At the very beginning of their journey, a tea enthusiast encounters numerous questions that aren't so easy to find answers to. In this article, Paul White, founder and visionary inspiration behind TEAFLOW, will address the 10 most popular questions about tea ceremonies and tea culture as a whole.

Question 1: Why is a tea ceremony necessary?

You can simply toss tea into a cup or brew it in a French press to get the drink itself and nothing more. A tea ceremony is needed to experience the dynamics between different brews. You taste the first steeping, the second, the third, and so on. Some teas can withstand even 20 infusions. The trick lies in this dynamic: one might be more aromatic, another more robust. And you're seeking these nuances, searching for these subtleties. They're vividly felt precisely in the tea ceremony, not in simply steeping in a teapot—it's an entirely different experience. That's why in China, such tea sessions are often referred to as "Pin Cha" (品茶) – tea tasting.

Under no circumstances should you brew tea in a French press: it crushes and breaks the tea leaves, resulting in a more bitter and astringent beverage.

Question 2: Is milk poured over milk oolong tea?

For several years, this has been the most popular question in our store. However, it's being asked less frequently nowadays. In short, no, milk oolong tea is not poured over with milk. It doesn't grow near pastures or have cows grazing nearby. It's all about flavoring. Relatively simple raw materials are used, such as inexpensive varieties of Tie Guan Yin. Flavoring can conceal many aspects, including the shortcomings that prevent this tea from being brewed in its pure form. The quality of the flavoring also varies. You can opt for a cheaper, coarser flavoring where the jar might be sealed, but the aroma of this milk oolong is still noticeable. Alternatively, you can choose a more expensive option that will be more delicate and creamy, resembling condensed milk. And that's the appeal. However, despite this, it's a flavoring. In China, people prefer naturally flavored teas over milk oolong, such as jasmine tea, osmanthus tea, ginseng tea, and several other additions, but without artificial flavoring.

In China, there are hundreds and thousands of different varieties of oolong teas. Some of them even have specific types of tea ceremonies designed for them. For instance, there's the Chaozhou tea ceremony.

Question 3: How is Chinese tea different from any other tea?

What is the difference between French wine or Swiss cheese and any other? Everyone.

China is the birthplace of tea with centuries-old production traditions. Technologies are passed on from one master to another over many tens and even hundreds of years. The biochemical composition of the tea leaf is also very different, and therefore the palette of tastes and aromas. All this makes Chinese tea a truly unique product.

Question 4: Does pu-erh tea make you high?

It depends on what you mean by 'high.' If you're referring to the effects of prohibited substances or alcohol, then no, pu-erh tea doesn't have that kind of impact. Pu-erh contains caffeine, alkaloids, and various other biologically active substances that affect the body. Mostly, they energize and invigorate, although they might have a sedative effect on some people, putting them to sleep. The impact is quite individual, but nothing resembles alcohol-induced intoxication—it's not something associated with pu-erh. So, asking if pu-erh 'makes you high' isn't entirely accurate.

An article about tea intoxication.

Question 5: Why is the tea ceremony ware so small?

Chinese people are quite practical—they don't do things without reason. They take a large amount of tea leaves and brew them multiple times. This approach ensures a flavorful and highly efficient way to steep the tea. During a Chinese tea session, the one brewing manages quite a few variables. The tea, water temperature, quantity of tea leaves, the shape, and even the thickness of the teaware's walls—all of these affect the taste of the drink. By steeping repeatedly, you can adjust to the situation and roughly determine which variable needs tweaking. There's no need to consume a lot of tea immediately to understand that it might not have brewed well. You drink from a small cup, and instant feedback arises.

There's a legend that this is to emphasize the value of tea. In reality, in China, tea is often brewed in larger vessels or just a regular glass, and it's perfectly fine. However, if you want to have that creative element, if you want to influence the process and manage all of these aspects, that's where the tea ceremony comes into play.

Question 6: How do you tell bad tea from good?

In reality, it's a pretty tricky question. If I were to sum it up briefly, it's all about trusting your supplier and the store where you buy your tea. The main criteria involve the integrity of the leaf and the absence of extraneous aromas, or sharp or unpleasant notes in the taste. The key is to develop your taste experience and try, for instance, Tie Guan Yin many, many times. You'll start to distinctly understand what authentic Tie Guan Yin is and which specific variety you enjoy.

It's about tasting, tasting, and tasting again. Taste receptors are like muscles; they can be trained and developed.

Question 7: Is oolong a type of green tea?

Oolong and green tea belong to two different categories of tea, processed using different methods. In theory, both green tea and oolong can be made from the same tea leaves but using distinct processing techniques. Green tea is often pan-fired in large woks, which are also used for cooking noodles. Oolongs, on the other hand, undergo longer withering or are baked in larger ovens. It's a much more intricate process than making green tea. That's why oolongs are made from a different type of tea leaf, one that's more fleshy and dense. Green tea, on the other hand, uses smaller leaves or tea buds. Their flavors will be entirely different, even though they might both appear green in color.

Question 8: Is red tea the same as hibiscus tea?

Firstly, tea refers only to Camellia sinensis. Anything that isn't Camellia sinensis isn't considered tea. Hibiscus tea comes from the flowers of the Sudanese rose, and plants from the genus Hibiscus.

Secondly, there are different classifications of tea. In Europe, classification is based on the appearance of the tea leaf, determining if it's black or green. In China, classification revolves around the processing method of the tea leaf. So, color isn't as crucial as the processing method. When you visit a tea shop in China and ask for black tea, they might serve you pu-erh or hei cha, basket teas. What we call black tea in the USA and Europe is termed red tea in China. Neither of these terms relates to hibiscus tea.

Red Chinese tea, Dian Hong Hua Xiang

Question 9: Is pu-erh only black tea?

Pu-erh can be categorized into two groups: shu pu-erh and sheng pu-erh. In Europe, shu pu-erh is the most popular. They were invented quite recently, in the 1970s. However, in China, sheng pu-erh or green pu-erh is more popular. In English sources, shu pu-erh is called 'ripe pu-erh,' and green pu-erh, or what's known as raw pu-erh is termed 'raw pu-erh.' The process of making sheng pu-erh is most similar to the production of green tea, and the taste of young sheng pu-erh is very close to strong green tea. Shu pu-erh, on the other hand, is made using a different process: a large quantity of tea leaves is moistened, covered, and fermented for 90 days. It results in a dark, rich tea with an entirely different taste.

Question 10: Is it true that the older the pu-erh, the better it is?

That's one of the misconceptions fostered by dishonest marketers to sell low-quality tea.

When it comes to shu pu-erh, it's not entirely true. The process for shu pu-erh implies that it can be consumed immediately. Certainly, after a year, shu pu-erh becomes more full-bodied and harmonious, but if it's good quality, you can drink shu regardless of its age.

For Sheng Pu-erh, age does matter. The older sheng pu-erh gets, the better it becomes. The biochemistry of the tea leaf changes over time: some caffeine dissipates, and the flavor becomes fuller, richer, and smoother. According to recent studies, 30 years is the maximum limit before tea may start turning into hay. To achieve this, two conditions are necessary: first, quality raw materials that don't deteriorate but instead gracefully evolve, and second, proper storage, which is quite challenging to replicate in a home setting.

Drink good tea and stay good people!

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