Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Tea* (*But Were to Afraid to Ask)

The ritual of preparation, the pleasingchoice of utensils andreceptacles, and finally theconsummate joy of hot, steamy tea.

But whether a happy-go-lucky layman or a discerning, canny-palatted expert, questions will surely abound about that most gratifying of evening pleasures – tea and the drinking of it – and so here we are to satisfy that most natural of curiosities:

  1. Do Teabags Work?

The teabag serves many purposes, and serves them well. It is practical – not only in the kitchen, but in leaf selection and shipping, also. Allowing for the easy distribution and consumption of fine particles of tea (rather than the larger, furled examples of the loose-leaf variety, which require much more space during packing), teabags can be packed, sent, stocked and sold off with little thought once the tea crumbs have been blended to match the criteria of the brand. So in the respect of the quarterly targets-mindedmultinational, the teabag most certainly does work. But it nonetheless fails to deliver the depth and richness of loose-leaf, gourmet teas.

  1. What Is tasseomancy?

Literally meaning ‘cup prophecy,’ tasseomancy (or tasseography) and the ancient art of tea reading originated in ancient China before it was propagated about the world by travelling Gypsy folk. The tea would be carefully prepared, and the person to receive the reading would then enjoy the drink before the residue of saturated leaves at the bottom of the cup was swirled three times in an anti-clockwise direction. Fortunes were then ready to be foretold.

  1. Why Do Some People Have Trouble Brewing a Cup of Tea?

The cultural movement of convenience displaced the desire for quality, and with it came our problems in the kitchen. Teabags came in, gourmet teas went out, and communally we forgot how to properly brew the loose leaf. And yet it’s not that difficult. Measure out the water (purified, ideally), count out the spoonfuls of tealeaves, steep, strain, serve, enjoy. Yes, there are a few little extras to be observed – don’t allow hot water to remain quietly brewing in the pot if you plan to re-infuse (which you should); don’t steep green tea in boiling water lest you wish it bitter – but a little bit of know-how, not to mention practice, goes a long way.

  1. Are Loose-Leaf Teas Healthy?

As with any plant leaf, tealeaves withhold much of the mineral-rich goodness that they sucked up from the earths whence they sprouted. The brewing process allows for many of those constituent elements to be passed on to the drinker in the form of beneficial properties: a boosted metabolism, better skin, allergy prevention, a stronger immune system.

  1. What Are Bubble Teas?

Bubble tea is to the loose leaves of the Camellia sinensis (the shrub from which all teas come) what the milkshake is to hand-picked and maturedMuscardin grape. Crudely flavoured, syrupped, frothed, iced and slushed, their bubbles, or pearls, are fruit jellies made of starch and thickening agent, tapioca. All of which renders the bubble tea as essentially nothing more than a soulless vessel created for the safe and profitable delivery of sugar. But if you can get past that, it’s really tasty.

  1. Are the Findings of Samplers and Blenders Who Do Tasting Research Accurate?

Major tea manufacturers may be the enemy of cultivated connoisseurs the world over, but don’t knock their tasters. As a natural crop, tea’s leaves vary from harvest to harvest, but in come the highly-skilled tasters and blenders (five years of training!) to adapt recipes and sources to guarantee that the brand’s final product is consistent from season to season, year to year.Imagine what they could achieve if unshackled from the limitations of their masters’ brand identity?

  1. What Happens During Brewing?

Curls of painstakingly picked, withered, rolled, oxidised,dried or fired tealeaves gently unfurl and expand, rehydrating, infusing and releasingtheir complex combinations of wondrous flavours, fragrances, colours and tones. Simple.And not a little sexy.

If you love making fantastic tea, look here for the best loose-leaf teas around.