20/05/2021 – Beverages / Tea / International Tea Day / Podcast / Infusions / Speciality / Varieties
New podcast journeys around the world in a tea cup
To celebrate International Tea Day (Friday 21st May), the UK Tea & Infusions Association’s new podcast series takes us on a trip around the world of teas – from China to Malawi, and Russia to Sri Lanka.
Holidays may be impossible for many at the moment – yet consumers can still transport themselves around the world by sipping on some of the home-brewed delights that emanate from far-flung places like Japan, Sri Lanka and Malawi.
The UN-designated International Tea Day is designed to promote activities that favour the sustainable production and consumption of tea. And in the lead-up to 21st May, the UK Tea & Infusions Association has launched its podcast series ‘Around the World in 80 teas – the First Few Stops’, in which Dr Sharon Hall, the Association’s CEO, alongside co-host Will Battle, author of the World Tea Encyclopaedia, discuss some very different teas from around the world – all produced from Camellia Sinensis tea bushes. “One of the great joys of tea is being able access a wealth of variety from around the world at very accessible prices,” remarked Will Battle. “It has been great to celebrate this diversity by shining the spotlight on a few favourites.”
The ‘Around the World in 80 Teas’ podcast series will explore the following teas:
China’s Long Jing – the Imperial tea
A green tea whose name translates as Dragon Well; the leaves are pan-fired by artisans and the very finest teas are traditionally produced in spring before the Qing Ming Festival. It has a beautiful balance of aroma and delicate toastiness, and is perhaps the easiest way to understand green tea. Legend has it that the Qianlong Emperor in the 18th century visited Long Jing and was given a cup of the tea that impressed him so much he conferred imperial status on the 18 tea bushes. Tea is still harvested from these bushes today, and fetches a higher price per gram than gold.
India’s First Flush Darjeeling – the Himalayan tea
Often called ‘the champagne of teas’, Darjeeling is a district in the foothills of the Himalayas. It is here, dominated by the 8,586m Mt. Kanchenjunga, where severe weather patterns produce the tea’s exquisite flavour and aroma. With the tea-plucking season starting in February, enthusiasts compete to buy the first batch of the first flush – called DJ01. Darjeeling can be used to make excellent Kombucha – the hottest ticket in the current boom of no- and low-alcohol ‘grown-up’ drinking options.
Kenya’s Smallholder Tea – the volcanic tea
A beautiful, golden tea produced by skilled smallholders living in the highlands east of the Great Rift Valley. Here, the humus-filled volcanic soils, high rainfall and warm temperatures create the right environment for healthy bushes whilst the skilled smallholders ensure excellent tea quality. Currently, the UK imports most of its black tea from Kenya as its equatorial location ensures year-round picking.
Malawi’s Black Tea – the red tea
Malawi is the unsung hero of many of the world’s blends – and tea is vital to the economy of Thyolo and Mulanje, the two main planting districts. Malawi is blessed with a benign climate, the awe-inspiring Mount Mulanje, and some very special cultivars that produce a beautiful and much-sought-after reddish-coloured tea. Malawi’s First Flush teas are highly sought after since the country has become a more popular tea-growing region for the UK market.
Russia’s Caravan – the smoky tea
While most Western European countries received their China tea by sea, the early Russian supply was imported along the ancient trading route known as the Silk Road. The year-long journey on camel-back, across dangerous terrains, lent the teas a distinct smoky flavour thanks to their proximity to countless night time campfires. We no longer have the camel caravan, but we still have Lapsang Souchong, a tea given its prized smoky flavour by the more modern practices of burning pine wood.
Sri Lanka’s High-grown – the extreme tea
Altitude and the seasonal impact of the monsoons have a major impact on tea taste and quality since the extreme temperatures – for tea-growing anyway – place the tea plants under stress. This creates some amazing flavours that are aromatic, intense and sometimes accompanied by highly prized menthol notes. High-grown teas from Sri Lanka are typically copper-coloured and include Uva and Dimbula teas. Premium English Breakfast blends often contain high-grown Ceylon teas.
Japan’s Gyokuro & Matcha – the shaded teas
Green teas from Japan, especially Guykuro, are created by placing the plants under almost total shade prior to harvest – a process known as ooshita, which causes special sweet notes to develop. Another example is Matcha, which is grown in shade for around three weeks. During this time, chlorophyll and amino acid levels build up in the leaves, creating the unique flavour and intense green colour. Matcha is the go-to tea for the famous Japanese tea ceremony and is steeped in ritual and protocol. It’s also increasingly used as a food ingredient and can provide a natural caffeine hit.
China’s Oolong, Tieguanyin and Big Red Robe – the floral teas
The heartland of oolong tea production is China's Fujian province and Taiwan. These semi-oxidised teas vary – from greenish rolled oolongs (producing a light, floral liquor reminiscent of lily of the valley, narcissus, orchid or hyacinth) to dark-brown-leafed oolongs (yielding liquors with deeper, earthier flavours and lingering hints of peach and apricot). Here you can also taste Tieguanyin, the ultimate tea for those who don’t like tea with its seductive floral notes, and Big Red Robe (Da Hong Pao), which serves to demonstrate the diversity in oolong with its deeper character and intense minerality.
India’s Assam second flush – the strong tea
A popular tea often used in Breakfast blends, Assam is heavily seasonal: the best quality arrives during the second flush, which is marked by a malty rich thickness with great full-bodied mouthfeel. The secrets to the flavour are the rich alluvial soils sitting alongside the floodplain of the Bhramaputra River, combined with the unique period in the season just after the bush awakes from its dormancy yet before the full impact of the monsoonal rains. This is the one tea that definitely needs milk to offset its intense, rich flavour.
UK’s English Breakfast Tea – the wake-up tea
Regular ‘black’ tea is by far the most popular drink consumed in Britain today, with over 100 million cups enjoyed every day of the year. English Breakfast is a blend of many of the teas we’ve visited already on our world tour – including Kenyan, Ceylon and Assam – so it’s truly an international drink worthy of celebrating on International Tea Day.
You can access the podcasts on YouTube here
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