No doubt you have your own favourite tea brand or blend, but do look through this section and discover other wonderful teas to go out and try...
Although tea was discovered in China nearly five thousand years ago, it took several thousand years before the plant, botanical name Camellia sinensis, found its way to other parts of the world. Today, tea is grown on a commercial scale in approximately three dozen countries and, in each country, the product makes a significant contribution to the economy of the agricultural sector. Tea is grown from China to Argentina, Nepal to South Africa, and, next to water, tea is the worlds most consumed drink.
Tea scientists have been working closely with nature for the past two hundred years to produce new tea cultivars that can thrive in difficult conditions like drought yet continue to produce satisfactory yields that deliver the quality that consumers expect.
There are approximately 1,500 different varieties of tea, all offering interesting and varied styleīs, taste and colour. The character of tea, like wine, is influenced by the elevation of the garden, the soil, wind conditions and temperature and, of course, the quality of the plucking. With so many teas to choose from there is a lifetime of enjoyable exploration ahead.
TEAS FROM INDIA AND SIR LANKA
India is one of the main tea growers, exporting more than 12% of the world's tea and with 523,000 hectares under cultivation. Although indigenous to the Assam region, the first commercially produced teas were raised from seeds brought from China.
By the 1840s, India was producing regular shipments for sale at auction in London, and gradually the planting of estates grew throughout the country from Nilgiri in the south to Darjeeling in the north.
The plantations range from low-grown areas (sea level up to 2000ft) to high-grown (more than 4000 ft high). Generally plucked from March to October, each area produces teas of distinctive character. The Tea Board of India has endorsed several specialty blends so that their quality and consistency is assured.
Although India produces mostly black teas, a small amount of green tea (1% of total production) is produced mainly for the Afghanistan market.
Assam is a major growing area covering the Brahmaputra valley, stretching from the Himalayas down to the Bay of Bengal. There are 655 estates covering some 407,000 hectares. Assam tea has distinctive flecked brown and gold leaves known as "orange" when dried. In flavour it is robust, bright with a smooth, malt pungency and is perfect as the first cup of tea of the day. Such teas are used in everyday popular blends because of the full-bodied richness. There is also an Assam Green tea with an unusual light, almost sweet liquor.
First Flush Assam
Assam tea bushes start growing in March and the first flush is picked for 8 to 10 weeks, first flush Assams e.g. Bamonpookri, an excellent quality tea with a strong fresh flavour; are rarely marketed in the Europe, unlike first flush Darjeelings.
Second Flush Assam
The plucking of the second flush begins in June with most of the production taking place from July to September. The second flush Assam is the best of the season and when brewed give a rich aroma, a clear dark read liquor and a strong malty taste. Good examples of second flush assams are, Napuk, displaying all the qualities of a well made Assam and Thowra, which has a strong spicy liquor and lots of body.
Regarded as the "Champagne of Teas," Darjeeling is grown on 100 estates on the foothills of the Himalayas, on over 18,000 hectares at about 7000 ft. Light and delicate in flavor and aroma, and with undertones of muscatel, Darjeeling is an ideal complement to dinner or afternoon tea. The first "flushes" (pluckings) are thought to produce the best Darjeeling vintage but all crops are of very high quality. Darjeeling Green is rare tea similar to Japanese Sencha with an exquisite aroma and delicate taste.
First Flush Darjeeling
The Darjeeling bushes' first new shoots - the first flush - are picked in April. These first teas of the season are the finest and are much in demand, fetching incredibly high prices at auction. Castleton First Flush, has a perfect green-brown leaf and is from one of the most prestigious gardens in the area. It gives an exquisite perfume and taste of green muscatel. Bloomfield First Flush is again from a recognized garden and its subtle astringent flavor is typical of Darjeeling first flush.
Second Flush Darjeeling
Second flush Darjeelings are picked between May and June and produce excellent quality teas that are considered by some to be better than the first flush as they have a fruitier, less astringent flavour than the earlier teas. The leaves are darker brown and contain plenty of silvery tip. Again good examples of second flush Darjeelings are, Puttabong, which is one of the better second flush Darjeelings available, with a discernible muscatel flavour and Namring, a fruity balanced taste perfect for afternoon tea.
The Nilgiri region, situated in southern India, forms a high hilly plateau at the conjunction of the Eastern and Western Ghat mountains. More than 20,000 smallholders grow and pluck tea with some 90,000 hectares under cultivation. Most Nilgiri teas are used for blending, but there is a rapidly growing demand for the specialty tea of the area. Nilgiri has a bright amber color and a refreshing, bright and delicate taste. Nunsch is a typical Nilgiri tea, large-leafed, which gives a fruity, bright and flavorful brew.
A blend of teas from all parts of India, this is often served as afternoon tea or after a meal. It is full-bodied, refreshing and with delicate hints of its regional origins.
TEA FROM SIR LANKA (ceylon)
Sri Lanka has over 188,0000 hectares under tea cultivation yielding about 298,000 tonnes of "made" tea, and accounting for over 19% of world exports. In 1972, the island then known as Ceylon reverted to the traditional name of Sri Lanka, but retained the name of Ceylon for the marketing of teas.
Tea from Sri Lanka falls into three categories: low-grown (on estates up to 2000 ft high); medium grown (between 2000 and 4000 ft); and high grown (over 4000 ft). Each level produces teas of unique character. By blending teas from different areas of the island, Sri Lanka can offer a very wide range of flavor and color. Some are full-bodied, others light and delicate, but all Ceylon blends will have brisk full flavors and bright golden color.
Because of the geographical location, tea can be plucked in Sri Lanka all year round: the west and east of the island are divided by central mountains so that as each region's season ends, the other begins.
Probably the most famous of Ceylon teas, Dimbula is cultivated on estates first planted with tea when their coffee crops failed in 1870. Grown 5000 ft above sea level, all Dimbula teas are light and bright in color with a crisp strong flavour that leaves the mouth feeling fresh and clean.
Today, it forms part of the high-grown zone of central Sri Lanka which includes Dickoya and Nuwarah Eliya.
This tea has long wiry beautiful leaves that give an exquisite, almost oaky taste and good body and strength.
Uva is a fine flavored tea grown at altitudes between 2,000ft and 4,000ft above sea level on the eastern slopes of the Central Mountains in Sri Lanka. It has a bright, deep amber colour when brewed, with the brisk and crisp, strong Ceylon flavor. These teas are also used in Ceylon blend and make an ideal morning drink or an after-lunch tea.
This is a copper-colored infusion with a very smooth, pronounced taste and a wonderful aroma. It is a perfect breakfast or day time tea.
Nuwara teas are light and delicate in character, bright in colour and with a fragrant flavour. Their flavour is heightened when taken with lemon rather than milk.
Nuwara Eliya Estate
This tea has a bright brisk flavour and a wonderful perfume, good to drink at any time of day with just a little milk
Ceylon teas span the entire spectrum of tea production, from low to high grown teas. By blending teas from different areas of the island, Sri Lanka is able to offer a very wide choice of flavor and characteristics. Some blends are full bodied, others are light and delicate, but all are brisk, full flavored and have a bright color.
TEAS FROM KENYA, MALAWI and ZIMBABWE
As the most recent of the tea producing countries, African countries have been able to build on the experience of other producers. As a result, Africa is now a major force in world tea, producing teas of high quality and good bright color which are used for blending all over the world. Tea producing countries in Africa include Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and South Africa producing about 32% of world exports amounting to some 424,000 tonnes.
One of the oldest of the African producers, Kenya has a history of tea dating back to 1903, when tea seeds from India were first planted on a two acre farm. Today, Kenya has 69000 hectares under cultivation by smallholders (shambas), under the protection of the Kenya Tea Development Authority, and tea producing companies in the public and private sector. Kenya exports over 349,000 tonnes of tea per year (22% of world exports). Kenya's equatorial climate allows tea growing all year round.
The teas are very bright, colorful, with a reddish coppery tint and a pleasant brisk flavor. Kenya specialty tea is ideal as a drink for any time of day or night and is particularly ideal with beef and horseradish or ham sandwiches and rich chocolate cake. In the after dinner slot Kenya tea will enhance the flavor of a smoked cheese taken with Drambuie. Kenya teas are also blended into many famous British brands.
Malawi is the pioneer of tea growing in Africa, with production first starting commercially in the 1880s in Mulanje. Now exporting over 43,000 tonnes annually, Malawi has a 3% share of world exports and is mainly responsible for the spread of tea cultivation in Africa. Malawi was the first African country to adopt the cloning method of estate refurbishment. Although Malawi teas are not so well known as speciality teas, their superb colour and brightness means they are used in the blending of leading British tea brands.
Tea production in Zimbabwe could begin commercially only after the successful establishment of irrigated tea estates. With an average annual rainfall of not more than 26 inches per annum, as opposed to the 50 plus inches per annum usually required, irrigation is essential to continuous growth. Zimbabwe now exports over 15,000 tonnes of tea per year. Today, tea is a "controlled" commodity in Zimbabwe so that its quality and industry growth are protected.
OTHER TEA PRODUCERS
Tea production in Tanzania is thought to be the legacy of German colonization under the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II, but its real development took place under British estate ownership between the two World Wars. Tanzania now exports over 22,000 tonnes of tea annually. These different altitudes result in distinct tea characteristics, but all Tanzanian teas are bright in color with a brisk flavor that makes them ideal for use in blending.
A black cut, torn and curled tea (link to the CTC explanation) the tea factory and black tea manufacture from KwaZulu is the only South African tea to be exported for international consumption. The flavor is strong and lively and is best drunk with milk.
Tea has been part of the way of life in Indonesia for more than 200 years. Situated in the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean, Indonesia forms an island chain stretching from Malaysia to Papua New Guinea. Java and Sumatra, two of the largest islands, are the main growing areas.
After the World War II, the Indonesian tea estates were in very poor condition. Wrecked factories and tea bushes that had reverted to their wild state were just two of the problems which faced the country.
By 1984, after a lot of hard work and investment, tea exports from Indonesia began to make their mark on the tea market. Since that time, improvement in tea production and replanting of old estates has continued, with the factories investing in new machinery. Now, Indonesia had some 142,000 hectares under tea cultivation, with 65,000 of these being on Java. In 2005, Indonesia exported over 102,000 tonnes of tea, accounting for over 7% of world exports.
Teas from Indonesia are light and flavorsome. Most are sold for blending purposes as this produces good financial rewards through foreign exchange for the country. In recent years, however, it has become possible to buy Indonesian tea as a specialty. It is extremely refreshing taken without milk: garnished with lemon, it makes an ideal drink for the figure-conscious.
Tea from Japan
The Japanese have always been known to produce high quality green tea. The worldwide export of Japanese tea has dwindled over the past few decades, almost entirely due to price considerations, land and labor costs in Japan are comparatively more expensive than other tea growing regions in the world. Japan has 50,000 hectares planted with tea.
The most commonly drunk tea in Japan. The dark green flat needles give a pale yellow infusion that has a light delicate flavor.
Gyokuro, which means Precious Dew, is the very best of Japan's teas and is the one chosen to serve to visitors and for special occasions. The leaves are beautiful, flat and pointed emerald needles that give a smooth taste and a subtle perfume, it is a very refined tea. Depending on the quality, the water temperature and length of infusion should be adjusted accordingly.
These are blends that can come from more than one country or region and popular on the UK speciality tea market. You may be the kind of person who blends their own tea or has had an unusual tea somewhere in the world, if you are we want to hear from you, click here to tell us about it.
Traditionally a blend of Assam and Ceylon teas to create a pungent and flavoursome tea to help digest a full english breakfast and give a good brisk start to the day. The essence of early morning tea, or as the Indians call it "bed" tea, is its strength and ability to wake and stimulate the metabolism. Many English Breakfast blends also include tea from Africa to give a coppery brightness to the color.
A blend of delicate Darjeeling tea and high-grown Ceylon tea to produce a refreshing and light tea, Afternoon Tea also makes an ideal companion to cucumber sandwiches, cream pastries and fruit cake. The essence of Afternoon Tea blends is not their strength but their flavor.
Some tea places offer a 'pot of tea', others have a 'pot of house blend tea'. This tea is equivalent to - if not better than - the type of tea most people buy to use at home. In tea trade language, it is known as a 'popular brand leading blend' . In catering terms it will be a Quality Award tea. It may be a loose leaf or tea bag, either way it's a work of art and can contain 15-35 different teas. These are blended to achieve a consistent quality flavor.
During the year or plucking season, adverse weather conditions can affect the quality of any of the teas. The blender will then have to find other teas that will produce the same flavour and characteristics. To do this they will taste between 200 and 1,000 teas a day and adjust the recipe so we can enjoy our favourite cup of tea all day, everyday.
These are real teas (Camellia sinensis), blended with fruit, spices or herbs. Fruit flavoured tea such as apple or blackcurrant, is real tea blended with fruit peel or treated with the natural fruit juice or oil known as zest. Spiced and herb teas, such as cinnamon, nutmeg or mint, are also real teas blended with spice or herb. Tisanes such as Camomile, Peppermint or Nettle, or the misnamed "fruit teas", do not contain one leaf of real tea.
One of the latest emerging trends in the tea market is bubble tea. This drink originated in Taiwan over 10 years ago and is also known as Tapioca Tea, Pearl Tea, Milk Tea, Booboo, Hen Zhu NIA Cha and variations on these names. The two main ingredients of this cold beverage are tapioca balls and milk tea. Several varieties exist and can include exotic fruit flavourings such as Papaya, Honeydew and Taro as well as ice cream, but the "bubble" comes from the round, gummy tapioca balls that are boiled in the tea flavourings. Kids in Taiwan call these balls "QQ" which means 'chewy' in Chinese, in the West they are, the popular term is "booboo" which is slang for female breasts.
In the past few years, Bubble Tea has become increasingly fashionable in areas such as New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Vancouver and the Bay area where it is drunk with large colourful straws.
'Chai', (pronounced as a single syllable and rhymes with 'pie') is the word for tea in many parts of the world. It is a centuries-old beverage that has played an important role in many cultures. Chai, from India is basically spiced milky tea and is becoming increasingly popular all over the world. In the United States Chai has caught on and is being sold as, 'Tea Latte' a popular alternative to its coffee namesake. It is generally made up of rich black tea, heavy milk, a combination of spices and some form of sweetener. In traditional Indian recipes the spices vary from region to region but the most common are, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and pepper.
Iced Tea was first drunk at the 1904 World Trade Fair in St Louis where the extremely hot weather and demand for cold drinks led Englishman, Richard Blechynden to pour tea into glasses filled with ice cubes.
More than 80 % of all the tea consumed in the US is served as iced tea. So, already a very popular beverage oversees, it is now becoming more popular in the UK. Iced Tea in Europe is one of the fastest growing soft drinks segments, with consumption tripling over the last ten years. To brew iced tea either Ceylon or China Keemun will show the best results.