I Went To A Tea Testing and Here's What I Learned
Tea has grown on me. I identify as a coffee person, but recently have been trying to cut down on my intake, so I've been exploring other options. Living in Hong Kong means I have a lot of options around me, as tea is so deep-rooted in Chinese culture. I realized that I have been missing out on the opportunity to discover great tea, and I'm quite uneducated on the matter, so I set out on a quest (actually just a google search) on tea cafés around me.
In East Asia, tea is the most common social drink; from formal tea ceremonies to casual dinners. When you go to a restaurant in Hong Kong you're served warm water and/or tea with your meal, as they believe you should keep the body's balance, and warmth is good for digestion. When you go to a convenience store here you'll see an abundance of bottled tea in the drinks section rather than sugar or energy drinks, which is great because tea has so many health benefits. It contains unique antioxidants called flavonoids, and different teas have different properties:
- Green tea: high in EGCG (the most potent flavonoid) which inhibit the growth of many cancers, prevent the clogging of arteries, burn fat and cholesterol, and counteract oxidative stress on the brain.
- Black tea: it's fermented, contains a lot of caffeine (stimulates mental alertness and raises energy levels), and has antiviral and antibacterial properties. It is vitamin-rich (Carotene, Vitamin B1, B5, B6, and C), and also contains antioxidants.
- White Tea: Unfermented and has the most potent anticancer and antimicrobial properties. It's known as the most 'healthy' tea because of this, followed by Jasmine, then Green tea. Studies show it also has positive effects on acne.
- Oolong Tea: I always see this tea being marketed in Asia as a way to reduce fat and cholesterol. People often drink it here after a fatty meal. This is because the polyphenols in oolong tea help activate the enzyme responsible for dissolving triglycerides (fat) and help to enhance fat metabolism. It also has a lot of antioxidants- more than black tea, but less than white or green.
Being aware of their properties and benefits (it's so much more beneficial than coffee) I wanted to find a place where I could not only try different teas, but learn more about them, and learn how to properly make them (there's actually a lot that goes into it). I came across Plantation, which is a tea company sourcing rare teas from small plantations around the world. They also sell beautifully crafted teaware from local craftsmen, and offer tea workshops. What really caught my eye is the fact that they offer 'Tea Tastings' with a tea master. So I made my way to their Sai Ying Pun location.
Upon entering I immediately felt relaxed. The minimalistic decor, warm woods, plants, soft lighting, and the smell of teas made it instantly feel like I was in some sort of sanctuary outside of the city.
We decided on the tea testing which comes with your choice of three teas, all made by a tea master for HKD$128 (USD~$16.00). I asked our tea master to recommend which ones he thinks we should drink and he suggested Yunnan Moonlight White from the White tea menu (Puerh, Yunnan), Red Jade with Bergamot from the Black tea menu (Yuchi, Nantou), and Red Oolong from the oolong menu (Luye, Taitung).
After observing the tea master and his craft here's what I learned:
1. Appreciation matters. We were given the loose tea leaves in a cup to examine, admire, and smell it's aroma and quality. Then we were told where they came from and that tea grower's story (it's very hard work).
2. Each tea should be made with a certain temperature of water. For example, white and green teas should be lower, or else you will get a bitter taste (this explains a lot about my experience with green teas) because the polyphenols are released too fast. The ideal temperature for the water to be is 160-180°F.
3. Some tightly woven black or oolong teas (the ones in balls) need to be rinsed first (don't drink after the first steep, pour away), because the leaves need to become unwoven to release the best flavour.
4. After adding the water, the tea leaves don't need much time to steep. For the white tea (and green), he poured it in the pitcher after only 30 seconds, before pouring it into our cups. Oolong was one minute and a half.
5. Asians call what we refer to 'Black tea' in the West 'Red Tea'. This is because when the leaf is dry it is black, but when it is wet it turns red.
6. White and green teas get more strong/bitter the more times you steep them (using the same leaves). Red/Black and Oolong get more light/sweet.
7. Tea is brewed one cup at a time.
8. In a formal setting, it's good etiquette to cradle your cup with two hands (in Japan one is placed under the cup and one on the side). In three sips you should finish your cup; first a small sip, then the largest main sip, and lastly to empty the cup and enjoy the aftertaste.
If you apply the above aspects, you'll make delicious tea every time. If you weren't so into tea, give it another try. If you were settling for a bitter taste, you deserve better!
After all of the teas were tried, we were left to make our own at our own pace and stay as long as we liked. I left feeling warm, calm, and a little more educated on an important cultural aspect of the city I live in- oh and a bag of my favourite of the day, the Red Oolong!
If you live in Hong Kong, or are visiting, and are in need of a beautiful, quiet afternoon, I highly recommend paying Plantation a visit.