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.
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!
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.