Tea is the second most commonly consumed beverage in the world, next to water. True teas are made from the leaves of the tea plant, Camellia sinensis. In addition there are a huge number of beverages made from leaves and herbs that are commonly called teas, but technically should be called tisanes.
True tea comes in an almost dizzying variety of flavors, but all teas have one thing in common: they activate our entire flavor system. This is a major reason why I have decided to make tea a focus of interest.
There are several reasons for this tremendous array of flavors, starting with the varety of tea plant itself, to the location and manner of cultivation, to the timing of leaf plucking in the season, the location of the leaf on the plant, and the techniques used to prepare the leaf for brewing, to the brewing techniques. Teas are as varied as wines!
Nevertheless we can make certain generalizations about teas, just as we can about wines. These generalizations have to do with the methods used to prepare the final leaf to be brewed. And just as with wines, people have definite preferences for different types of tea.
We have done several studies looking at tea preferences among tea professionals and non-professionals. Not surprisingly tea professionals choose their favorites from a much wider variety of teas, while non-professionals stick mainly to black tea, green tea, teas with bergamot, jasmine, or similar flavorings, and spiced teas or chais.
Interestingly, non-professionals who drink green tea are health conscious, and appear not to like the taste of the tea too much. By contrast, professionals drink green tea because they like the taste.
Though I have no proof of this, I venture to suggest that an important reason for the difference in attitudes towards green tea may lie in the way teas are brewed. While in general we are told that one should brew green tea at lower temperatures than when brewing black tea, in order to decrease the extraction of bitter catechins from the leaf, it has been my experience that non-professionals tend to heat the water too much and to let the leaf sit in the water too long. The result is a bitter tea. One possible advantage of the greater bitterness: it means that more of the presumed healthy but bitter anti-oxidants are in the tea. And of course some people find the bitterness pleasant, even though the bitterness masks the herby grassy flavors of the tea. Which brings us to tea and food pairing...
Pairteas - The Science of Tea and Food Pairing
By analogy with wine, we can think of pairing teas with foods. For those of us, myself included, who cannot or do not want to drink alcohol, pairing teas with foods can be a source of infinite delight (not to mention snobbery!). I am busy working on a system that will place tea and food pairing on a scientific basis, so you will be able to find a tea that will complement most any food. Meanwhile, what to do about the bitterness of green tea? Try this experiment: taste your green tea, then put a tiny bit of salt on your tongue, and taste it again. The bitterness will be gone!
Please contact me if you have questions about this or any other aspect of our work.