A sippa or a cuppa –it’s all zen to me

Ah… tea and wine. Two drinks that make you surprisingly jolly and one can get you into more trouble than the other. I am talking about tea of course 😉

Historically, both tea and wine have been used as a stimulant and intoxicant. The caffeine is tea, though mild, is still addictive. This is why the Mormons don’t drink either. After all there is always a temptation to sit God down in the back porch and say “Hang on, I’ll be right back after that cuppa”. I plead guilty of such transgressions.

Yet both tea and wine are indelibly woven into history and deeply embedded into the ritual, religion and customs of the world. And the similarities do not end there:

A tea plantation in Assam. Learn more about Assam Tea Here.

Tea & wine both capture a sense of place: Terroir’ is a French word that means the combined effects of geography and climate on wine. In other words the soil, climate topography and seasons all play a role in determining the quality of grapes that go to make the wine. And every batch is different even though the wine may come from the same vineyard. Tea follows the same logic. The leading tea regions of India can be broadly compared to the French wine growing regions of Burgundy, Bordeaux and Languedoc. Also like wine, Indian teas are named after the place where they are grown– each tea carrying the distinct aroma of its region. Darjeeling, “the champagne” of teas” is pale in colour and has a natural delicate, muscatel-like flavour. Assam plays “burgundy” to Darjeeling’s “champagne”. The best Assam teas, particularly the 2nd flush teas, have a robust flavor and depth of color that is unmatched anywhere in the world.

Like wine, tea flavor involves both taste and aroma. Many teas and wines have their own intrinsic flavor with fruity, floral or woody notes. This should not be  confused  with herbal teas which have artificial or natural flavors added to a tea base. For example, the litchi flavour of the Gewurztraminer comes from the grapes grown in the Alsace region of northeast France.  Assam Teas have a deep woody note to them. Woody teas are a great after-dinner drink, and aid in digestion.

Fresh grapes, hand-picked makes the best wine

Hand picking ensures premium quality: Good wine and tea are never made from mechanically harvested crop: they are very carefully hand-picked. Exclusive wines are made from hand-selected grapes just as GFOP (Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe) the top grade Orthodox Assam Tea is made from hand-plucking only the pubescent tips of a tea bush. The fresh picked harvest has to be processed immediately while the leaves are still fresh to ensure optimum quality. The same goes with wine.

Tea leaves hand-plucked have to be processed within 24 hours otherwise it will spoil

Expertise and know-how are critical in tea and wine making. The decision of when exactly to finish the fermentation of rack a wine is as crucial as that of when to start or stop hand-firing a tea. That can only be learned by experience and determined by experts because wine and tea, are both living, artisanal product where top quality depends on instinct and knowhow.

Bacchus: The Roman God of Wine. To read more about the ceremonial uses of wine CLICK HERE.

Ceremonial & social uses:  In ancient Greece and Rome the mild intoxication offered by wine was valued as a means of

Click here to read an excellent article in Fresh Cup Magazine on the "Rituals, Rites and the Religion of Tea."

entering the irrational realm of Greek divinities. Buddhist monks use tea to help enter a meditative state. Rikyu, an influential historical figure who studied tea coined a phrase that roughly translates to, ‘You can either sit on a cushion to gain enlightenment or you can make a bowl of tea.”

So here I am sitting on a cushion AND drinking tea– that should qualify me for double enlightenment, don’t you think? So whether it’s a sippa or a cuppa, share one with me, will you? And cheers to you, my dear friends!:)

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Since the Book of Grapes (and DANG, it’s a good one!) has  already been written by Johnny Come-First, Shona Patel decided to write a story set in a tea plantation in Assam. You can read more about Teatime for the Firefly HERE.  Shona Patel is represented by April Eberhardt Literary

How is Assam Tea made?

This post details the manufacturing process for Assam Tea. It has been compiled from the notes of Dick Clifford, a veteran Tea Planter who worked for the Jorehaute Company from 1946 and passed away in November 2005 at the age of 83.  Davey Lamont and Roy Church added to it. Many thanks for this very useful information!

Tea pluckers in Assam wear the traditional Assamese sombrero called a "japi" to protect themselves from the harsh sun.

A note about Tea Gardens in Assam

Many people fondly imagine tea plantations in Assam to be a small “tea farm” manned by local farmers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Tea plantations (often referred to as “tea gardens”–which is probably why the misconception started) are massive and complex entities autonomously run like mini townships, Each tea garden has its own tea growing area, processing factory, management and labor force, forest land, rice fields, housing, power, water supply and hospital. They are self-contained entities. In the hey days of Assam Tea there were over 1500 tea plantations dotting the Assam valley.

 THE TEA MANUFACTURING PROCESS 

Tractor trailers such as these are used to bring in the green leaves daily from the tea plantation to the factory.

Every stage of tea processing from plucking to final shipment has to be very diligently monitored as this directly affects the quality of tea.

During the second flush (peak growing season in Assam- June to August) the factory runs non stop. The leaf plucked on the day has to be made into black tea within 24 hours and sorted into varying grades within 48.

STEP 1: WITHERING The green leaf comes into the factory twice a day (sometimes three times) and is immediately thinly spread on Hessian cloth placed over wire-mesh racks in what is called the Withering Shed where it stays until it loses some of its moisture content and become flaccid (only 4% moisture remains). During the hot weather this takes around twelve hours which means the factory has to start at midnight or soon thereafter.

Gas fired dryers used in tea garden factories (historical photo courtesy Roy Church)

STEP 2: ROLLING OR CTC The leaf is collected and either rolled in Sirocco machines or, alternatively, put through a CTC machine which simultaneously crushes, tears and curls the leaf it as the process implies.

Davey’s comment:  “The laborers were terrified of the CTC machine back in the days when it was first introduced. The grinding “teeth” were exposed and they could just as easily Cut, Tear and Curl a few fingers along with the tea leaves!”

STEP 3: FERMENTING The mashed up tea leaves are thinly spread at a one-inch depth on trays to ferment and become oxidized and let its own juices interact. This process has to be closely watched and it takes an experienced tea planter to decide the optimum time required which varies from an hour to two or more, depending on the ambient conditions prevailing.

Rolling tables (historical photo courtesy Roy Church)

STEP 3:DRYING Then the tea is taken to the drying machines and spread thinly on the trays through which hot air is blown so as to extract the remaining moisture in the leaf. The end result is the black tea which one buys in the supermarkets . If the tea still has too much moisture left, it goes through the drying process again but care has to be taken not to scorch the end product. The finished tea is sent to the sorting room.

STEP 4: SORTING This is a mechanical process where the tea is fed on conveyors and passed through vibrating wire-mesh trays of varying mesh, the dust coming  through to the bottom. After sorting, the tea is packed in tea chests made of plywood lined with aluminium foil (to preserve flavor) and shipped by train or river steamer to Calcutta and then onwards to London. Prices for teas from different tea gardens were published and carefully monitored and there was much rivalry among Assam tea planters to see who was heading the listing. Tea planters were also paid a commission on profits so the the incentive to produce more and better teas was certainly not absent. Their existence depended on it.

Virtually all tea was sold on the London Market, through the Mincing Lane Tea Auctions, till the end of the 1960s. Only second grade tea was sold in India up till then, but the Indian Govt saw the possibilities of a full-blown Calcutta tea market and consequent income of foreign exchange. Once they had the organisation going, with purely Indian run Auction Houses, any U.K. importer had to purchase his teas in Calcutta and pay in sterling. This pertains to this day and 95% of the industry is Indian owned, the old U.K. firms having sold out to Indians.

BUNGALOW TEA: Roy Church talks about the special perks of being a Tea Planter. In the 1960’s it was customary for each tea garden to make a small quantity of special tea each year and to distribute one chest each to the estate Manager, the garden Assistant Manager and the factory Engineer. When the day came to make the “bungalow tea”, the garden assistant would employ the most skilled women to pick leaf from the best sections or even individual bushes. The leaf would be plucked extraordinarily fine; either pure tip or ‘one and a bud’. The women were paid special rates as such fine plucking would have been impossible at normal piecework rates. Dependant upon the personal taste of the Manager the leaf would be manufactured either orthodox or CTC style. This batch of leaf was manufactured before all the remainder of the day’s plucking so that it received the optimum manufacturing conditions and also so it could be kept entirely separate from the remaining manufacture. A spotless area in the sorting room of the factory would be set aside for the tea where it was sorted entirely by hand – even to the extent of using woollen blankets to further separate the fine tip. Very often the tea was so ‘tippy’ as to more resemble tobacco than tea!

(If you spot and error or an omission please send me a private comment HERE. Thanks!)

OTHER RELATED POSTS 
Tea talk on Tea Buddy
What is Assam Tea?
Types of Assam tea: ORTHODOX & CTC
What is the difference between Green Tea and Black Tea?
Is global warming changing the flavor of Assam Tea?

Shona Patel’s debut novel Teatime for the Firefly is a love story set in a tea plantation in Assam. You can read more about it HERE.  She is represented by April Eberhardt Literary.

Ahhh….morning tea!


Morning tea in my Bodum teapot. It brews and pours perfectly. And nothing goes better with a cup of strong Assam Tea than good old Marie (perfect for dunking) Biscuits!

Strange how a teapot can represent at the same time the comforts of solitude and the pleasures of company.

I drink a lot of tea. Sometimes as much as 5 to 6 cups a day – fully loaded, full-bodied CTC Assam with milk and sugar. These are moments in my day when time ticks slower and the soul lets out sigh: life becomes pondering moments. I see a miniscule fly stretch its gossamer wing to capture a sun diamond in its tip and notice the ocotillo cactus outside my window has just sprung a new bud. Tea times are quiet times in my day, a small stretch that helps me level out before I head back to the computer or rush off to a meeting.

Tea times are social times too. There are things you would tell a friend over a cup of tea, you would never tell otherwise. Tea talk is soul talk. All my friends say I remind them of teatime. Anitra my friend swears she has a Pavlovian reflex to put the kettle on every time I call her. In my childhood, the kettle hissed, teacups tinkled and the doorbell rang almost without stop.

If I am caffeine-buzzed all the time, I just don’t know it. I sleep like a baby at night and sometimes the last thing I drink before I go to bed is a cup of tea. Can I live without tea? Probably. I have gone for days without drinking tea and had no murderous thought towards another human being. I just missed it, like you would an old familiar friend. Now, would I ever drink decaf? Never. Not in a hundred years. Why? Because it tastes butt ugggg-ly, that’s why!! Same reason why I won’t eat low-fat or funny foods that pretend to be bacon. As for decaf being better for you? Haha! Please CLICK HERE if you want to be shocked and/or enlightened on the subject.

As I sit here with my second cup this morning, the sun peeps over a big jagged rock and paints my patio with a  swath of gold. I think to myself, La Dolce Vita. ‘Tis a sweet life indeed.

OTHER RELATED POSTS
Tea talk on Tea Buddy
What is Assam Tea?
Types of Assam tea: ORTHODOX & CTC
How is Assam Tea Made?
Is global warming changing the flavor of Assam Tea?

My debut novel Teatime for the Firefly is set in a tea plantation in 1940’s Assam India. You can read more about it HERE. Please give me your feedback! Thanks.

I am represented by April Eberhardt Literary.

What is the difference between Green Tea and Black Tea?

Green and black tea both come from the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant, a member of the evergreen family that thrives in semi-tropical climates. This is the only plant from which “real” tea is produced. All other beverages that are loosely referred to as “tea” such as “herbal teas” are really herbal infusions or decoctions. Tea comes in many varieties, however, based on the way the leaves are processed, all teas are divided into four basic types: black, green, oolong, and the very rare white. 

BLACK TEA is produced when newly harvested leaves are crushed and exposed to air. This enzymatic process (oxidation–similar to what happens to a cut apple or pear when left exposed to air) changes the colour of the leaves from green to brown and, when dried, to black, resulting in a delicious, rich flavour and color. Black tea is the most popular tea in the West.  Black teas are full-bodied and are able to withstand the addition of sweeteners and milk.

Popular Indian black teas include Assam Tea (sold as English Breakfast Tea): this robust tea goes well with milk; Darjeeling (a Himalayan tea with a flowery bouquet) and Nilgiri, grown in the hills of South India. The climate and terrain of the area where the tea is grown gives each variety its characteristic flavor which is why the region is often a part of a tea’s name.

GREEN TEA has a more delicate taste and is light green/golden in color. Green teas are not oxidized but merely withered and dried.  The leaves are steamed right after the withering stage, which destroys the enzymes that would otherwise cause the darkening. The steamed leaves are rolled and immediately fired. The brewed tea is a pale green liquid, with the grassy flavor of the fresh plant. Because the tannins do not go through the oxidizing process, which has a mellowing effect, green tea can be bitter, more astringent if it is steeped for a long time.  

Oolong Teas are the teas that are most often served in Chinese restaurants.  Oolongs are processed in the same way that black teas but they aren’t allowed to oxidize fully. Predictably, the flavor of the semi-fermented tea is somewhere in between black tea and green tea.  

White Tea is minimally processed, usually only air-dried and slightly oxidized. The highest quality white teas are picked before the leaf buds have opened, while still covered with silky white hairs. Of all teas, whites probably have the least amount of caffeine. 

Herbal Teas are only called teas because they are steeped the way “real tea” is, but are not made from the Camellia sinensis plant.  Technically, herbal or medicinal teas are “tisanes” or “infusions”. Herbal and “medicinal” teas are created from the flowers, berries, peels, seeds, leaves and roots of many different plants. Chamomile and Peppermint are just two of the most popular herbal teas available today.  

Green tea is touted as having  two to three times the antioxidants of black tea but the fact remains about twice the amount of leaves is used to make a cup of black tea so the antioxidants per cup of black is still high.

Source: Financial Express “The humbler cuppa fights back.” Read the complete article HERE

OTHER RELATED POSTS ON TEA BUDDY
Tea talk on Tea Buddy
What is Assam Tea?
Types of Assam tea: ORTHODOX & CTC
How is Assam Tea Made?
Is global warming changing the flavor of Assam Tea?
 
 Shona Patel’s debut novel Teatime for the Firefly is a love story set in a tea plantation in Assam. You can read more about it HERE.  She is represented by April Eberhardt Literary.

What tea do you drink? Please share!