Sri Lanka is well renowned for producing world’s best tea for generations as “Ceylon Tea”. It is reputed for its unique taste and aroma world over with a trust of cleanness and quality. Sri Lanka is the largest producer of orthodox tea in the world and the fourth largest tea producer of the world. In the global export front, the country holds the position of third largest exporter of tea. (Annual Report, Sri Lanka Tea Board,2019)
Tea is the second most widely consumed beverage globally, following only water. Although tea drinking habit was started 5000 years ago in China as a medicine, it has been widely spread as a refreshing beverage now. There are three major types of tea depend on the manufacturing process: Black tea (fully fermented), Oolong tea (partially fermented) and Green tea (non-fermented). Both black tea and green tea are popular in the different regions of the world. Mostly green tea is highly consumed in China, Japan and East Asian region while black tea is famous in the other part of the world. Chinese people consume green tea throughout the whole day while eating, walking, exercising and during doing any other activity specially mixed it with their own traditional Chinese herbs. But when considering the black tea, there is a unique traditional way to make a “classic” cup of tea. Here, classic is defined as without sugar, milk or any other flavors used in value addition. Making a cup of tea seems a simple process, but you should use the correct inputs in optimum conditions to make a good cup.
Taste of tea has two major components; flavor (feel of the oral sense) and aroma (olfactory sense- smell). Quality of the tea is determined by its appearance (of loose tea), brew color and the taste. Finally, the quality of the cup of tea comes to the consumer is the main concern of the tea manufacturing process.
What are the factors affect on the taste of a cup of tea? Is there any science behind them?
- Type of water used to make the tea
The best type of water for a good cup of tea is “spring water”. That means, it should be with higher level of dissolved oxygen and lesser amount of impurities such as heavy metals. Although, ancient people used the spring water to brew tea as it was highly available around their territories. But today, it is very hard to find spring water. Therefore, we can use well water (not hard water) or bottled drinking water (with mineral water) as an alternative. You can swirl it well with a clean stick to incorporate more oxygen.
- Tea type/grade
Tea type (black or green) and its grade (particle size) affect the optimum brewing time. Widely used black tea is brewed with boiling water. If the particle size is larger (ex: BOP), it needs more time to brew with boiling water while smaller sized tea (dust, Fannings) needs comparatively lesser time to brew. But green tea is brewed with the hot water, and it can be used in several brewing times.
- Water temperature when brewing
- Black tea – boiling water (around 1000C) is used to brew black tea. This temperature gives the best condition to extract all the chemical components which are responsible for flavor and aroma in the optimum level; Mainly, Theaflavins, Thearubigins (Tannins) and aromatic compounds.
- Green tea – hot water which is around 800C is the best for brewing green tea. It prevents oxidization of tannins in green tea. (oxidization of tannins leads to alter the unique ,light taste and color of green tea liquor.)
- Brewing method and time
You may use lose tea or tea bags to make a cup of tea. Whatever the type of tea, it should be brewed 3-5 minutes with hot water. If you use lose tea with larger particles, give more time to brew (within the range of 3-5 minutes). As the tea bags contains fannings (with fine particles) mostly, you can brew it in lesser time.
The best way to brew tea is inside a closed tea pot or a container/jug with a lid which prevents the steam escape from it. That ensures the retention of aromatic compounds inside the tea brew/liquor. Then the tea consumer may feel the wonderful smell of tea while drinking it. It is also important to store tea in an airtight container for the same reason.
There is an important fact to emphasized. We should consume the tea (lose or bags), brewed with hot water, not the hot water poured into brewed thick liquor. Some people add hot water to dilute thick, high concentrated tea liquor before it is drunk. It does not give the real taste of the tea.
Green tea can be brewed with hot water and not like black tea, it can be repeatedly brewed again and again until its taste is very mild.
- Method to add sugar and milk if desired
Classically tea is a zero caloric beverage unless sugar and milk are added. To feel the real and unique taste of tea, it should be drunk without sugar and milk; “Classic “cup of tea.
But different parts of the world have different tea drinking habits with milk and sugar. If so, remember to add milk to the cup first followed by tea, not the milk into the tea in the cup (milk first!) If the milk is added to the hot tea brew, milk proteins are coagulated due to the heat and make it unavailable for absorption into the body. Also, it will be interacted with some chemicals of tea and precipitated in the bottom of the tea cup. This is a negative character of a tea where the milk tea is drunk in glasses such as in some middle east countries. There are scientific evidence that some tea cultivars grown in the upcountry of Sri Lanka contribute better interaction with milk and hence such types can be recommended to export to the destinations with milk tea drinking habits.
Hot tea brew can be poured into hot fresh milk or dissolved powdered milk in the tea cup. It helps you to make a hot cup of tea. Also, before anything is added, the empty tea cup can be washed with hot water as it facilitates to keep the warmth of tea for a long time. Finally, if desired the sugar can be incorporated.
How to drink a cup of tea to feel the real taste of it?
- First, tea should be consumed when it is hot – to experience the real taste with its magical aroma.
- Don’t forget to inhale the steam comes out of the tea cup. Get the cup close to the nose and inhale the aroma and pull them into the nasal cavity. Then drink as little sips.
- Don’t swallow the tea sips directly. Remember to slurp in the oral cavity, allowing the tea to run throughout your tongue and walls of the mouth to feel every taste compound (you may have seen this is done by professional tea tasters)
- Keep a considerable time gap in between sips. More the number of intervals, higher the taste of tea.
- Keep inhaling the smell/aroma of tea while drinking the cup of tea.
- Swallow slowly.
Preparing and drinking of a cup of tea may be literary simple. But to make it perfect, there are some important steps to follow which comprise of scientifically proven facts. Most of the above-mentioned factors are proven in research and published too.