two leaves, etc.) that will give the "grands crus" that the experts are striving for. It goes without saying that this quality can only be obtained by hand picking.
Mechanised plantation in Japan
Hand picking in Sri Lanka
The main tea families
Post-harvest treatment is also essential to distinguish teas : use of whole leaves or broken or crushed leaves, wilting, drying, oxidation, fermentation. This is how we distinguish several major tea families :
- Green teas. Non-oxidised teas. The leaves, after shrivelling, are heated at a high temperature in order to neutralise the enzymes responsible for oxidation.
- Black teasOxidised teas. They are called red teas in China because of the colour of the infusion whereas Westerners retain the colour of the leaves. After shrivelling and rolling (rolling breaks the cells, releasing the enzymes that will allow fermentation), the leaves are put to rest in a warm, humid room for a few hours for oxidation, then dried at high temperature to stop fermentation.
- White teasLike green teas, they are little processed and undergo only slight oxidation, but neither rolling nor roasting. They are generally high quality teas from very selective picking.
- OolongOolong or Wulong tea is a type of tea with incomplete oxidation, halfway between green tea, which is not oxidised, and black tea which is completely oxidised. The word Oolong means black dragon and has its origin in a Chinese legend where a planter saw a black dragon emerge from a tea plant whose leaves revealed the woody notes of chestnut and hazelnut of Oolong. This tea is also named after the colour of its infusion: blue tea. It originates from the Fujian region of mainland China and Taiwan.
- Pu'ErhPu-erh is a post-fermented tea that owes its name to the town of Pu'er, in the Chinese province of Yunnan. Pu'er has been for a long time an important commercial center on the ancient Tea and Horse Route linking Yunnan to Tibet. The tea produced in this region was compressed so that it could be more easily transported by caravans to Tibet. Pu'ehr improves over time and, like wine, its value increases with age.
A world to discover
Like wine, the world of tea has its own vocabulary and rituals, which can be learned with curiosity and patience. Respectful preparation (the right teapot for the right tea, the right temperature and infusion time) is the first rule to follow. Like oenologists, tea tasting professionals use a very extensive vocabulary to judge the quality of the leaves, the colour of the liquor and the taste properties of the tea. A whole world to discover... If you are a beginner, you may hesitate to enter le Cercle du Thé. Don't hesitate : you will always find warmth and advice. Tea is a journey to the world and to each other!