Behind The Leaf: Matcha

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We all love matcha, don’t we? It tastes delicious and is quite energizing. It has a natural sweetness and is balanced out by slightly bitter and vegetal notes. You can make it the authentic way or just shake and go. You can even cook and bake with it. It’s quite the versatile tea! No wonder it’s so popular. But do you know really what matcha is, and why it’s powdered? I’m happy to tell you a little bit more about this elusive tea.

As you probably know, matcha is ground green tea. You may also know it’s used in the Japanese tea ceremony called chanoyu. But Japan wasn’t the first to use powdered tea. It was actually brought to Japan in the 12th century by Buddhist monks. Grinding tea to a powder actually began in China and it was consumed this way before it became popular in Japan. Whisking powdered tea in a bowl eventually went out of fashion in China, but Japan has kept this traditional alive.

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Before you purchase that magical ground green tea powder, much needs to happen. Leaves are picked by machine, then withered and steamed. Steaming the leaves is unique to Japanese tea which gives it that vibrant green hue. The teas are then dried and rolled. After this process the leaves are carefully sorted, and the tough veins are removed. The processed (but not yet ground) leaves are called Tencha. The tencha is ground to create the fine matcha powder.

The highest quality matcha can be found in the Uji region, using leaves that have been shaded before plucking. The shading causes an increase in chlorophyll and creates a more intense, sweet vegetal flavor. Higher quality matcha will have a smooth, sweet taste with just a touch of bitterness. Lower quality tea will be more bitter and won’t have that lovely smooth texture. When you’re buying matcha you should look for a bright dark green vibrant powder, not a light green or pale green powder. The shade grown leaves are darker and vivid green, and will have more sweetness and flavor. But if you are on a tight budget please select the matcha that’s best for you! It’s still a lovely tea experience, no matter what grade you choose.

Behind The Leaf: Indian Black Teas

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India is known for some of the most delicious black teas. I’m sure you’ve had many of them in blends and didn’t even know it! They can be bold and brisk, or delicate and nuanced. India is also starting to produce white, green, and oolong teas, but for today we’re going to stick with the black teas that grow all throughout the country.

There are three main growing regions in India: Assam, Nilgiri Hills, and Darjeeling. These three areas make delicious black teas that taste very different from one another. That’s due to terroir. The climate, altitude and soil all have an effect on the flavors. Also the plant cultivars used also change the flavor.

First up, let’s discuss Assam- This region is in Northeast India near Burma. It is a tropical region that has about 900 gardens! The elevation is about sea level, and the weather is mild and can get very hot during monsoon season. Much of the tea grown in this region is processed as CTC (cut, tear, curl) tea. Small cut leaves that create an even stronger brew that steeps up quite quickly. The cultivar that grows here is camellia sinensis var. assamica and was of course named after the region. The tea is brisk and malty. It can commonly be found in English Breakfast and English Afternoon blends. It’s made to steep up strong, as the Brits like to add milk and sweetener to their cups. This is also a tea commonly used for Masala chai.

Nilgiri is a mountainous region of southeast India and the 3rd largest tea growing area. Growing here started in the mid-19th century. The teas are well balanced and quite dark with a bit of fruit and spice. The climate is tropical and ideal for year-round growing. Many of the plants here are of the Assamica variety, and most of the teas are processed using the CTC method. Can you believe there are more than 30,000 gardens in this area?? That’s an immense amount of tea!

Finally the area most tea lovers know, Darjeeling. Teas here are grown in the Indian Himalayas. The first plantation in Darjeeling was started in 1856, and today there are about 86 tea gardens. The gardens are planted on the slopes of the Himalayan foothills, which help the plants drain well from the heavy rains that pass through the region.  There is just the right amount of cloud cover high at this altitude to give the plants the perfect amount of sunlight. The frequently foggy atmosphere creates a beautiful mist that hydrates and protects the plants while keeping them at an ideal temperature. The plant variety here is different from Nilgiri and Assam. It’s mostly comprised of camellia sinensis var sinensis, which is a smaller leaf than Assamica and actually is native to China. The British brought seeds of the plant to the region in 1841 and realized it was a perfect climate for growing. To learn a little more about the picking seasons and flavors of Darjeeling teas, you can check out my previous post here. To really appreciate the beauty of Darjeeling tea, it’s best to find teas grown and processed from just one estate.

Dearies, next time you drink a black tea blend, you can think about all of the beautiful areas of India where your tea is grown. I hope you try as many varieties as you can to learn how they differ.

Ask Tippy!

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Dearies, I’m so excited to share my latest addition to the blog. It’s called ‘Ask Tippy’. This is where you get to take control of the blog, and ask me questions about tea! Do you have a question about tea types? Tea preparation? Teaware? Ask away! I received this question recently from a reader named Andrea, and I thought I should make the answer into a post. Here we go!

Q. Tippy, do I need to use an electric kettle to get the perfect water temperature? Help!

Andrea, thank you so much for your question! Well, it is certainly very convenient to have a hot water kettle, especially one that heats the water to the exact temperature you need for your tea. But if you don’t have one, there is no reason to fret. There are various thermometers on the market that you can use to measure your water temperature if you’d like. You’d boil up your water, pour into a vessel and then measure and wait until you’ve hit the desired temp. Or, often times Kat will just boil her water and take the kettle off the heat and wait about 2 minutes if she’s making green or white tea. If you aren’t doing a professional tasting, you don’t need the temperature to be absolutely exact. Sometimes I find that I prefer a temperature slightly different to what is suggested for the tea. But here are some temperature guidelines for you (these temperatures are all listed in Fahrenheit and vary a little bit basted on the type of tea in the category):

White: 180°

Green: 170°-185°

Oolong: 180°-210°

Black: 200°-210°

Puerh: 200°-210°

Herbals: 200°-210°

Another thing to keep in mind is your water quality. If you live in a place with tasty water, you can go ahead and use that unfiltered. But if you have water that is hard and filled with minerals, it’s best to filter it if you can. Kat keeps a filter pitcher on her counter at all times so she can always have water ready for tea. Of course, if you can use spring water it is ideal. But filtered water is just fine. It’s also fun to play around with different types of water to see how it changes the taste of your tea.

So Andrea, definitely purchase a kettle for convenience and exact temperatures, but don’t feel like you absolutely must have one.

Dearies, if you have a question for me, please feel free to ask just like Andrea! The easiest way to do so is to tag me on twitter @TheLovelyTeaCup