Vail Daily column: Tea – old, pure and perfect
Beans and Leaves
Vail, CO Colorado
In our last article, we reviewed the history of tea in America, as well as the differences between black and white teas. Let’s now take a look at green and oolong teas.
Green teas have received notoriety recently because of the health benefits the antioxidants bring to the cup. Many of the studies on the health benefits of tea have been done Japan, a country where people primarily drink green teas. A recent study in France discovered that there are equal concentrations of antioxidants in black tea as there are in green tea. The problem is that once you put milk and sugar in the tea, the antioxidant value is destroyed.
What makes a green tea green is the process of oxidation prevention. The leaves are plucked in a similar method as black tea, using just the young supple two leaves and a bud. Once the leaves arrive at the factory, it undergoes a process to kill the enzymes responsible for oxidation. In China the leaves are pan fried in a large wok. The tea leaves are gently tossed by hand to approximately 100 degrees celsius. Care is taken not to cook the leaf, which takes a master’s touch. At this point the leaves become soft and pliable, ready for rolling or pressing into different shapes and dried. Most of the pan-fried teas have a slight yellow hew. In Japan the leaves are lightly steamed to achieve this process and as a result have a beautiful deep jade color.
The pouchong and oolong categories are diverse and complex. They are considered partially oxidized and fall between green and black teas, with degrees of oxidation ranging from 10 to 60 percent. The pouchong teas are around the 10 percent mark and are their own special category. The word “pouchong” or “Bao Zhong” literally translates to paper wrapped. Farmer’s would wrap the teas in paper packets to preserve the aroma and freshness. The tea is highly floral and is a light green color.
Oolong teas have a history dating back to the Ming Dynasty. Today both China and Taiwan have perfected this process and many other tea regions around the world jealously try to emulate its methods. The more we learn about oolong, the more intriguing the category becomes. With such an extreme range of oxidation comes a diverse range of flavors. The greener side of the oolongs is referred to as jade, which represents the color of the sweet floral jade liquor. The more oxidized oolongs are referred to as amber oolongs, describing the color in the cup. The most famous and prized of all the amber varieties is the “Oriental Beauty” Bai hao from Hsinchu County in Taiwan. Bai Hao translated means white tip. This refers to the downy underside of the shoots and leaf. What makes this tea so special is the relationship the plants have with a small aphid, the green leaf hopper. At a certain point in the spring when the plants are flush with the magnificent downy buds, the gardens are overrun by this aphid. The aphid teases the plant by nibbling on the leaf, resulting in the plant going into a state of remission and a living oxidation. This retards any growth for approximately two weeks. This causes a unique positive flavor change. The harvesting only takes about 15 days and is very labor intensive. It takes 1,500 to 2,000 leaf and bud sets to create a single pound of the prized tea. The leave bud sets undergo about 60 percent oxidation, producing a tea with peach and honeysuckle flavors, truly a tea unto its own.
Our fascination with tea has taken us around the world just to bring this storied leaf to your cup and help you take a moment to stop, reflect and recharge.
Chris Chantler and Craig Arseneau own Vail Mountain Coffee and Tea Co. in Minturn. For more information visit http://www.vailcoffee.com.
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