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For nearly 5,000 years tea has been, after water, the most popular drink on the planet. Ever since, according to legend, the Chinese emperor Shennong accidentally brewed the very first cup of tea, the world has been in love with the leaves of a single plant: Camellia Sinensis.
Most of us know Camellia Sinensis in its most famous expressions: Black tea and Green tea. In truth, all tea – Black, Green, White, Yellow , Oolong or Pu’erh – gets its start the very same way, as a simple Camellia leaf. Over centuries, tea makers all over the world have developed hundreds of hybrids and subtypes (known as cultivars). They have bent the plant to their whims, adapting it to their local environments. Through agricultural and manufacturing expertise these artisans have coaxed out countless nuances of flavor.
Soon after plucking, the leaves are set out on trays or in troughs to lose moisture content in a process called Withering. Withering renders the leaf supple and physically prepares it for further processing.
Leaves destined to be Green tea are often only withered briefly, if at all. As Green tea makers know, it is critical to halt the oxidation process by a brief firing, roasting or steaming of the leaves. If this care is not taken, the leaf will begin to brown and its internal chemistry will irrevocably change.
In contrast, the appearance, aroma and taste of Black tea are defined by oxidation. Tea makers will intentionally bruise (or “roll”) the leaves, rupturing their cell walls and distributing their sap. As these bruised leaves are set out in special rooms, they interact with the air, gradually changing from vivid green to coppery red. Once ready, these leaves are finished in a high heat dryer. Finally, the crude finished tea is sorted by leaf size. The larger, and preferably, unbroken grades are superior products, and can be found widely in our collection.
Although Green tea leaves are fired or steamed soon after arriving at the factory, they will often undergo subsequent bruising, kneading, twisting or shaping. In the wake of such pressure, additional heat will be necessary to halt any browning. Eventually, the leaves will be finished at high temperature and sorted by grade.
There are dozens of steps that connect the garden to the cup – dozens of steps that require the careful, experienced handling of tea plucker and tea maker alike.
The history of tisanes – infusions of leaves, flowers, fruit, peels, bark or other plant material that contains no leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant – is no less enthralling. Monks, working diligently in medieval monasteries, knew that many herbs, when infused with water, were able to soothe any number of ailments. Today, such “homeopathic” remedies are indispensible, and we find that they abound in our medicine cabinets. But no matter the healing properties of herbs, we adore foremost their taste. The calming honey sweetness of Camomile, the feisty kick of Peppermint, the warm embrace of Anise – these are timeless and delicious.
Fruit tisanes have a lot to offer in the way of diversity. The classic foundation of Fruit tisanes – hibiscus and rose hips – is complemented by the most amazing blends of ripe fruit and time-honored botanicals... and even by Gummi Bears!
And let us not forget the traditional tisanes of South Africa – Rooibush and Honeybush – or the “green gold of the Indios,” maté from Brazil. For those who delight in the discovery of everything under the sun, here is a kindly piece of advice: Be brave. Try new things, and little by little you will conquer the entire collection. You will be handsomely rewarded as you go along.