Friday, August 17, 2007

The Legend of Shen Nung

One day about 5000 years ago, China Emperor Shen Nung and his company were travelling to the far edges of his great empire. During his travels, Emperor Nung, being quite paranoid of becoming ill, required all water be boiled prior to drinking. While his servants boiled pots of water, some dried out leaves from nearby bushes landed in the pots causing it to be infused it into a brown liquid. Instead of throwing it away, the Emperor's curiosity got the better of him and upon tasting the brew was refreshed by it. This is the legend of how tea came to be.

One day about three weeks ago, Blog writer Alex found tea.

I was told about a place in Calgary called "Steeps" which is conveniently located on 17th Ave in downtown. Steeps is a Tea House, devoted completely to loose leaf teas from around the world. In Steeps is a stack of tea tins, with over 75 varieties of teas allowing you can open the cans and smell the aromas from each tea prior to choosing one for purchase. This is very beneficial, cause teas taste just like they smell. (One could argue that you are actually using your nose to taste being that the tongue can only detect four tastes; sweet, sour, bitter and salty) This is how my tea addiction began.

I was quite surprised to learn that all teas, yes, every single one of the teas offered around the world, all come from the same plant. The plant is the Camellia Sinensis. The location of the tea and it's fermentation processes are what give different teas unique characteristics. Black tea, the most common, is made black by fermenting the leaves to 100% oxidation. Green tea is just the same as black tea, but without fermentation oxidation, Oolong tea allows about 50% fermentation and white tea is young tea leaves picked and then processed very quickly with steam. Flavoured teas like Earl Grey (one of my favorites) is simply just black tea with Bergamot orange rind, and English Breakfast tea is just a combination of four black teas from various areas around the world. Orange Pekoe is not a tea flavour or a combination at all. Orange Pekoe is simply a grade of the leaf used in the tea, it's the largest leaf.

My first loose leaf tea purchase was a white tea called "Leopard Snow Buds". White tea is rich in antioxidants, low in caffeine and presents with a very light color. It has to be brewed at about 77 degrees C for about 2 minutes. This makes it a little finicky, dumping boiling water (95C) on a white tea leaf will result in off tasting bitter tea, but trying to infuse the tea below 77 degrees C can give watery results. I've purchased a thermometer for my teas. Green teas follow these rules as well, but black teas need boiling water to infuse.

Since the white tea purchase, I've also obtained a few green and black teas. Yamamoto Green which is Japanese green blend flavoured with orange and lemon grass, and Geisha Green which is high quality Japanese greens flavoured with strawberry and red currents. My black teas are Royal Earl Grey, flavoured with Bergamot and Jasmine and my current favorite Steinthal FTGFOP, which is from a 150 year old tea farm in the Darjeeling district of India. FTGFOP means Fine Tippy Golden Fannings Orange Pekoe, and that translates to good stuff.

I haven't been to Tim Horton's for a coffee in three weeks, not that I don't drink coffee anymore. Cathy picked me up some great coffee from the Shuswap district which I enjoy as well. I'm a little concerned that she bought me a coffee bean called "The Prince of Darkness", not because of the name but because she said it reminded her of me.. (insert evil grin here).

If you come over, ask for a cup. I'll brew you up 5000 years of history. If your planning a trip to Steeps on 17th, please take me with you, we'll call it a date, unless you're a guy then it'll just be a get together. Not that there's anything wrong with that.



Mattie said...

I have had the honor and priviledge of enjoying said tea with alex, and as I have been giving up coffee for three weeks now (see my blog for why) I also have been on a tea drinking craze. I started with the green mint that we grow in our garden and have thought about going to the lengths that alex has gone to. The tea was great, guitar hero good and company, as always, stellar. Thanks and I will be over again soon!

Anonymous said...

Last week when we babysat Alex and Leona's kids, we, too got a taste ofo white tea which I found in their cupboard. It stole our hearts right away and I bought it since. When Alex returned he explained to us all about tea and made some brew for us of .....I forgot what it was called. But it was exquisite. (He did do it with the 77 degrees rule) The slurping of this liquid went nicely together with the playing of 'Books and Runs'.

Anonymous said...

OK, you convinced me Alex. I'm taking a trip to Steeps this week, and will try out the Yamamoto green tea, b/c I love green tea with citrus. I have yet to find a good green tea here (since I can't find Good Earth teas anywhere...if you find them let me know!). I do agree that loose-leaf teas are superlative, even tho I still stand by my PG Tips! I also look forward to a little tea taste-test at your place sometime.
Thanks for an informative blog;-)

Anonymous said...

I hear that 1 week old rainbow trout, steeped at 99 degrees celsius in one's trunk, can be exquisite, although, at times, somewhat pungent.........

Anonymous said...

I would like to share with you how I make tea - throw teabag in mug, add water, microwave for 2 minutes, push teabag around until tea looks like the right color, add cream and sugar. Are you shocked and appalled?? Considering how much time and care I put into choosing my coffee, you probably should be!! I think I need a tea making lesson....!!

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