The majority of us will have enjoyed a cup of tea today, but have we stopped to think about where tea comes from?
Did you know that all tea originates from one plant; Camellia sinensis. All black and green teas are related, what differentiates them is:
- The variety of this species
- The environment in which the plant grows
- When it is picked
- How it is processed
- The grade of tea
The UK is full of tea drinkers, however, our climate is not ideal for growing this plant. A recent enterprise means tea is now being grown in Scotland, but it is early days. We remain largely reliant on growers in India, China, Sri Lanka, Kenya and Japan to maintain our supplies. The mountainous regions of these countries provide the light, acidic, free-draining soils and moist, tropical climates that result in a reliable crop.
We all have a favourite brew, but according to the UK Tea and Infusions Association, there are around 1,500 varieties. Are we right to stick with what we know, or is it time to be a little more adventurous?
English Breakfast is a popular choice, with Assam, Darjeeling, Earl Grey and Green tea being familiar alternatives. Through our articles and tea tasting experiences, we may help you to discover new favourites.
After picking, the leaves are oxidised – minimal for green tea, partial oxidation for white and Oolong tea and full oxidation for black tea.
The oxidation process creates a deeper, rich flavour, but also reduced the concentration of naturally-occurring antioxidants. Globally, black tea is the most popular for taste, whilst green tea has greater health benefits. Which do you prefer?
The Origins of the word ‘Tea’
China was the first nation to cultivate Camellia sinensis, the tea plant. The green, unprocessed leaves have a bitter taste and the drink was named ‘tu’ meaning bitter vegetable.
In Mandarin, ‘cha’ is the word for tea. The story is that when the scholar Lu Yu wrote Cha Jing (The Classic of Tea) in 760BC, he missed a cross stroke from the character ‘tu’. This created the word ‘cha’.
In India, most dialects use a variation of ‘cha’ (often the Hindi word ‘chai’), following the Mandarin pronunciation which carried from China’s Yunnan province, via Persia (where it was altered to ‘chay’), to India! Chai is used across India to this day.
In Britain, we say tea. This goes back to the Fujian province of China, where the local dialect meant that the ‘tu’ symbol was pronounced ‘te’. When the Dutch started shipping tea from China to Europe, this was the word used.
Orthodox Tea and CTC Tea
If you are interested in learning more about tea, you may come across the phrases ‘orthodox tea’ and ‘CTC tea’, but what does this mean?
Orthodox tea is picked and rolled by hand following the century’s old tea traditions. These extract the full flavour of the tea. CTC – Crush, Tear, Curl, is a faster method of tea production, where specialist tea processing machines undertake much of the work. We are an orthodox tea supplier.
Whether CTC or broken orthodox tea, the process of breaking the leaves increases the surface area that will be exposed to the hot water during the brewing process. This, along with rolling or curling the leaves helps to maximise the release of the flavours.
We favour orthodox teas, for several reasons. Firstly, they are the highest quality option. The traditional processes also provide work for rural communities in tea-growing regions. It is important to us that we are an ethical tea supplier, so we value traceability. We source from plantations that provide fair working conditions, pay and sustainable practices.
Loose Leaf Teas
Our selection of loose leaf teas contains whole or broken tea leaves. They are categorised into straight teas and tea blends. Straight teas are pure leaves, sourced from a specific region and include our Assam, Darjeeling and Sencha. Our speciality tea blends are a recipe of straight teas, combined with other teas, herbs, spices and edible flowers.
If you are new to loose leaf, you will need a tea strainer to prevent the leaves from ending up in your teacup. If you are unsure about which flavours will appeal to your tastebuds, keep an eye out for our tea-tasting sessions and tea experiences.
Our smallest bags contain 50g of quality loose leaf tea, which would you like to try?