January is National Tea Month
January 1st marks not only the beginning of a new year (and if fate and Kharma exist, be kind to us) but also the start of National Tea Month. While I love coffee as well, tea will always be on a slightly higher pedestal thanks to the variety. I have black teas for the morning, some for midday, and herbal teas to unwind with before bed. During the winter nothing beats a day with a pot of tea and a book under blankets when it’s snowing outside. It would be impossible to cover all the varieties of tea in one article. For now, I’ll begin with the basics of black tea, and the common varieties.
The Basics of Black Tea
Black tea is the more popular of teas brewed in western countries. In America, tea is more commonly served iced than it is hot. When brewing, the ideal water temperature is 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Steeping, or the amount time leaves remain submerged in water, can range from 2 to 7 minutes depending on the tea variety. A majority of blends will provide an ideal brew temperature, tea amount, and steep time. Black tea is available in caffeinated and decaf blends. For those with caffeine, the amount can vary from 20 to 110 milligrams. The variety of tea, broken or whole leaves, and brewing method can all affect the level of caffeine. There are a handful of common varieties of black tea, each with own unique profile.
Black Tea Varieties
Assam tea is named after Assam, India, the location of harvest. The flavor profile is malty and slightly sweet. The color of the leaves can be a medium brown or burgundy color when dried, with gold buds blended in. Assam tea has two harvests during a season. The second harvest usually has more golden buds mixed in, brewing a smoother tea while maintaining a rich malty profile. Assam has a higher caffein content and is a common breakfast tea.
Harvested in Sri Lanka, Ceylon tea has a sweet, tangy flavor with citrus and floral notes. Ceylon tea gathered in lower elevations of Sri Lanka is darker in color with a more robust flavor. Tea harvested in higher elevations has a golden color and a more delicate flavor profile.
Darjeeling tea is harvested in the Darjeeling District of West Bengal, India. There are three harvests during a growing season. The first harvest occurs in the spring, the second during summer, and the third during the fall. The first harvest produces a tea that is a golden amber color and has a more subtle taste. The second and third harvests produce darker and more intense teas in flavor. The flavor profile of Darjeeling is fruity, with floral undertones.
Golden Monkey tea is harvested in the Fujian and Yunnan Provinces of China. Golden Monkey tea is one of the finest black teas available and is usually more expensive than other black teas. A significant factor of the cost derives from the method of harvest. The tea leaves are harvested only during the spring, picking one leaf and one bud from each tea plant. The tea is then withered, rolled, and shaped by hand before being dried. Golden Monkey tea has a rich sweet and nutty flavor, with notes of chocolate or caramel.
Keemun tea is harvested and named after Qimen County of Huangshan City, China. The flavor profile is one of the more complex of black teas. Keemun contains floral, sweet, and slightly smoky notes and is sometimes described as an apple or plum flavor. Keemun tea has a sweet finish that is less bitter than other black teas and is commonly used in English breakfast tea blends. One benefit of Keemun tea is that when properly stored, leaves can last years, though the flavor will mellow over time. The color of the leaves range from light copper to amber
Lapsang Souchong tea leaves are harvested in the Wuyi region of Fujian Province, China. If you prefer teas that are predominately smoky in flavor, Lapsang Souchong is a perfect choice. The leaves dry over fires of pinewood after harvest. This drying process creates darkly colored leaves and a smoky taste and aroma. The flavor profile is intense and has hints of sweetness and an overall smooth taste.
Yunnan tea is harvested in the Yunnan Province in southern China. Yunnan tea is a blend of golden tips and darker tea leaves. The flavor profile of Yunnan tea is sweet, with undertones of earth or spice. On the other hand, the golden tips flavor profile is lighter and more delicate. Therefore, blends containing golden tips are considered top-quality tea, creating a lighter brew.
Brewing an Eco-Friendly Cup of Tea
Whether you are experimenting with new teas or brewing a favorite blend, there are ways to enjoy tea while reducing your carbon footprint. One of the best ways is to avoid tea served in single-use cups. When brewing at home, if you can, purchase tea that is sold loose leaf without teabags. This will help reduce waste in landfills from teabags made of materials that will not break down.
There are many options for brewing loose leaf tea, including mesh and silicone tea balls and cups with a straining insert. When brewing tea, don’t lose out on the flavor of a second brew! Many black teas can steep twice, if not three times. It all depends on how strong a tea blend you have and the cut of the leaf. It’s a great way to get the most out of leaves, helping the environment and wallets. Cups with lids are great for covering your cup while steeping and also act as a draining tray to store steeping inserts between cups.
Start 2022 With a Cup of Hot Tea
I plan on starting the New Year off with a cup of my favorite tea, lapsang souchong. On a cold winter day, lapsang souchong can make it feel like you’ve escaped to a log cabin in the mountains with a fire roaring in the hearth. Not only is tea an excellent way for me to relax, but it turns out it may even help heart health as we age! As with all caffeinated beverages, tea is best enjoyed in moderation. What are some of your own favorite tea blends, or cups for brewing?