Growing up in a traditional Chinese family, I was exposed to tea and its health benefits at a very early age. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve taken a liking to different types of green and black teas as well as fruit teas and I regularly drink several different types at home.
However, tea ceremonies and techniques for drinking tea weren’t a regular part of my upbringing; we’d only ever conducted the traditional wedding Chinese tea ceremony as a family so when I heard that Silk Road was holding a Tea workshop on the techniques of drinking tea; as part of Victoria Taste Festival I decided to sign up.
The tea workshop was run by Daniela Cubelic, the owner of Silk Road Tea and there was about twenty of us sitting around the bar with trays that contained four tea cups in front of each of us. We each also had four smaller tea cups filled with two different types of tea leaves and four larger cups on a tray with each type of tea leaf pre-soaked with water.
We tasted and smelled the tea of two different grades of Japanese Sencha green tea and Chinese Keemun black tea. From looking at the dry tea leaves, we learned that the shine as well as the size and uniform look of the leaves dictates whether the tea is high or low quality. One of the Keemun teas contained a mix of shiny higher-quality leaves as well as what looked like tree bark. According to Daniela, some tea manufacturers would mix higher quality leaves with lower quality in order to raise the quality of their teas and sell it for a premium price.
We also learned that green and black tea leaves are harvested from the same bush and it is the oxidation and drying processes that turn the tea leaves black. If the oxidation or drying process is done incorrectly, it can cause the leaves to become moldy, which can lead to the tea tasting bitter.
In order to taste the subtle nuances between different types of tea, Daniela taught the group the technique for proper tea tasting.
- Cup your hand over the tea cup to smell the brewed tea
- Take a sip of the tea and gently swirl it in your mouth
- Take four or five deep breaths, inhaling and exhaling while the tea is in your mouth
- Swallow accordingly
Daniela also gave us some fun facts about tea as well, like how the British came to put milk in their tea. Apparently, the Chinese sold the British the lowest quality tea leaves and when the British started drinking tea, they found that adding milk cut through the bitterness and they became accustomed to the taste. The British started growing tea plants that specifically produced more bitter tea leaves in order to keep that taste.
Not only was the workshop educational, I also learned more about the nuances and techniques behind a beverage of my childhood, one that has also been the cornerstone of Chinese culture for thousands of years.