As a child I never really enjoyed tea, but then again I never really enjoyed beer, wine or parsnips either, and these days I’m a confirmed fan of all three. Now I can do without almost anything else, but not tea. Taking an inventory of all the different teas in my kitchen was a testament to my addiction. Regular teabags, earl grey teabags, loose leaf jasmine green, Genmeicha rice & green tea, Pura, Buddha Balls, Oolong, Gunpowder Green, Clipper English breakfast, Sri Lankan Ceylon – all different and all suited to different occasions.
I would find it difficult to get through a whole day with out tea in one form or another. When I need a pickup a strong cuppa the colour of London brick, all malty and tannic, when I need cleansing, the Buddha balls – premium white jasmine tea – are perfect, clear, light and gently aromatic. To go with a strong flavoured fish dish, a grassy, nutty Genmeicha hits the spot perfectly. Sometimes I just need the earthy, musty wooden flavour of the Pura (all not that often though).
The flavour or tea, like that of wine (or cheese, beer and most other great food), is influenced by Terroir. Tea from Darjeeling in North-East India is as distinct in flavour as a Dragon Well (Longjian) tea from Hangzhou. In addition to the regional variation, the oxidisation process imparts different flavours. Oxidisation occurs as the teas dry and the more they oxidise, the more tannins they release. White tea is the least oxidised and the most delicate and grassy in flavour, then green, oolong and black tea – which is the strongest and most commonly drunk in the West.
Some teas are mixed with floral aromatics such as Jasmine blossoms, mixed with fresh mint or nutty roasted brown rice grains. Tea takes on flavours and smells easily, but still keeps its underlying ‘teaness’.