Sunday was our first tea tasting so I thought I'd write about tea. A major differentiation in teas is their level of oxidation. The more oxidized a tea the darker it looks. Many use the term "fermentation" when speaking about tea oxidation levels, technically, this is incorrect. Fermentation is a totally different thing usually involving yeast and booze. Most common tea one comes across is black tea (fully oxidized). Green tea (unoxidized) tea is also popular. If the tea is oxidized to a level between black and green (semi-oxidized) this is oolong tea, unless it is only slightly oxidized in which case it is often referred to as "Pou Chong" or "Ti Kuan Yin".

We've had people comment on our white tea that they really like it but don't quite know what it is. White teas have a very delicate flavor which is best when carefully appreciated. The tea is "white" because the tea consists only of the new tea buds plucked from the plant before they open. They are then withered to allow the natural moisture to evaporate and then are gently dried. The curled up buds have a silvery/white appearance and give a pale, straw colored liquor. As might be expected Its health benefits are similar to those of green tea. However, while most of us have heard the health benefits of green tea touted, some current research suggests that white tea may be even better

We established that tea is graded first on the size of the leaf particles of the tea; dust and fannings (generally used for tea bags) being the low grades, and broken and whole leaf (generally loose tea) as the higher grades. China, Japan, India, and Sri Lanka, all have their own grading systems. The Indian system is the most prevalent, so I will first review theirs. If you've ever looked at the Muggswigz tea menu you may remember seeing Nepal Sakhejung silver tips SFTGFOP1 . The Nepal silver tips is a white tea, and the letters following the name are not the result of a cat walking across the keyboard before printing, its Indian grading nomenclature! Each successive letter starting with the "P" denotes higher quality; SFTGFOP1 happens to be the very highest grade describable so it includes almost all of the grading terms. Only "almost all" the terms because it does not contain the terms for the lower grades. Fannings are denoted by an "F" at the right end, dust with a "D", broken with a "B". Starting with the "P". The "P" denotes that the tea contains the pekoe leaf. Quality teas are hand-picked so that only the top two leaves of the plant are picked. One of the leaves is called Pekoe(P), the other Orange Pekoe(OP). Teas containing a substantial amount of the orange pekoe are label as such. As we can see above the next letter is "F". "F" stands for flowery, it is used if the tea contains a substantial amount of a not fully open leaf bud found above the pekoe and orange pekoe leaves. The "G" stands for golden which is the color of the very young tips or buds that have been plucked early in the season the "G" signifies their substantial presence, a "T" (tippy) before the "G" signifies that their percentage is high. If the garden considers the tea absolutely exceptional an "F" for Finest is added and rarely an "S" (special). The numeral "1" after this string is used when the tea is from plants considered to be a superior variety.

   So when reconsidering are earlier example from the Muggswigz menu of : Nepal Sakhejung silver tips SFTGFOP1 You would know that it is a special finest tippy golden flowery orange pekoe of a superior variety of white "silver tip" tea from the Sakhejung tea facility in Nepal. Impress your neighbors and friends, woo women, maybe get stared at blankly, maybe get a smack for being showy, but of course most importantly, be educated as to what you are drinking.

   Tea (real tea, from the tea plant, not herbal tea or tisanes (fruit teas)) is primarily graded by the size of the tea leaf particles. This grading holds true whether we are speaking of green, white, oolong, or black tea (I described this different types of teas in past issues). Dust is the lowest grade or tea and is simply tea dust. Tea fannings is the second to lowest grade of tea and consists of small particles of tea. For instance, tea bags, generally contain only tea dust and fannings. Next is broken tea, which are broken leaves, and the highest size grade of tea is whole leaf, or “pekoe”.

Last time I wrote some more on the Indian tea grading system. Assuming you read that article, you are familiar with the term "orange pekoe" as a tea grade. Perhaps you thought to yourself "well that's a pretty out-there term, why is it called orange pekoe?" Perhaps you didn't care, either way I'm writing about it. First "pekoe". Very young tea leaves are covered with a silvery down, and the word "pekoe" probably roots from a corruption of the Chinese word for "silver-haired" (Kuo P'o'). So what's with the "orange"? As tea drinkers know, orange pekoe tea does not taste like oranges, although some think that "orange" is a reference to an old Chinese practice of blending tea with orange blossoms. Others believe that "orange" refers to the color of the infusion being more orange in color - as the younger leaves are more orange in color. Perhaps more likely however, "orange" refers to the royal Dutch House of Orange.

   The Dutch played a major role in bringing tea to the West, and the Dutch East India Company was the first large tea trading company in Europe, starting to ship tea to Europe in the early 1600's. In 1688, William of Orange, invited by English aristocrats, invaded England in a coup against James II and thus became William III of England, resulting in the merger of the English East India Company and the Dutch East India Company. It would sensibly follow that the name of the royal House of Orange was honorifically used to identify the higher quality tea.