What makes for the Quality and Flavour of loose leave tea?
To truly explore tea drinking and experience its culture, throw away those tea-bags! The diversity and nuances of tea flavours are beyond the typical teas found in local supermarkets.
All tea comes from the leave and buds of the plant Camellia Sinensis. The most expensive and best of tea comes from Sri-Lanka, China, India, Taiwan and Japan; however most teas are cultivated in subtropical regions. The quality and flavor of tea is based on factors such as place of origin, elevation, rainfall, pruning and plucking methods, varietals, type of flushes, method of plucking and degree of oxidation.
Too little of rain causes inadequate nutrition, and too much rainfall causes the leaves to grow too rapidly and they lose their complex and nuanced flavors.
The higher the elevation at which the tree plant is grown the better the flavor due to the slower rate of growth. The temperature and the moisture are affected by the elevation at which it is grown. These factors may influence the flavor and chemical structure. In high regions such as misty mountains, the tea plant is exposed to less moisture and less direct sunlight; this allows the tea plant to grow slower and in a unique way thus creating an interesting and complex flavor profile.
The Camellia Sinensis comes in 1500 different varietals all accounting for the various flavor profiles. The type of tea such as White, Green, Oolong and Black are determined by the varietal used and the degree of oxidation. Assam and Darjeeling teas are grown in the region of India region and are typically used for black tea (100% oxidation). Teas grown in the China region are typically used for Green tea (0-5% oxidation).
The tea plant first produces a bud during the early spring season. As the plant and leaves grow the chemical content and flavor changes. Tea flush refers to a certain period during the tea growing seasons. During a growing season there are several flushes, and at every flush or plucking the characteristics and flavor profile changes. The best of teas are picked during the first and second flush due to the lengthy period of time it took to store the nutrients; older and coarser leaves are from the late season harvest.
Pruning and plucking
Mass produced, low quality, tea-bag tea are normally machine picked rather than hand-picked from the optimal portion of the plant. The more expensive teas are handpicked like it was done thousands of years ago. A skilled picker must select the right leaves or bud, and pick them using a special method of twisting and plucking to prevent any damage. The method of fine plucking is from the bud and top two leaves. The tea picker will choose the leaves according to the type of tea that is being produced.