Talk about tea

This discussion is from our Lavender Bundle Store and Farms’ facebook page, good information about tea and my future plans surrounding it.

Post #1

Yes, let’s talk about tea. First off, I have to get this off my chest, over the years I have been quite an uninformed tea consumer. I’d go to the store, I’d buy the prepackaged tea conveniently packaged in the tea bags, mostly buying based on brand name and flavor preference. But not no more!!!

I have been learning a lot about tea lately. Without going into a whole dissertation on the subject, I will summarize some of what I’m learning. Camellia sinensis is the plant species that produces tea, if it’s not this plant then it’s not a true tea. Typically in fine teas it is only the top two new leaves and the leaf bud that are harvest, usually by hand, and processed into the tea we are familiar with. These fine teas usually command higher prices. Many of the large companies process by machine, and I’m sure use more of the tea plant than just the tender new leaves and bud.

On the market we find and are familiar with white tea, green tea, oolong, and black tea. These different teas are all created from the same plant, the difference however is in the processing, with the white tea being the least processed and the black tea being the most processed using different levels of oxidation.

The hand process goes something like this (keep in mind this is the shortened version written by a newbie to the tea growing and processing world) The tea is harvested by hand only snipping off the top two leaves and middle leaf bud. In certain tea growing regions this harvest takes place approximately every two months. The tea is then laid out to begin to wilt, depending upon conditions, some folks sun wilt, others wilt in an enclosed area with fans and slight heat. Then the tea is brought in to begin hand rolling and encourage the oxidation process.. For white tea it doesn’t go through oxidation, it is quickly pan seared to stop al oxidation and then dried. This is the least processed tea with the least amount of caffeine. Green tea is similar in that it goes through a light oxidation, then seared to stop the process, then dried, it has a little more caffeine than white tea but not much. Both the white and green tea have a more herby vegetative taste. Then comes Oolong and black tea. These teas are hand rolled and rested and dried repeatedly to increase the oxidation process and to increase the caffeine content. With black tea being the strongest and the hand processing can be significant, it can often times command a much higher price.

There are other teas out there made with other parts of the tea plant, such as Kikicha which is also harvested from Camellia Sinesis, but is made from the twigs and stems only.

Other teas such as herbal teas are correctly called tisanes. Tisanes can be made out of many different things, herbs, fruit, flavoring oils, etc. These typically will have no caffeine and are sometimes blended with Camellia Sinesis to add flavors to the caffeinated teas.

Tea blending is an art form in itself. I am meeting a lot of folks that are experimenting with blending their own teas. It’s very exciting to see such an interest. Tea is the second most consumed beverage after water. And research now shows there are many health benefits realized by drinking tea.

Post #2

And now we come to the root of my obsession with tea.

I want to grow and process my own tea. I’ve been researching this quite a bit. There are about twelve commercial tea growers now on the Big Island of Hawaii, an area perfectly suited for growing tea. I’ve been in contact with a few of them and have plans to do a work study with them in the future. On our next visit we plan to tour and talk with them more as each farmer grows in a very different environment from the other. I dream of growing tea there on the island… but that’s pretty far off in the future.

In the less distant future, closer to home and reality, I’m mulling over trying to grow tea on our farm in WA. I have several mature camellia bushes/trees growing there like gang busters, so I know that particular variety of camellia grows well there in the rainy weather and acidic soils of the peninsula, just not sure if camellia sinensis does. Oh, I didn’t mention yet that tea loves a rainy, misty environment and that’s why it grows so well on the rainy side of the Big Island. One of the more prolific areas of tea growing there on the island is up in the cool, rainy area of Volcano around 4000 feet. It is noted that in the lower temperatures the tea grows slower and is reported to be more flavorful.

I’ve been researching the tea growing efforts of the Sakuma Brothers in the Skagit Valley area in WA. Their main crop is fruit and berries, yet they’ve been growing tea for almost ten years now and starting to have quite a bit of success with it. I’ve read that they admit to not giving the tea the effort due for many years as the tea’s harvest time conflicts with the harvest of their major income crops and when you‘re a farmer, well ya gotta do what ya gotta do. More recently they seem to have turned their efforts back toward tea as they are realizing the huge tea market out there and the health benefits

I think it would be great to grow our own tea, blend it with our lavender and other herbs. I’m currently in the process of trying to get a few fellow farmers interested in giving tea a go. We shall see… I will keep all posted.


1 Comment

  1. Jon Watts said,

    April 3, 2010 at 10:07 pm

    Wow, you really have some big dreams! My hat is off to you girl, and hope they are all realized. I hafta tell ya I feel educated reading your tea article. Good luck Ann and don’t stop dreaming!

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