Admiring the subtle-teas |

Admiring the subtle-teas

Shauna Farnell
Bret Hartman/Vail DailyAn wide selection a tea sit out on display Thursday during a tea seminar at the Mariott in Vail. The seminar kicked off the Taste of Vail.

The reality of how much tea means to some people came to light when Vail Mountain Coffee & Tea CO. manager Chris Chantler pointed out how tea, since its alleged emergence in ancient China close to 5,000 years ago, has been something that “countries have been fought and lost over.”Try distinguishing the subtleties of tea oddly exuding a string of steam out of a wine glass, and you can really grasp the nuances, or at any rate, see how the subtleties of tea leaves can be admired in the same way that grapes are by wine enthusiasts.

Chantler, whose interest in tea developed after growing up in southeast Asia, noted the difference between “real” tea and that which most of us are familiar with.Take, for example, a bag of Lipton or Celestial Seasonings. We put it in a mug, pour boiling water over it and voila … Tea, right?”It’s like comparing apple juice to wine,” Chantler said. “It’s made from apples and they put it in a wine bottle. It looks like wine, but it’s not. You drink it the same way. Take Celestial Seasonings; that company was picking different herbs and roots from around the Rocky Mountains. They’re designed for simple infusions. It’s a great company, but it’s really not tea. Tea is made from the tea plant. That’s the major distinction.”During Chantler’s tea seminar Friday for the Taste of Vail, he would have probably classified the teas made by a company like Celestial Seasonings under the category of “herbal infusions: a blend of herbs, spices, bark, roots and branches of plants.”However, when it comes to “real” tea made from the tea plant, also known as Camellia sinensis, there are white teas, green and Pouchong teas, Oolongs and black teas. And, he said, unless you aim to “cook the leaves” of your tea, you should never brew tea with boiling water. According to legend, tea was discovered by an ancient Chinese emperor as he was drinking a glass of warm water while sitting under a tree on the outskirts of his kingdom, and a dried leaf from a nearby tea plant floated into his cup and he gave it a try and a new love was born.

Is that peach or cedar?Much like wines, the distinguishing tea-drinking palate can identify flavors and aromas of different fruits and wood in every kind of tea.White teas are the most subtle and, according to Chantler, used to be extremely rare. They can only be made from the young shoots of the tea plant.”They were only manufactured in a special valley in China for the emperor from very young shoots,” he said. “Now, in Darjeeling, (India), in other tea areas – Sri Lanka – people have started to pluck the white, downy shoots. It’s a bit of a trade-off just taking the shoots. They’re not as rare as they used to be, but highly prized.”White teas have very little caffeine and contain high levels of antioxidants.

Green teas are made from leaves that are not oxidized, which gives them an entirely different flavor from black teas, which are made from leaves which have undergone 100-percent oxidation. Green tea leaves are often flat and, for a time, green tea was the only kind of tea consumed throughout Europe. Also its for their health benefits and high levels of antioxidants, green tea, Chantler said, shouldn’t be brewed for more than 3 minutes or with water that is too hot, it “turns into spinach water.”Oolong is a mixture between black and green teas and is made from leaves that are partially oxidized. Oolong tea can vary in color from yellowish-green to light amber and lacks the overpowering strength of flavor of most black teas, but has a bolder flavor than most green teas.Black teas are made from leaves that are fully oxidized and Chantler said are the only ones he would mix with milk. Commonly drunk in the United Kingdom, Chantler said the typical English black tea is made from leaves that are severely boiled in water and “in order to drink the tea after you’ve destroyed it, you have to put in milk and sugar.”The idea of tea bags at all, he said, defies the purpose of taking the time to brew and enjoy tea.”Tea bagging was strictly designed to make tea a convenience item,” he said. “There are a lot of restaurants I’ve convinced to throw away their tea bags and boil their own tea.”Staff Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or

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