Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Today's Lesson

Alright kiddies, today we’re going to talk about tea. Why? Because I recently rediscovered Taylors of Harrogate, one of the oldest independent family run importers of tea in Britain. A million years ago I spent some time in Harrogate and stumbling across their tea brought back a slew of memories. (Some of which can be found in my book, All Roads Lead to Ripon.) Taylors has been around since 1886. They began as tea importers, expanded to café owners and now handle coffee from around the world as well as tea.

There are thousands and thousands of varieties of teas but they all fall into three basic categories. Black, green, and white. The difference? They time of harvest and the way the leaves are processed.

Tea leaves are plucked from a hardy evergreen bush, camellia sinensis, by hand. Only the bud and top two leaves of a branch are used so this task is still performed by hand. For black tea, the freshly picked leaves are withered in warm room to remove much of the natural moisture. Then the leaves are rolled through machines which crush them. Next the leaves are permitted to ferment. This oxidization releases the essential oils and enzymes which darken the leaves and allows the flavor of the tea to develop. Finally, the tea is fired in very hot ovens, turning the leaves black, after which they are ready to be sorted and packaged.

Green tea starts out the same way but is not fermented. Because of this, the leaves are lighter and the flavor is milder. Taylors uses green tea leaves as a base for many of their blends because it mixes nicely with various fruits and herbs.

White tea also comes from the same bush but is plucked very early in the spring, always before the end of April. After that time the leaves are considered too old and will become either green or black tea. White tea only withers for twenty-four hours before drying and packing.

Tea is graded based on the size and coloring of the leaves and whether they are whole or broken. Each has its own specific characteristics that make it desirable to Taylors for use in the wide variety of products they offer. Charles Taylor, the company founder, noticed that variations in water supply could affect the quality of the brew and made it a priority to supply the most suitable blend of teas for each area in Britain. The family has carried on the tradition ever since.

I’ve sampled a wide variety of Taylors tea and have enjoyed it all. If you have the chance, pick some up and try it for yourself.

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