What is Tea?
All teas (green, black, white, oolong and yellow) actually come from the same plant – the Camellia Sinensis. The difference in taste and appearance, from strong rich black teas, perfect with a splash of milk, to the delicate and light colour and flavour of green teas, is all down to the manufacturing process.
For black teas there are two tea processing methods: Orthodox (tea leaves rolled by hand or by machine) or CTC (cut-tear-curl, resulting in smaller particles for teabags). Orthodox is ideal for loose-leaf or pyramid bags where the space to properly infuse results in a full-bodied, complex & flavoursome cup of tea. CTC has greater surface area due to the smaller leaf size, which means a quicker brew but doesn’t pack the same flavour punch.
We only use whole-leaf orthodox quality leaves in our pyramid tea bags, carefully selected to provide both quality and convenience!
The Evolution of Tea - A Brief History.
Our daily cuppa is so deeply rooted in our culture and everyday routine making it easy to take for granted, but the history of tea is a long and complex one spanning many cultures, continents and millennia.
Originating in China, the birth of tea can be traced as far back as 2737 BC, to ‘The Father of Tea’ - Shen Nong. Developing trade routes saw tea spread across the globe, finally arriving in England in the 17th century. Records estimate tea was first sold in London around 1658 but was initially considered a great luxury afforded primarily to nobility and royalty due to high prices & taxes.
The dependency on Chinese grown tea shifted when the Opium Wars of the 1840’s interrupted the trade from China and led to the establishment of British-grown tea gardens in India & Sri Lanka. Supply was controlled and dependable and the price of tea fell making it available to all levels of society. It was on its way to becoming Britain’s everyday drink we couldn’t be without today.
The 19th century saw Britain experience the Industrial revolution and with it emerged the British tradition of High Tea. A satiating spread of calorific foods accompanied by a pot of strong tea were served to replenish calories lost during long manual labour shifts. By the 1860s the more refined concept of Afternoon Tea became fashionable due to the gradual deferment of dinner to evening and the introduction of luncheon at midday. The desire for refreshment between these well spaced meals led to the development and gradually the ceremony we know as Afternoon Tea.
Tea parlours and Tea rooms abounded between WWI and WWII until the influence of American fast food joints & coffee bars from the fifties saw their decline. But by the 1980s, the fashion for tea reawakened with the opening of tea parlours, rooms and hotel teas once again.
To this day tea remains the nation’s favourite drink in the UK, enjoyed everywhere and by everyone in homes, work places, from café’s to the finest establishments. The tradition of tea and tea drinking continues to evolve as a new generation discovers new ways to enjoy tea blends and enjoy the therapeutic health benefits of a good old cup of Rosy Lee.
In the first half of the 20th century, loose-leaf tea was widely enjoyed. But as lifestyles changed, notably from WWII onwards, convenience became more important than flavour or ritual and prompted the introduction of the traditional tea bag – providing fast but flavourless cups of tea.
Nowadays discerning tea drinkers are turning back to loose whole-leaf teas, more conscious of origin and flavour profiles than ever before, akin to fine wine. However, developments in tea bag technology with pyramid bags now allow high quality whole leaf teas the space to infuse properly, meaning you get to enjoy a flavourful, quality cup of tea without compromising on convenience.
The way in which tea leaves are processed once they have been plucked gives different teas their unique characteristics and flavour profiles.
The basic tea process consists of:
Withering (allowing the leaves to dry a little to reduce water).
Rolling/cutting (this is to break down cells of the leaf to develop flavour).
Oxidation/fermentation (to develop the taste and aroms compounds, give briskness and change in colour from green to brown).
The differences between tea types is largely driven by the oxidation and fermentation stage of this process. Oxidation happens when enzymes in the tea react with oxygen. You can see this process in action when you cut an apple and it begins to turn brown. The longer the oxidation process on the tea leaves, the darker the leaves become and the darker the liquor. Fermentation takes place when bacteria is activated by the presence of warmth and water. This happens when little to no oxygen is present and results in a darker tea. Some examples are kombucha and pu-erh.
The manufacturing process of black tea is as follows: the leaves are plucked, then withered to dry the leaf out, rolling (if orthodox so the leaf remains whole) or cutting (if CTC tea- small leaves), then oxidised. They are then dried to then be sorted and graded.
Green tea is processed in a similar way to black tea however the oxidation process is prevented by applying heat to the leaves. This gives green tea its light green colour, close to the original fresh green of the camellia sinensis plant. The leaves are then rolled, dried and sorted.
The process of tea picking for white tea is a lot more intricate. Named after the little white hairs which cover each new bud and give the tea a dried silver-white appearance, each bud has to be picked carefully to avoid bruising. The leaves are slowly dried/baked to remove the water and then sorted. White tea in turn has a sweet, light flavour.
Any blends which don’t contain any tea leaves from the camellia sinensis plant are referred to as tisanes or herbal infusions.
Whole Leaf Teas
Making tea great again. We think teas should be given the TLC they deserve - from cultivation to cup. Tea estates carefully pick and process the leaves to ensure that you get all the aromas and flavours to look for in your cuppa. So, whilst the majority of tea consumed In the UK is the CTC type (small cut leaves which fit neatly into cramped teabags), our aim is to celebrate and bring back whole leaf teas in the most accessible way possible.
Leaf Types & Grading.
Tea grading categorises leaves by their quality and condition. These range from the highest grade tips (buds) to the cheapest low quality fannings or dust. We always clearly label the grade of tea leaves used in any of our blends so you can trust and the quality and know your “black tea” doesn’t consist of dusty tea scrapings.
Whole or Large Leaves
P - Pekoe - Twisted or rolled leaves with no tip/bud.
OP - Orange Pekoe - young, tightly rolled leaves. Some tip.
FP - Flowery Pekoe - contains more tip.
FOP - Flowery Orange Pekoe - whole leaves with bud.
GFOP - Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe - contains more tip.
TGFOP - Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe - adundance of tip.
FTGFOP - Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe - high quality, adundance of tip.
SFTGFOP - Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe - the most superior and special grade of leaf.
BOP - Broken Orange Pekoe - the broken version of OP.
FBOP - Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe.
GFBOP - Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe.
TGFBOP - Tippy Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe.
At the bottom of the spectrum lies: Fannings and Dust.
Location Location Location.
The distinct flavour profiles of different teas are unique to the location they are grown in. Tea always enjoys a climate that is warm and humid with a lot of rainfall. But the flavour of individual teas are impacted by so many other external factors such as unique micro climate, the acidity of the soil, how the estate is protected by the surrounding terrain, etc.
Each factor gives the tea its own recognisable and individual characteristics. This means that your Ceylon from Uva region will taste entirely different to the maltier Assam. This is why we always list the regions and tea estates (the exact farm where the tea leaves have come from). The details matter and we don’t apologise for being tea purists!
After all, it’s really not as simple as ‘black tea’ or ‘green tea’!
How to Make the Perfect Cup of Tea.
Three crucial factors:
WATER – we always recommend using freshly boiled water to brew tea. This is
because every time water is boiled, oxygen is lost and the evaporation of water vapour leads to other minerals in the water becoming more concentrated, which then affects the flavour of the tea. So, if you keep re-boiling the stale water in your kettle you will never achieve the optimum tasting cup of tea. Because we are particular, where possible, we recommend using filtered water to eliminate limescale and other elements present in tap water.
TEMPERATURE - always boil the water to the correct temperature specific to the type of tea, to maximise the flavours, aromas and benefits. Some teas are more delicate so require a lower temp.
TIME - keep an eye on the recommended brewing times to give you the best flavour for each leaf type. Steeping tea for a shorter amount of time may not release all the flavour. Too long may release too much caffeine & polyphenols, making it bitter.