Saturday, July 07, 2012

The Tea Diaries

The tea diaries.
Entry one.

Loose Thai tea leaves, Indian black tea leaves, Korean rice green teabags, and Chinese loose green tea leaves. I still can't get over the fact that we don't have freaking oolong tea leaves here at home.
Thai tea leaves, Korean brown rice green tea bags,
and Indian black tea leaves.
Given that we have leaves from 4 countries, the next question is what kind are those tea leaves anyway? Coffee is too mainstream, everyone knows their coffee, but there are only quite a few who knows what they're drinking. We have a percolator here at home, as well as a coffee press, and a couple of tea strainers. This means loose tea leaves are the preferred ammunition because tea bags are just too constricting...and easy to use. Bwahahaha. Kidding aside, it's because there's a common thinking that tea leaves pre-packed into bags are oftentimes of a lesser quality as opposed to the loose ones.

For the longest time, I was not sure as to what the teas are in Chinese restaurants. I have been the fondest tea drinker (read: thinks she has her own tea party) each time I go to a restaurant which serves "house tea" whether I'm with family or friends. It's oolong for the record. Most Chinese restaurants serve oolong tea while they offer jasmine tea for a price. I remember a friend saying, "parang lasang bulaklak" when he tasted the jasmine tea. No duh.

There are 6 kinds of tea namely white tea, yellow tea, green tea, oolong, black tea, and post-fermented tea which I have no idea about. Wikipedia says that it is "green tea that has been allowed to ferment/compost" so I believe it.

Tea is very popular in Europe most especially in UK. Ask Dolores Umbridge, "Would you like some taaay?" And she'll probably shove it down your throat anyway. English breakfast tea is basically black tea (a blend of Assam and Ceylon) which has the highest caffeine content across all tea types.

Since we've been brewing tea for quite some time and I've been gulping them like crazy, when milk tea shops sprouted around the metro like some fungi, their teas have to be tasted. Well, milk teas deserve another full entry because they are just TMTM - too many to mention.

Chinese green tea is already lodged in my brain while rice tea whether Korean or Japanese, is easily distinguishable because of the taste. Oolong tea as mentioned, is commonly served in Chinese restaurants. The challenge was when my friend gave me whole leaf Assam tea leaves and my mom's friend gave me Indian black tea leaves in a box. There were no labels for the Assam tea and the Indian tea (Brooke Bond) didn't mention what kind of tea it was. It's the ultimate battle of the black tea (since Assam is the most popular kind of black tea)!! I initially thought they were similar since they're both considered as black tea (haha such a noob) but then the taste is really different. You would be a puss to declare that they are the same because the taste and color itself won't allow you to mention it.

Assam (black) tea has a stronger taste and I have been ordering its milk tea variant a few times just so I can lodge the taste in my brain (junkie alert). Meanwhile, the Indian black tea has a darker color but has a less distinct taste, meaning you could go by drinking a whole cup without thinking what-the-heck-is-this-taste(?!). Aha. So what the freak is it?! I was holding a mug of Brooke Bond Red Label black tea when a oh-why-so-stupid moment came to me. Obviously it's no match to Archimedes' naked eureka moment, but my Indian tea is a blend of darker Assam tea leaves and some flavorings. This is actually called "mamri" which is a type of Assam tea cured in a way that it looks like granules instead of "leaves" and as I've read, this is the preferred type of Assam tea used in making spiced chai. (Orange pekoe is not a type of tea but is a type of tea grade.)

Wait. My Red Label "mamri" tea is... somewhat darker than the whole leaf Assam tea I have, so what is its difference from the Thai tea which is distinctly...orange?! Thai tea lists camellia sinensis (which is the tea plant) as its ingredients and a number of food coloring. From the start, the leaves smell different. Thai tea leaves have a stronger smell compared to our friendly mamri ones. When you pour water, the cup immediately fills with light orange color. That's definitely the food coloring working on its own. It would be a dark orange color which would be highlighted when you make it into the popular cha yen - Thai iced milk tea.

And oh, I drink my tea plain. No sugar, lemon, honey, or anything else. Milk tea (which I also concoct) made from freshly brewed tea leaves plus a whole lot of other stories, is a separate entry already.

For those who are not big fans of tea and its beautiful varieties, I'd recommend green tea (not the rice tea type) or black tea (choose English breakfast tea, as "pure" assam might be too strong/flavorful for you) if you're drinking it hot sans additions. They don't have any quirky taste (my friend loathes rice green tea and most herbal teas) nor smell (my sister abhors jasmine tea for some reason). Safe and sound!

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