Picking Tea in Sri Lanka (& where have I been?)

Greetings all and Merry Christmas!

I’m ashamed to say my last blog entry was nearly two years ago… EEK. I wish I could tell you that I’ve been off travelling the world discovering all the tea – but that’s not strictly true. Unfortunately, I let life just kinda… get on top of me and I had a big ol’ burnout. Not fun at all – and if you’ve been there before or are currently there, I really do feel for you.

So, as a result it’s been a bit of a slow return to rediscovering the things I’m passionate about. So here I am, nearly 2 years later dusting the ol’ teacups off and ready to sit back, have a brew and get back to it.

The one constant in all this? No surprise… TEA! Of course. Where would I be without it? I often wonder. As I think I’ve said before – when I look at all the ups, the downs, and the lefts and rights in my life, tea genuinely has been one of the constants that I turn to for comfort.

Discovering Sri Lanka

Something I did do this year is realise a dream! I spent two weeks in Sri Lanka back in April and was fortunate enough to be able to visit several tea factories, and take part in the actual picking process, before watching my leaves being turned into real tea. One of the most surreal experiences of my life but the beauty of seeing where the stuff I drink so much of actually comes from, and the processes that are involved, really was an eye opener. Oh and the smells – how to describe the smell of a tea factory? Imagine you’re walking into a cloud of hot slightly mouldy tea smoke or something… it is both amazing, overpowering and a little bit off-putting! I’ll work on how to exactly describe it.

So it’s time to create my new years resolutions (again)…

  1. Write up the 3 blog posts from Sri Lanka I’d been working on! (January 2019!)
  2. Continue to learn everything there is to know about black tea!
  3. Maybe try and explore green tea at some point..
  4. To keep up-to-date with my projects!!

Let’s see how far I get…

Until next time,

Elizabeth c(_) xx

To Milk Or Not To Milk…?

To milk or not to milk…that is the rather weird sounding question of the day! This blog post was supposed to be a deep dive into the 5 types of tea – I’m trying to keep a consistent, easy to follow mindset when it comes to my study of tea, However, there’s something I wanted to take a look at before I forget…

A couple of weeks ago, I shared a post entitled 5 things I know about tea, that I didn’t know last week. On that post was a brief snippet about my discovery regarding why we put milk, and sugar, into our tea… I wanted to dig deeper into this, rather than just go on the story of the man at Fortnum & Masons, who told me the reason we put milk & sugar into our tea is a direct result of the British trying to boost the economy back in the 17th Century.

Now originally I wanted to pull together proven, historical reasoning for this article, however, one search of the phrase ‘why do we put milk in our tea?’ on Google, leads me down a rabbit hole of stories, rumours, and more learnings about the very dark past of tea. (I will eventually be getting into this!)

So here are just a few of the stories/suggestions I’ve found that, although interesting, haven’t really helped me piece together anything…

  • In the 17th and 18th centuries teacups were so delicate they would crack from the heat of the tea. Milk was added to cool it down! According to Google: “This is why, even today, many English people add milk to their cups BEFORE adding the tea!”
  • According to a recent story on the ol’ BEEB, it looks as though the sugar came before milk (mass produced by slaves in the Caribbean & America)  – some bright spark thought let’s sweeten up the tea, and let’s add milk – thus creating a process of ‘domestication’ that resulted in taking tea mainstream, so making it really easy & fashionable to drink!
  • Numerous forum discussions  & Blogs suggest that adding milk to tea came from France in 1680. A french writer named Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, talked about adding milk to her tea in her letters. The reason was to enhance the flavour…

NEWS JUST IN – thought I’d actually go and check out what the F&M site said, and they are in agreement with my first bullet… so the guy behind the counter might need to read up!!?! #Confused

So right now, it’s all still a bit of a mystery, I can’t categorically tell you why we put milk into our tea. Can anyone help me find an answer?!

Until next time,

Elizabeth c(_)

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The sciencey bit: what is actually in Tea?

I’m not going to spend too long on discussing the chemical composition of tea & this is for a couple of reasons – a) I’ve never been a sciencey kinda girl and back at school I used to wince each time photosynthesis was mentioned! I just couldn’t get my head around it – this piece of research has been hard going. And, b) there is SO much to tell that we’d be here all day! Excuses excuses I know!

That being said, I do think it’s important to give the top line of what actually makes up tea, to help understand further what I’m drinking day in day out! The big learning is that there is sooo much more in tea than what I’d originally thought! I thought it was just caffeine- and errr water? Yes, this is going to be embarrassing!

So here’s the top line: pigments, enzymes, carbs, minerals, Polyphenols, Caffeine (aka Methylxathines), Amino Acids, Volatiles, Flavanoids and many more!  For a great breakdown of exactly what these chemical compounds  are, check out this blog post from the world of tea. It goes into far more detail than I ever could!

Each of these compounds/things found in tea, come into their own at different stages of oxidation & the other processes of tea production! For example, caffeine, responsible for all those feel good awesome feelings you get when drinking tea, is unbelievably strong in the tea leaf, like would send you over the edge kinda strong! But when the tea leaves go through the process of withering, oxidation – aka the photosynthesis kinda stuff, it turns into the perfect amount to give you that much needed natural boost.

This infographic & article from teabox is a super simple way of showing the chemistry of tea.

tea-lab
Anyway, for now, I’m going to move on – I hope to come back to the Chemistry when I’m further along in my journey.
Elizabeth c(_)

1 Shrub, 5 Tea Types & A World Of Change

When I think of the word shrub, I think of how my Granny would tend to her garden, secateurs in hand, the snippety snip snip snip as she trained her prize plants. The sweet smell of English summer surrounding her, and usually a fat, Wiltshire pigeon warbling in the distance. I don’t think of tea. When I think of  the word tea, I give little to no regard to where it has come from, or why I’m drinking it. I think only about having it.

Now I have to admit, starting out on this quest has already been a bit of a headspinner – there is SO much information on the internet about tea. Knowing where to start is near impossible. What type of do I study first? Do I study rituals & history as a starter, or the science!? Help me please help me. Like any sensible person, I’m going to start at the beginning and find the answer to the the most obvious question:

What exactly is tea?

It’s a shrub, and one that’s changed the world. Native to Asia, Camellia sinensis aka Tea, has given us the 5 types of tea that exist in the world (I say types, official types – herbal teas, infusions etc… a whole other bag!). So that’s Green Tea, Black Tea, White Tea, Oolong Tea & Pu-erh Tea. Please be aware that at point of writing, 5th Jan 2017, I couldn’t tell you a single thing about what distinguishes these types from each other. Eek.

First major revelation: All tea comes from the same shrub, albeit different parts.

Hang on, wait… what?! All tea comes from the same plant!? What a lovely concept – and one plant has produced so much in the way of wellbeing! It has changed the world, and continues to do so on a daily basis.

From economy to mood, tea is a driver of change. I like that. Feels like I’m drinking something supernatural.

Now I know what tea is and a a tiny bit about where it originates, I need to know how the different types are made. How does the plant grow, what does harvesting look like etc… From my research so far, it appears to be all in the process – a bit like wine, different processes create different types, but more on this later.

From this exercise I now have 2 things:

Categories to study later down the line. I think I’ll start with Black, as I’m most familiar with that taste.
My next clue to unlocking the secrets of loving tea rituals – investigating its hometown glory, Asia. I need to find out more about where this magical plant originates!

Until my next lesson!

Elizabeth c(_)

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Page One, The Tea Journals

 

Additional learning: there are actually 3 types of Camellia sinensis, ‘assamica’ & ‘sinensis’, widely grown and cultivated, and then japonica, not suited to drinking, but fun to grow in most back gardens.

 

 

Sources: teaclass.comwww.samovartea.com – many thanks for your info!