What Is Tea?


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Tea is the second-most consumed beverage in the entire world, second only to water. Black, green, white, oolong and pu-erh tea all comes form the same plant: Camellia sinensis and a variety known as Camellia assamica. Camellia sinensis is used for most Chinese, Formosan and Japanese teas (but not Pu-erh); and the clonal Camellia assamica is used in most Indian and other teas (but not Darjeeling). Camellia sinensis and Camellia assamica are now found in many regions throughout the world. Many people (mistakenly) call herbal blends of fruits, herbs and spices “tea,” but if there’s no camellia sinensis or Camellia assamica found in it, then it is actually a tisane.

A New Leaf carries many different tisanes, include Egyptian camomile, flavored rooibos and fruit blends such as Seventh Street Colada and Garden City Blend.

How Are Teas Grown?

Tea plants are propagated from both seed and cuttings; it can take anywhere from four to 12 years for a tea plant to bear seed, and about three years before a new plant is ready for harvesting. Temperate climates (zone 8 or warmer) are required, as is at least 50 inches of rainfall a year and acidic soil.

Only the top one to two inches of the mature plant are picked. These buds and leaves are called flushes. Tea plants typically  grow a new flush every seven to 15 days during the growing season, and leaves that are slow in development tend to produce better-flavored teas. A tea plant can grow up to 52 feet tall  if left undisturbed, but cultivated plants are pruned to waist height for ease of harvesting.

Camellia sinensis and Camellia assamica are grown in small family gardens to large estates that can be thousands of acres large. Many fine teas are grown at high elevations and on steep slopes. Great teas are often plucked by hand by skilled workers. Teas which are processed in the traditional fashion are called Orthodox teas and typically contain only the top two tender leaves and an unopened leaf bud, and blended to make the thousands of varieties of tea we know and love today.

Another production process is known as CTC (crush-tear-curl). These teas may or may not be plucked by hand, but are typically processed by machine (unorthodox production). CTC production uses a leaf shredder which grinds the leaves (crushing, tearing and curling) into fine pieces, then rolls them into little balls. The result can resemble large coffee grinds. These CTC teas will brew very quickly and produce and a bold, powerful cup of tea. CTC is used primarily in the tea bag industry and  in India to create Masala Chai blends.

Coming Up: Tea Production – How Leaves Become Precious Teas


Green Tea-tasting Event


A personal tea-tasting event is great event for a night out, reminiscent of wine tastings.

At our May tasting event, A New Leaf guests tasted six green teas: Jasmine Pearls, Lucky Dragon Hyson, Hojicha, Sencha Kakagawa, Formosa Gunpowder and Liquid Jade (green and white tea blend). We provided tea-tasting sheets with a history of each tea as well a chart to note ideas about the dry leaf, the infused leaf, and the liquor. We discussed the history of tea in general, and got a feel for our guests’ tea knowledge.  Tea sandwiches and pastries/snacks were provided to accentuate the flavor of the particular type of teas we tasted. 

There is a complete food science behind taste and tea; there are certain foods that muddle the taste of certain teas, so careful attention is used when selecting pairing foods. I had the pleasure of attending a workshop with Dr. Virginia Utermohlen and Chef Renèe Senne from Pairteas.com at the World Tea East event last fall and got a taste of the science behind pairing teas.

Our tasters used professional tea-tasting cups (pictured above). We examined the dry, loose leaves and felt and smelled them prior to steeping. Water at the proper temperature for green tea was poured onto the tea leaves and the leaves were steeped for three minutes. During this steep time, we discussed our thoughts on the dry leaf scent and appearance.

Once the agony of the leaf was complete, the tea was poured into the tasting cups. Before the lid was removed, we got an idea for the scent of the infused leaves and noted our thoughts once again. It can sometimes be very surprising to new tea tasters that the scent of the tea can change drastically once the leaf is steeped! The infused leaves were set on the lid, and examined before the tasting itself took place.

We then sipped the tea and were encouraged to move the tea over our entire palates and mouths for smooth and consistent tasting. Once again, all of our impressions of the taste of the teas were noted for later comparison.

Professional tea tasting is done without any additives such as sugar, milk or other. The purpose of the tasting is to distinguish the elements of taste and smell.

Throughout the event, we snacked on salty, savory foods and conducted our own experiment of what happened to green tea with the addition of a fat (butter cookie). The results surprised some, and easily explained away the reason why milk is typically not added to green tea.

Our range of words used to describe the dry leaf, wet leaf, and liquor ran the gamut, from, “vegetal,” “woody,” “tobacco-like,” “musty,” “grassy,” “bourbon,” “acidic,” “smooth,” “perfumey,” and many others.

Events such as these encourage discussion, and allow us to relax with friends (and make new ones!) while enjoying some high-quality teas and carefully paired foods.

Look for an upcoming oolong tasting from A New Leaf in June!




Why Loose Tea?

ImageLoose-leaf teas are typically whole, unbroken leaves. The tea that is found inside many retail bulk teabags are lower-grade teas, such as dust and fannings. Tea dust and fannings are the smallest pieces of broken tea leaves that fall to the bottom of the sifting pile, so they have a larger surface area than whole leaves. A larger surface area means more opportunities for the essential oils (what makes tea flavorful and aromatic) to evaporate, leaving the tea dull and stale. Whole loose-leaf tea leaves retain the essential oils, aroma, and flavors and are eager to share them upon steeping.

Some teabags are made with whole-leaf tea. However, whole-leaf teabags are the exception rather than the rule.

Whole tea leaves love room for expansion, and have plenty of room to absorb water and expand as they infuse. This allows the water to flow through the leaves and extract a wide range of vitamins, minerals, flavors and aromas from the leaves.

Loose-leaf tea is great for the environment and is more sustainable than bagged tea; when using an infuser, or allowing the leaves to steep loose in a pot, there are essentially no paper products or other materials wasted in preparing a loose-leaf tea.

Additionally, the cost per serving of loose-leaf tea is better than bagged tea. With loose leaf tea comes a higher value product with low cost. Loose-leaf tea can be re-steeped more times than a single tea bag, and can hold flavor longer.

Many people think that loose-leaf tea is overwhelming at first, but with the help of A New Leaf staff, we can show you that minimal extra steps in steeping loose-leaf tea is certainly worth it when you experience the difference in taste and reap the health benefits.What most people don’t realize is that the set up time is actually the same as bagged tea. With just about the same amount of time, you can enjoy an even better cup of tea.