There is nothing like a hot cup of tea – from London to Yunan, this popular beverage has captivated drinkers for hundreds of years. Pour yourself a cup and dive into the world of tea.
As far as drinks go, it can be hard to find something as complex, delicious and popular as tea. Born from the humble Camellia sinensis plant, thousands of flavor profiles and endless combinations of teas arise. There are five basic categories of tea – white, green, black, oolong and pu-erh. These categories come from different processing methods of the leaves and impart different characteristics into the tea. There are also tisanes, herbal blends like rooibos, and the elusive yellow tea.
“Tea is like wine, it takes on the flavor of the environment it grows in..it really takes experience to pick out the different characteristics and it helps to have someone who can explain it to you,” said Jordan Essey, the manager of Chado Tea Room in Old Pasadena.
Essey explains that the quality of tea varies greatly. Loose leaf teas are made from leaves picked at the top of the plant while more stringent leaves are processed into tea bags. The difference in taste between bagged and loose tea is like the difference between fast food and a homecooked meal – one is consumed and the other is savored.
“This is where it becomes more of a connoisseur’s drink,” explained Essey.
With practice, drinkers are able to determine the region and type of tea in blind taste tests – much like wine. Purists also follow particular estates and have dedicated tea tools and pots to enhance flavor characteristics of the tea.
But enjoying tea doesn’t require an encyclopedic knowledge. Essey has some tips for beginners as well as seasoned advice from well-steeped pros.
“Start with one region [and type] of tea then branch out from there – you’ll be able to taste the difference in a China black versus an Assam black,” he said.
Loose tea should be stored in a cool, dry place and kept out of direct sunlight. After eight months to a year, tea becomes bland but it rarely goes bad when stored correctly, explained Essey.
As for the tools of the trade, Essey recommends a tea sock made from unbleached cotton or a Finum tea basket. Both of these implements allow the tea to swirl around as it brews and infuse the water with flavor.
As for additions like lemon, honey and milk, Essey has a few words of caution. He suggests that milk only be used in tea processed in the crush-tear-curl way, which yields a small, flavorful balls of tea. Chado’s Mauritius is one of these teas and its aromatic vanilla flavor benefits from a splash of milk. “Out of the 410 teas we have today, I would say only about four of them ‘need’ milk,” said Essey. He adds that lemon is best used to compliment crisp teas like Ceylon. “Sugar should be considered like salt to food – use it to enhance not overpower the flavors,” he said.
As a closing thought, Essey explains that tea can also be used in cooking and Chado’ egg salad sandwich and chicken are prepared with smoky lapsang souchong tea. He has also made a seven-course meal prepared with tea and encourages people to get creative with their leaves.
“Tea is the beverage with the most to offer and one of the healthiest – it expands your palate, : said Essey. And nothing tastes better on a chilly morning or relaxing afternoon.
Chado Tea Room is located at 79 North Raymond Avenue, Pasadena. Call (626) 431-2832 or visit www.chadotea.com for more details.