We've had a busy holiday weekend with visitors from Minnesota, tea tasting and a very exciting football game. My cousin and her husband are visiting Seattle for the first time together, and in addition to taking in the usual Seattle sights (Pike Place Market, Pioneer Square, Snoqualmie Falls, plus many more), they've been sampling and learning a lot about tea.
They had their first formal introduction to tea at the "Experience Green Teas" class at the Experience Tea store in Issaquah. The owner, Roberta, explained how all true tea comes from the same tea plant (camellia sinensis) and that green tea is defined by the lack of oxidation. What is oxidation? After tea leaves are plucked from the tea bush, each type of tea is processed differently. Oxidation takes places when the cell wall structures of the tea leaf are broken and the oxidase enzymes are released. Oxidation alters the flavor of the tea and develops a darker color (think of basil leaves darkening when they are torn). Black teas are the darkest teas because they are highly oxidized and green teas are lightly colored because they are essentially non-oxidized.
To lock in the green color after plucking, green tea leaves are either pan fired (typical for Chinese green teas) or steamed (typical for Japanese green teas) to stop the leaves from oxidizing. In the class we sampled three Chinese green teas (Gunpowder, Dragonwell, and Special Grade green), two Japanese green teas (Genmaicha, Sencha, and Gyokuro), and two Korean green teas (Gamnong and Sejak Jaksul). We each had our own favorites which reaffirms my belief that everyone has their own taste palate!
Later in the weekend my cousin's husband helped me taste test seven oolong teas. He's half Norwegian and half Cambodian/Chinese and grew up drinking oolong tea. We were both intrigued by the difference in the color, taste and smell of the various oolongs we sampled. As I've discovered in my study of tea, the country of origin, terroir, and processing technique work together to create unique tea qualities even among the same type of tea such as oolong. We were successful in choosing a Formosa Oolong with a toasty flavor from Taiwan and a strawberry flavored oolong which we think will appeal to oolong newbies and make a great cold brewed tea.
And we all survived the roller coaster of emotion watching the Seahawks in the NFC championship game. Stay tuned for our green and blue tea recommendations for the Super Bowl!