The discovery of tea can be traced back to 2737 BCE by the legendary Chinese emperor and herbalist Shen Nong. Legend has it that he required his drinking water to be boiled so that it may be clean, and as a servant was preparing to boil the water, a leaf from a wild tea bush had fallen into the cup and gone unnoticed. When presented to the emperor, he found the beverage very refreshing and recognized its ability to “give joy to the body and sparkle to the eye.”
More than 4700 years later, tea is now the second most popular drink in the world, surpassed only by water. It is cultivated across the globe, but the best harvests are still those found among the high mountain ranges and grown on family estates.
Did you know – all types of tea come from the same camellia sinensis plant?
It is the phenomenon of oxidation that modifies the natural state of the leaves, changing the color and taste. Oxidation occurs when the enzymes react to the broken cells of the tea leaf, and thus any fresh harvest may be transformed into green, oolong or black tea.
The fresh leaves are dehydrated after picking, then steamed or pan-fired to prevent oxidation. This maintains the green colour of the leaves, as well as most of its tannins, vitamin C, chlorophyll and minerals. The taste is often more subtle than oolong and black, and is generally lower in caffeine. This makes green tea the perfect meditative aid, for it is mildly stimulating and naturally contains theanine to calm and focus the brain.
Partial oxidation creates oolong tea, which may lean towards either the green or black spectrum of taste and appearance. They are then twisted or rolled, and the taste can range from fragrantly floral to roasted and rich. The word ‘oolong’ means ‘black dragon,’ which refers to the black snakes that coil around the branches of tea trees. To reassure children who were scared of them, adults told them that they were in fact, little black dragons.
Black teas undergo a more rigorous process of oxidation and they are the most popular type of tea in the Western world. To grade the quality of black tea, they are generally classified into either Orthodox (traditional methods which usually yield whole leaf or broken leaf, as well as finer broken particles called fannings, and a fine powder called dust) or the Crush-Tear-Curl system (CTC) which cannot produce whole leaf and is thus divided into broken leaf, fannings or dust.
While whole leaf is often seen as most desirable, there are instances where broken leaf can also be outstanding and whole leaf mediocre, and thus it is hard to generalize amongst the two. However, it is the general consesus that the CTC method of production, fannings and dust, are of inferior quality and flavour. Altitude Tea uses only whole or broken leaf teas to ensure as many nutrients are retained as possible and to produce exceptional taste.