What is tea? An expert shares tips for making and sipping this soothing drink

Maybe I’m looking at the world through a macchiato mindset, but it seems that, in the competition for cool, coffee tends to overwhelm tea. Coffee, with its irritable demeanor and potentially cheerful personality, can be intimidating to its tea counterpart. Although I’ve been away from it for years, the cup and plate business is trendy cup of buttered caffeine, I am here to shine a sweet light on the beauty that is steeping behind the mellow cup.

As I consider my mission, I think back to the lovely traditions of tea. When I was little, not only did I love hosting tea parties for my stuffed animal guests, but I also loved a real high tea. Cakes and whipped cream. French lace scarves, porcelain mugs and pound teapots. Had the cucumber sandwich and the sweet little sugar cubes. I will wear a dress and a pearl set for the occasion. I feel amused, mature, even though my legs often dangle in the chair that is too high for me to sit in to enjoy the experience.

As I grew up, so did my taste buds. My one time Constant-Comment-or-nothing The mentality changed, and I opened my eyes to a whole world of teas. In the bleak landscape of a Texas summer, my new pickup truck is a iced green teaand when I need to warm my bones, I reach for a hot cup matcha or chair.

While I’d love to learn about teas on my own, I knew there was something deeper to dig into. I started my rudimentary education and advanced my education by Billy Weston, Dynamic GM and Beverage Manager at Otoko and Watertrade in Austin.

Read on to find out which teas, brewing tips, and types really not tea at all…

First thing first, what is tea really?

Essentially, the tea plant is the Camellia Sinensis plant, an evergreen shrub/small tree. The leaves are the main source of tea and there are several other cultivars in the same genus that you can also use to make tea (Assamica and Crassicolumna) although Sinensis is by far the most popular. The way you handle the leaves/sticks/plants once harvested is where we get the different styles of tea available in the market.

What are the types, caffeine content and health benefits of tea?

This question will take me longer to go through in depth, but I’ll cover the basics most people are probably familiar with (and some of them might not!) and include questions. Answer to both below:

white tea
The teas are delicately crafted, minimally. Light body and taste, low in caffeine.

Some oxidations tend to be steamed or pan-fried to prevent oxidation. Mild, medium-caffeinated taste (about 1/4 cup of coffee). Japanese green tea tends to have a higher caffeine content than Chinese green tea due to the method of harvesting + heating.

Purple tea
Usually growing wild in the Assam region of India, Kenya is the largest producer of this tea. Similar to oolong in its method of harvesting and drying from these regions, it can also be found from China in a much lighter form. The caffeine content is very low but it is high in antioxidants. Softer, mellow flavor.

Yellow tea
Very rare tea, the process is similar to making green tea, but with the added step of wrapping before steaming, creating a milder flavor than green tea. Expensive stuff! The caffeine content is on par with green tea, the taste is mellow.

Oolong Tea
Partially oxidized, more than green tea but less so than red (or black as we know it), they can vary greatly in the degree of oxidation that a particular tea can undergo. This creates many possibilities when choosing oolong tea. Oolongs from China and Taiwan are especially popular with tea drinkers. These teas tend to have a milder aroma and alcohol, and their caffeine levels are higher than green teas.

Black tea
This is what we call black tea. Most tea drinkers refer to this style of tea as red tea. They tend to be red, and the caffeine content is close to half a cup of coffee. Depending on the source of the tea and the method of preparation, it can have completely different characteristics.

Pu Erh Tea
Aged and partially fermented, Pu Erh and aged teas are what most of the tea world call black tea. These are the richest, deepest teas. The leaves are harvested, steamed and pan-fired to prevent oxidation like all teas, but they undergo the additional treatment of brewing and fermenting and always come from Yunnan province, China. Think of Pu Erh tea like you drink Champagne — it has to come from Yunnan to be called Pu Erh!

Tisane (herbal tea)
Not *technically* a tea as it is not from the Camellia Sinensis plant, the herbal teas are actually called tisanes. They rarely contain caffeine, as they tend to be made from herbs and spices mixed together.

How to combine tea with food?

Tea combinations are the same as any other, although they work especially well with Japanese cuisine because their flavors are much more subtle. You may want to add a flavor profile or provide a contrasting profile that refreshes the palate.

Should I drink hot or cold tea?

That totally depends on your mood and what you want to get out of your tea. Try all the different ways! One of the most interesting aspects of tea is the way it transforms if you brew it cold, hot, Gong fu style, the Western method. It’s an adventure for the palate.

What is the difference between Western style tea and Gong Fu brewing method?

The difference between these two methods is a matter of timing. The Western method works with a single infusion (or steeping) of tea for a time ranging from one minute to several minutes depending on the type of tea. This brewing style is great for one-and-done scenarios. If you really want to experience what tea is possible, give it a try Gong-fu . method. This will put the tea through several steepings, including an initial rinse in hot water to awaken the potential of the leaves. It was a very enjoyable experience and I strongly recommend taking part in a tea ceremony from time to time with a trained tea expert. Tea is brewed in a number of gradients, depending on the style of tea making. Stronger teas can be steeped longer and through multiple infusions. Each soak will see a change of flavor, possibly an additional hint of something that hasn’t been there before.

Tell us about the Yoshi-cha tea you made.

Yoshi-cha! This is the kind of tea that Yoshi (Okai of Austin Otoko restaurant) and I created with Smith Teamaker. Yoshi had worked with them before at the Festival, enjoyed their tea and visited their headquarters while he was in Portland. The pandemic hit and blew our plans into the air, as they did to everyone! We were finally back from the pandemic and I suggested we reopen the tea conversation with Smith and the conversation was over. We wanted to encapsulate the perfect sushi accompaniment that combines various Yoshi influences — Texas and Japan at the core! The amazing team at Smith met with us from afar, discussed our thoughts (we knew we wanted tea Hojicha style) and added some suggestions based on the conversation. . We tackle some of the key elements of sansho pepper and yaupon in the blend, with sage and yerba santa making up the rest of the blend.

What food does Yoshi-cha go best with and how do you like to drink it?

We paired Yoshi-cha with the latter end of the sushi portion of the meal at Otoko. This pairs it with uni and madai, as well as with some composing sashimi. The bolder nigiri and the varied flavors of the sashimi really match the dynamic of Yoshi-cha. It’s bold yet mellow, refreshing yet earthy and grounded.

What is your favorite way to drink Yoshi-cha at home or at a restaurant?

I love it as a cold beer when I drink it by accident although adding it to a cocktail or a punch is amazing! Try it in one Philadelphia Fish House Punch to really surprise your next party guest.

Tea bags or loose leaves?

Leaves loose if you have time. Get yourself a tea maker! It is very worth it.

Like teapot? And cup of tea?

Literally anything I can find, ha. I like to save up for cute vintage stuff where I can.

As much as possible! I fix it by buying a teacup for the coupler, so come check it out at
Otoko sometime and see my new findings. It’s all about Etsy!

Any other details you’d like to leave us with?

Don’t be scared by tea, just drink it. It’s an interesting drink and despite what some elite camellia researchers may tell you, you can enjoy it however you want!

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