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How to Select and Brew Tea

According to many food trend reports this is going to be the year that tea takes the country by storm. In addition to being a hot or cold drink tea is finding its way into desserts and entrees as a flavoring. I think its safe to say there hasnt been this much buzz about the beverage since the Boston Tea Party.

In addition to the wonderful flavor of tea, this drink has health benefits too. Tea contains vitamins, minerals, folate, potassium, magnesium and manganese. A cup of tea is reported to improve concentration and reduce stress*. Green tea is a rich source for EGCG, a powerful antioxident.

Tea leaves are the product of the shrub Camellia sinensis, a cousin to the popular flowering shrubs C. sasanqua and C. japonica that grace many southern gardens. Similar to other edibles, growing conditions such as climate and soil influence the caliber of tea. However, unlike a tomato or sprig of rosemary the flavor of tea is greatly determined by oxidation. Oxidation occurs when the leaves degenerate after picking and is controlled with heat. Applying heat to the leaves after harvest stops the oxidation. Im telling you all this because a teas class is indicated by the amount of oxidation green teas are not oxidized and black teas are fully oxidized.

Types of Tea

There are four basic tea families based on oxidation: white, green, oolong and black. Each of these teas has unique tastes and brewing styles.

White Tea
The lightest and sweetest of the groups, white tea leaves are harvested in spring and air dried very slowly at room temperature. The result is a pale drink with a delicate, honeyed flavor.

Green Tea
Leaves for green teas are steamed or heated immediately after picking to stop oxidation. This retains the green color of the leaves and imparts a vegetal fragrance and taste. These teas have a light body and refreshing flavor. Green tea is an excellent choice for an afternoon pick-me-up, but keep in mind that it does have caffeine.

Oolong
Oolong teas are an intermediate brew that is deeper than a green tea, but not as robust as a black. During processing the leaves are lightly bruised to release the enzymes that cause oxidation and then roasted. The flavor of oolongs is quite variable depending on the degree of oxidation and the amount of roasting.

Black
Black tea is fully oxidized and is the most common tea that we drink in the States. This full-bodied brew is perfect for milk and sugar if you are so inclined. Black tea is reported to lower blood pressure.**

Brewing and Storing Tea

The key to brewing tea is knowing the correct water temperature and infusion time. The general rule of thumb on water temperature is the darker the color of the tea leaves, the hotter the water. A reputable merchant will supply you with brewing instructions for the teas you purchase.

Store tea at room temperature in an airtight, opaque container. When you see all the options that are available it becomes easy to go overboard, but I like to purchase tea in small quantities to ensure the leaves are fresh every time I make a cup. A three month supply is usually just about right for me.

Garden in a Cup: Tea Selectings from Elmwood Inn Fine Teas

Bruce Richardson is a tea master, writer and 20 year champion of the American tea renaissance. I asked him to suggest a few blends from his shop Elmwood Inn Fine Teas. He selected five that are particularly appealing to those of us with a fondness for the garden.

Rose White Tea from Elmwood Inn Rose White Tea
Mixed with rose petals and infused with a hint of cherry this light tea is excellent hot or iced.
Buy Rose White Tea from Elmwood Inn Fine Teas
Temple Garden Tea from Elmwood Inn Temple Garden Ayurvedic Herbs and Green Tea
A blend of green tea, spices, herbs and rose buds make this tea beautiful, fragrant and delicious.
Buy Temple Garden Tea from Elmwood Inn Fine Teas
Black Dragon Tea from Elmwood Inn Black Dragon Oolong Tea
This tea is an aromatic, light-bodied oolong with an earthy flavor. You can infuse the same leaves several times. Add an additional minute of brewing time to each subsequent infusion.
Buy Black Dragon Oolong Tea from Elmwood Inn Fine Teas
Kentucky Blend Tea from Elmwood Inn Kentucky Blend Black Tea
A great choice for breakfast or any time you need an energy boost. Add a drop of cream and sugar to this robust blend of China black tea for relaxing cup of comfort.
Buy Kentucky Blend Tea from Elmwood Inn Fine Teas
Blueberry Fruit Infusion from Elmwood Inn Blueberry Fruit Infusion
This caffeine-free blend of blueberries, apples, raisins and black currents it tasti-licious sand full of antioxidents. Its good hot or cold.
Buy Blueberry Infusion Tea from Elmwood Inn Fine Teas

Teapots and Tea Infusers

Part of the fun in pursuing the perfect cup of tea is the gadgetry. I have favorite cups and am always on the hunt for infusers and teapots to add to my collection devices. Here are a few from Elmwood Inn Fine Teas that I think are particularly interesting.

Teapots, Tea Infusers and Tea Books
  1. 40 Ounce Ceramic Teapot with a Stainless Steel Infuser - Just what you need when company comes calling or for brewing iced tea! The infuser fits into the top of the pot and holds the tea leaves. Easy clean up and no more leaves clogging the spout. $34.95
  2. Teaze Infuser Steep the tea and then dispense it into a cup. This is an office essential. $22.95
  3. 13 Ounce Stump Teapot with Infuser A great little teapot for a quick cup of tea in the afternoon. $26.95
  4. Tea Steep and Go Infuser With this inventive tool you can recycle a water bottle into a tea infuser. Just add tea leaves to the bottle, fill with water and screw on the re-usable filter. The tea cold brews in the bottle. $6.95
  5. The New Tea Companion Co-authored by Jane Pettigrew and Bruce Richardson. This is a must have reference book with tasting notes and brewing instructions for over 100 teas. $22.95

Good to Know: Tea Ice Cubes

Tea ice cubes are great to keep iced tea from becoming watered down and for flavoring other drinks.

Prepare tea as usual with a teapot and boiling water. Allow the tea to cool and pour into an ice tray. After the tea freezes pop the cubes into a Ziplock bag and store in the freezer.

References
Photos Courtesy of Bruce Richardson and Elmwood Inn Fine Teas
*http://www.ucl.ac.uk/media/library/tea
**http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1108657