Sunday, April 6, 2008

It's TEA Time!

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Tea has been around for centuries and over time, it has evolved into some unique flavors. To take a closer look & taste of teas, I hosted 2 tea parties today for my group, What's Cookin Chicago. For this event, I offered a tea bar filed with 16 different herbals (aka tisanes) and 4 varieties of tea. To complete my tea bar, I had some standard condiments, including white & raw sugar, honey, lemon slices and cream. At this event I provided a tea primer of how tea leaves are transformed from tree to cup. We got to try a variety of black, oolong, green, white and flavored teas, along with tisanes (herbals). Everyone attended brought in a teaparty dish to share that ranged from sweet to savory. It was all so delicious and was a wonderful spread to compliment my tea bar. Are you interested in learning about teas too? Well, here's some info I shared with my friends on tea...
  • Over 15,000 types of teas exist and they all come from the same plant species -- Camellia Sinensis -- which thrives in subtropical and tropical climates.
  • Tea gardens & estates can be found in India & China (the largest tea growers), Sri Lanka (aka Ceylon), Taiwan (aka Formosa), Japan, korea, Indonesia, Nepal, Australia, Argentina and Keyna.
  • Even though all teas come from the same single plant species, 3 things allow the teas to become different varieties: Provenance, Picking & Processing.
  • Provenance refers to where the tea leaves grow. Teas that are cultivated at high altitudes (3,000-7,000+ above sea level) are considered superior. Experts say this is because these specific teas take a longer time to mature, resulting in more flavor. These high altitude teas are also the most expensive because the yields are low and harvesting is difficult.
  • Picking refers to how and when the tea leaves are harvested. Traditionally, teas are harvested by hand by sometimes its also reaped by machine. Generally in countries like Japan, Taiwan and Brazil, teas are harvested by machine because labor costs make hand picking expensive. Most teas are made from picking the smallest & youngest leaves & buds, but it can also consist of just the tip (bud) plus the first 2 or 3 leaves. Teas consisting of just the buds or the buds + the 2 leaves are considered superior. Timing also plays a role - leaves picked during the first harvest of the season is also known as the first flush; the second harvest of the season is also known as the second flush, etc. The first flush is known to be the greenest and most astringent teas. Second flush is browner and very flavorful. Whereas the third flush is brown and mellower.
  • Processing is the most important part and involves drying out the tea leaves to prevent growth of fungi, to develop flavor and color and to provide a distinct appearance. There are four parts to processing tea leaves: Drying or Steaming, Shaping, Oxidation (Fermentation), and Firing.

  • Drying - After picking, black & oolong teas are dried out to reduce moisture and make the leaves softer & easier to work with. Green, yellow and white teasare steamed and preserved for color.
  • Shaping - Once the leaves are either dried/steamed, the tea leaves are rolled into shapes to breakup the leaf cells releasing sap.
  • Oxidation (Fermentation) - determines which category a tea falls into: green, white, yellow, oolong and black. This involves exposing the broken tea leaves and their sap to air. The air allows them to grow darker in color and to take on new aromas. White, yellow and green tea are not oxidizes abd are sometimes called unfermented. Oolong teas are oxidized for 1-2 hours and are called semi-fermented. Black teas are oxidized for 3-4 hours and are called fermented.
  • Firing - This step stops the oxidation process and allows moisture to evaporate and causes the sap to dry on the leaf. This preserves the tea for shipment and sometimes adds flavor.
  • As previously mentioned, there are 4 major varieties of teas: black, oolong, green and white as well as blended/spiced/flavored teas and herbals.
  • Black teas are what most of the teas in the world fall under and they have the strongest flavor.
  • Oolong teas are the most expensive and are from Taiwan (aka Formosa).
  • Green teas come from either China or Japan. Chinese green teas are pan fried and are golden green in color. Japanese green teas are steamed and are bright green with grassy, sea-like flavor.
  • White teas are young leaves or buds that have been shielded from sunlight to prevent the formation of chlorophyll and green color. They are not oxidized either and are often expensive because they are processed in small quantities.

  • Blended/spiced/flavored teas are mixed with pieces of dried fruit, spices or perfumed with essenses/oils for flavored, scented or spiced tea.
  • Herbals are also known as tisanes or infusions. These are not really teas at all. They do not contain any tea leaves - just flowers, fruit, herbs, roots, seeds or spices. They are great flavored and lack caffeine.

Here are pictures of my first tea party session:

Joelen's Sundried Tomato & Basil Bread

Maya's Date & Walnut Cake
Joelen's Classic Pound Cake
Megan's Chocolate Covered Strawberries
Dorothy's Cranberry Orange Scones
Carrie's Earl Gray Tea Shortbread Cookies
Cassandra's Cranberry Scones
Fong's Strawberry Tartlettes
Chigirls' Tea Sandwiches
Dhyana's Lemon Yogurt CakeChrissy's Blueberry Scones
Jen's Raspberry Danish
Teresa's Egg Salad
Chigirl's Cheese & Deli Plate
Kara's Tea Sandwich Platter

Here are pictures of my
second tea party session:
Susan's Preserves & Spreads Assortment

Yumi's Matcha Green Tea Shortbread

Evaline's Chocolate Brownies

Christina's Lemon Squares

Jen's Fruit Pasties

Joelen's Calmon Croquettes

John's Creme Brulee

Lisa's Cookie Bars

Art & Carolyn's Tea Sandwiches

Simona's Tea Sandwiches

Joelen's Savory Vegetable Rounds

Abbie's Carrot Cake

Donna's Chocolate Truffles

Catie's Biscotti

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