"Tea Leaves the Cup" at Green Bay Botanical Garden

The Green Bay Botanical Garden has been decorated for the upcoming holiday season.

And the North East Wisconsin Herb Society of America members got to work setting up for a festive tea.

Guests at the  2014 Christmas Tea were promised traditional and new sweets and savories, some made from tea, would grace the plates.  Unique beverages and herbal tisanes suitable to the holiday season were provided along with information on the history of tea, the proper preparation of tea, tea etiquette, and holiday lore.

According to the Tea Association of the USA, the wholesale tea industry has grown from an estimated $2 billion dollars in 1990 to an estimated $10 billion in 2013.

All tea comes from a single plant, the Camellia Sinensis. Before the advent of tea cultivation, two genera of Camellia Sinensis thrived in the wild. Camellia Sinensis var. Sinensis (China bush) is at home on the foggy mountainsides of Southwestern China and produce a small, tender leaf during a short growing period. Camellia Sinensis var. Assamica (Assam bush) prefers the jungle-like conditions of Northeastern India and yields a large, broad leaf that can be picked year-round.

Harvesting, picking and processing the camellia sinensis bush yields 5 classes of tea: white, green, oolong, black, and pu·erh.

White Tea

Harvested in early spring, tender young buds are carefully plucked the day before they unfurl into leaves, briefly withered and then quickly air driedsteamed to prevent oxidation. As a result of minimal processing, white tea is valued for its high concentration of polyphenols. The flavor of white tea can be described as delicate, smooth, sweet, velvety, and reminiscent of fresh apricots.

Green Tea

The buds and top leaves from the tea plant are thinly spread in the shade and left to air-dry. This primary drying is kept short to prevent oxidation of the leaf. Working with fresh product, a team of firers will sift, roll, flatten, tumble, or shake the tea over a heat source until it is thoroughly dried and the flavor is locked in. Careful manipulation of the leaves during the firing process results in distinctive shapes and flavors. Traditionally, this process was done entirely by hand in baskets and woks carefully placed over coal and wood burning fires. Today, large tumblers and ovens are employed during this phase to process large amounts of green tea for export. Pan-frying results in the toasty flavor of Long Jing, while steaming results in the sweetly vegetal flavors of Japanese Sencha.
Oolong Tea
Oolongs can be made from the bud of the tea plant with up to three large leaves still attached to the twig, or from a single large leaf picked later in the season than green tea. Oolongs are only partially oxidized. A  complex method of bruising the tea leaves is used to break down cell walls and begin the oxidation of the leaf. Low heat is then used to halt the process, allowing for the still pliable leave to be rolled, curled, crimped, twisted, and fired into their final form. Different levels of oxidation and firing are used to bring out complex flavors and aromas that are uniquely “oolong.” ranging from distinctively floral, to reminiscent of stone fruit. Flavors can be smooth, savory, full-bodied and rich; or delicate, with notes of orchid, honey, and exotic fruits.
Black Tea
Black tea results from the full oxidation of the bud and first two leaves of the tea plant picked early in the spring. Leaves are spread thickly for an extended withering time (up to 18 hours) to drive moisture out of the leaf and begins the conversion of delicate “juices” within the leaf into dark, complex liquoring compounds. The oxidation begins at this stage and continues into the rolling process. After being sorted by size, the withered leaves will be twisted, compressed, and rolled multiple times, breaking down cell walls and allowing enzymes to mix. Special oxidation chambers are used to feed air through thin layers of rolled leaves to quicken the process. Once the tea master determines oxidation is complete and the flavors and aromas properly developed, the leaves will be dried, cooled, and packaged for sale. Black tea is graded and sold by its size of leaf and point of origin. High quality black teas are of whole leaf with a high ratio of leaf buds (tips) to leaf.  Full leaf black teas will have aromas that are clean, nutty, and bright, with flavors that are brisk, full, coppery and soft. Names like: Assam, Darjeeling, Yunnan, and Ceylon refer to the region where the tea was grown

Pu·erh Tea
Pu·erh (pū-ĕr) is an ancient healing tea picked from 500 year old organic wild tea trees in the majestic mountains of China’s Yunnan province. Over 2000 years ago the tea was transported along five Tea Horse Roads’. The first and most traveled road began in the village of Pu Erh. In order to maximize their load, merchants compressed the tea, and to their surprise, the tea tasted better at the journey’s end and yielded additional health benefits. Pu·erh is processed differently than traditional white, green, oolong, and black teas. Pu·erh undergoes a unique fermenting process: once picked, the leaves are piled, dampened, and turned, over a 60-day period. The tea is then dried and ready to be compressed into bricks for additional aging, or left as loose tea. The resulting taste is rich and smooth with hints of malt – a great alternative to coffee.

Herbal infusions & tisanes
While the word “tea” is often loosely used to describe any beverage made with the leaves of a plant, true “tea” is made only from Camellia sinensis.  A drink made by steeping herbs, spices, flowers,… in hot water is more accurately referred to as a tisane or herbal infusion.  What are commonly referred to as “herbal teas” are often consumed for their soothing or rejuvenating qualities, suiting the needs of those who wish to avoid caffeine.

Flavored tea
Tea easily absorbs other aromas and tastes from flowers, oils, herbs, and spices. Flavoring tea is a well-established tradition in China, where tea is brewed with onions, orange peel, peach leaves, and berries. The Chinese are also known for their flower teas, including jasmine, orchid, rose, and magnolia. In many Arabic nations, mint with a generous amount of sugar, is the flavoring of choice. In India, the spicy “masala tea” is made by boiling black tea with spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and black or white pepper; milk and sugar are usually added as well.

Tea has a spectrum of strong, unique flavors that can shine through when integrated into a dish. Dried leaves can add crunch and flavor for rubs to coat fish, meat or poultry or to be used as a garnish, particularly when young and green. Smoked teas lend a deep, dark smokiness to poultry and seafood. The tannins in tea complement the fats in things like meat and dairy, while adding subtle flavor. Brewed tea can be used as a braising liquid, or as a seasoning for marinades. As the base for a sauce, fruit juices gain depth of flavor with a tea addition. A small handful of tea leaves adds an herbaceous flavor and a golden glow to cream sauces. Tea can be used to tease flavors out, to bridge between different disparate ingredients or highlight certain aspects of a dish. Beyond using the hot water-infused beverage, teas can be infused into cold water, oils, dairy products, vinegars, juices and even alcohol. Chefs use teas to complement the sweeter items on their menus, especially desserts and breakfast pastries. To make a cake or shortbread with tea, melt the butter with tea leaves in it, allow to stand for a few minutes and then sieve out the leaves, chill the butter to firm, and proceed with your favorite recipe.

It is important to brew tea differently for cooking and baking than you would for brewing. The simplest, easiest way is to pour pure spring water on the leaves and allow them to brew at room temperature up to 20 to 30 minutes to ensure neither excessive astringency nor bitterness. For a quicker brewing of tea for cooking, use water at 185 degrees F. or slightly lower temperature and infuse the tea for three to five minutes. Although you might be tempted to use leftover brewed tea in cooking, resist as it will be too strong, have an off flavor or be subsequently bitter when used in cooking or baking.Pure spring water seems to bring out both the flavor of tea better than purified or certainly distilled waters, because it has enough natural minerals to “connect” with the flavor-producing polyphenols.

When sieving out the liquid from tea, a fine-meshed sieve or a chinois, a sophisticated French sieve, make it easier to press down on the leaves themselves and squeeze out as much flavorful tea as possible for your dish. Or use French press-style tea infuser to make infusing easy,and cleanup effortless.

You want the tea to be something you can taste, but not something that overpowers everything else.
As a general guideline, try pairing teas with foods from the same geographic region. 

Teas and foods that complement them:

Pu-erh teas: Pu-erhs can often be paired with meats and poultry.
Black teas: Teas like Lapsang souchong, have full body and taste, and often work well with meat dishes. Classic black teas like Keemun or Yunnan, or Lapsang souchong with hot, spicy foods such as Sichuan tea-smoked duck.

  • Darjeeling – egg dishes; creamy desserts 
  • Keemun – meats; fish; Chinese foods; spicy Mexican, Italian, or Indian dishes 
  • Yunnan – highly seasoned foods 
  • Lapsang Souchong – chicken, smoked salmon, lemony desserts 
  • Assam – hearty foods; breakfast foods; chocolate, custard or lemon desserts

Oolong tea: Oolong teas have a light character and often complement shellfish such as lobster and shrimp.
Japanese green teas: Sencha and other Japanese green teas work well with seafood, fish and rice, or to balance out foods high in sodium.
Jasmine green tea: works well with delicately flavored cooking.
Lighter, green teas: pair best with seafood and chicken.

Cheese and Tea Pairings

Asiago: Keemun, Pai Mu Dan
Brie: Dragonwell, Ha Giang, Darjeeling, Tung Ting Oolong
Camembert: Dragonwell, Chun Mee, Gunpowder, Ha Giang, First-Flush Darjeeling, Sikkim
Cheddar: Tung Ting Oolong, Darjeeling
Cream Cheese: Ceylon, Darjeerling, Cameroon
Edam: Ceylon, Autumnal Darjeeling, Buddha’s Finger Oolong
Gorgonzola: Chun Mee, Ha Giang, Ceylon, Pouchong
Muenster: Tung Ting Oolong, Pouchong
Provolone: Ceylon, Nilgri

Chocolate & Tea Pairings

Tea pairs well with chocolate so long as the flavors do not overwhelm one another. Black teas are the preferred choice for chocolate.
Dark Chocolate: Assam, Darjeeling, Earl Grey, Gyokuro, Oolong or Pu-erh
Milk or White chocolate:Darjeeling, Dragonwell, Oolong, Sencha or Yunnan

Many other uses have been found for tea leaves and brewed tea.
Use teabags to:

  • Cool sunburned skin & minor burns
  • Relieve your tired eyes
  • Reduce razor burn
  • Drain a boil
  • Soothe bleeding gums
  • Relieve pain from an injection
  • Dry poison ivy rash
  • Place a few used tea bags on top of the drainage layer at the bottom of the planter before potting to retain water and leach nutrients to the soil.
  • Sprinkle contents around your rose bushes to give them a midsummer boost.
  • Add to a compost pile

Use brewed tea solution to:

  • Soak white lace or garments in a tea bath, using 3 tea bags for every 2 cups of boiling water, and steep for 20 minutes or longer, to create an antique ivory, ecru, or beige color
  • Use a quart (liter) of warm, unsweetened tea (freshly brewed or instant) as a final rinse after your regular shampoo to give natural shine to dry hair
  • Stop foot odor by soaking feet in tea bath
  • Occasionally substitute brewed tea when watering ferns and other acid-loving houseplants
“If you are cold, tea will warm you;
if you are too heated, it will cool you;
If you are depressed, it will cheer you;
If you are excited, it will calm you.” 
~William Ewart Gladstone