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Tea’s Carbon Footprint

How Earth Friendly is Your Tea?
How Earth Friendly is Your Tea?

©2009 Jennifer Leigh Sauer

Ever wonder what kind of impact tea has on the environment? That depends largely on the behavior of the tea drinker, according to tea technologist and longtime tea industry consultant Nigel Melican of of Teacraft Ltd who recently did an in-depth study on the carbon footprint of tea.

Researching tea’s carbon impact from Asian tea farm to American teapot (and landfill), Melican sought to find out whether tea is an environmental “saint or a sinner” when we measure its carbon footprint by a number of criteria. He found that several variables in the domain of the tea drinker herself have a great impact on the final result, and it seems worth sharing since we are on this planet together.

“If tea is well made, if we look at the supply chain properly, if we make some adjustments, we can actually get tea to be carbon neutral,” said Melican. “Some tea in some countries we could get to be carbon negative. Now that is quite something for a product which goes from where its grown, ten thousand miles [away], to the consumer…”

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Tea & Wine

Taste Tea like You Taste Wine
Taste Tea like You Taste Wine

Although many people see tea as an alternative to coffee (in part because it is often served hot and it contains caffeine), the breadth of tea’s aromas and flavors is far more comparable to wine.

In a recent chat, Samovar’s founder Jesse Jacobs said, “Part of the joy of being a human being in flesh and blood is experiencing physical sensations. In terms of palate, tea’s an incredibly sensory, sensual way to connect with your own being human.”

He said the recent availability of high-end teas means that tea is just as capable of providing these experiences as wine. He added, “Tea is such an amazing way to trigger all your senses. You get a robust experience for very little time and money.”

Below are Jesse’s tea-tasting suggestions for oenephiles. These are not intended to replicate individual wines’ tastes, but to serve as a guide for affinities – the overall profile, the particular aromas, the intended use, and the goals of the drinker.

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Water for Tea (Part III)

Great tea requires artful preparation, the highest quality tea leaves, and pure water.
Great tea requires artful preparation, the highest quality tea leaves, and pure water.

Water temperature also influences the final cup, and tea masters are vigilant about heating their water optimally to match the tea they are brewing. However, they determine the “readiness” of the water in different ways-visually, auditorially, and electronically.

Some look for visual signs of the water temperature to determine when the water is heated properly for the particular tea they intend to brew.

You may have heard tea masters talk about looking for “fish eyes” in the water.  This is when medium bubbles form just before the water moves towards a roiling boil.  This is when the water is ready for oolongs, generally.  The way the steam leaves the spout of the kettle—in wisps or in gusts–also signals the water’s readiness for some tea masters.

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Learn About Oolong Tea

Learn Oolong TeaOolong Tea is the category of semi-oxidized teas. The process for making an Oolong Teas is different for each kind, but includes nuances from green and black tea production. Oolong teas are very much like wine in that geographical origin can signal a specific tea bush varietal, micro-climate, and tradition of processing.

To encourage and control leaf oxidation, the Tea Masters who make Oolongs employ various stages of withering, bruising (to encourage oxidation), roasting (to stop oxidation), rolling, and baking techniques. The amount that a particular tealeaf is allowed to oxidize before baking results in the range of oolong infusion color: from bright green or golden to amber or reddish infusions.

Oolong Teas that are more oxidized, as with black tea, have a darker, coppery, reddish-amber infusion. Less oxidized Oolongs have a greener or golden-green infusion.

Oolong Teas was first made in Fujian, China during the 18th century. Today Oolongs are produced in Guangdong and Fujian, China, Taiwan, Northern Thailand, Myanmar, and Vietnam. Oolongs can be made with spring, autumn, and winter leaves- with each harvest possessing unique characteristics.

Oolong teas have complex flavor profiles and there is a wide range of them. Some Oolongs are processed into tightly packed pellets or pearls (pack rolled), while others are long and twisted (long rolled). These differences in appearance are created by distinct rolling techniques that vary from region to region.

Please see the Samovar Oolong Teas