Wine Culture and Information - Volume 17
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Tea

Known in every country of the world, tea is among the most ancient and spread beverages, a history almost 5000 years long which is told in its wonderful aromas and tastes

 There is no country in the world where tea in unknown and more precisely the beverage obtained by infusing its leaves in water. Tea is among the most ancient known beverages, a history of about 5000 years old that from China - its original homeland - has spread all over the world, protagonist of important historical facts and commercial fortunes of whole countries. The world of tea is very rich in aromas, flavors and colors, an endless richness of culture, traditions and qualities like no other beverage. But also protagonist of ceremonies and cultures representing the essence of a profound and intimate philosophy, which is completed by the harmony of these perfumed leaves which spread their aromas in the air, in the water and in the soul of human beings. Listing all the varieties of known teas is a pretty hard task because there are more than a thousand types known. It is enough to think all this originated from a plant which according the place of cultivation, meteorological and productive conditions, is capable of offering endless nuances.

 

Brief History of Tea

 Talking about the history of tea is - for many aspects - talking about the history of humanity and in particular about one of the most ancient civilizations of the world: China. It is right in this enchanting country the history of tea began and from here - in times which can be considered relatively recent - has spread all over the world. A legend has it that tea - meant as a beverage - was discovered by emperor Sheng Nung (Shen Nong) around the year 2737 BC. It is told one day Sheng Nung was resting sitting at the feet of a tree and he had a bowl of hot water at his side, a Chinese custom still in use today. It seems some leaves fell from the branches of the tree and landed in the emperor's bowl. When Sheng Nung drank the infusion he found it to be delicious and corroborating. The tree offering its shadow to the emperor was a plant of tea and this is how - for the first time - was born the famous infusion which would become in few years the imperial beverage par excellence with endless virtues and properties.

 Another legend tells a different origin about tea. The famous Buddhist prince Bodhidharma (Dharuma) - Da Mo in Chinese - during his meditation, suddenly fell asleep. When he woke up, Bodidharma cut his eyelids and threw them in the ground: from them sprouted some gems which produced the plant of tea, whose infusion was capable of keeping the mind vigil and to keep sleep away. It is good to know that when Bodhidharma arrived in China, tea was already known in the country since many centuries. Legends apart, tea is a very common beverage in China since more than 40 centuries and to this period is dated back the first written citation about the plant of tea, of its effects and properties in the human body. Despite the history of tea has developed for centuries and has become an indissoluble part of Chinese culture, it is only in the year 760 AD we finally have the first book entirely dedicated to the tea plant and its beverage. Before this date, tea is frequently mentioned in medical books in which are always praised its curative properties for the wellness of body, soul and mind.


Long Jing Green Tea (Lung Ching) and
Yi Xing's Red Earthenware Teapot
Long Jing Green Tea (Lung Ching) and Yi Xing's Red Earthenware Teapot

 The first book completely dedicated to tea was written by Lu Yu - to be considered the first and real master of the tea ceremony and cult of all times, still today considered as the god of tea - who in 760 AD wrote the precious cha jing (Canon of Tea) in which he scrupulously described the cultivation, production, brewing and the way of drinking tea. His advices are very valuable still today for the knowledge of tea and for its appreciation and, despite the techniques described by Lu Yu for the brewing of tea had developed in time according to the taste of the subsequent years, his advices, and in particular the ones about water and its boiling, are extremely valuable and precious still today. In the 1000 AD - during the Tang dynasty - tea became a Monopoly and was used as a currency for paying taxes as well as a trading good. The first information about tea arrived in Europe thanks to the memories of Marco Polo who described his journeys in the book “The Million”. In the sixteenth century Giovanni Battista Ramusio - a Venetian humanist and geographer - longly described tea in his writings therefore offering for the first time to the Europeans a detailed knowledge about this beverage.

 Tea arrives for the first time in Europe in 1610 transported by a Dutch ship of the “Company of the Indies” and only 48 years later arrived in England. From this moment on the spreading of tea - mainly for commercial reasons - spread everywhere and in every country of Europe also thanks to its medical properties recognized even in the western world. Tea trade has also allowed an efficient development of naval engineering because in order to ensure a faster shipping, were built faster and faster ships - the so called clippers - which challenged one against the other in speed races in the oceans of the world. Tea also spread in Japan and in the other Asian countries where still today represents a primary element of their cultures, in particular in Japan where the culture of tea developed in a formal rite: the famous Cha No Yu (hot water for tea), that is the tea ceremony who had in Sen No Rikyu (1522-1591) its most representative master.

 

Classification of Tea

 Before discussing the description of tea, it is appropriate to say its classification is extremely vast that would certainly deserve hundreds of pages in order to give a proper explanation. What we are offering in this article should be exclusively considered as an essential and abridged introduction. Tea is obtained by processing the leaves of Camellia Sinensis, originating from China, or Camellia Assamica, originating from northern India. When left at its wild condition, the tea plant can also reach thirty meters in height (about 100 feet): for this reason in tea plantations are done periodical pruning in order to keep plants to a height of about 120 centimeters (about 4 feet) therefore facilitating harvest. The best quality tea is obtained by the first three leaves of the apical sprout of the plant - more delicate, soft and aromatic - whereas lower qualities are obtained with the subsequent leaves - older and coriaceous - and rarely harvested beyond the fourth leaf from the apical sprout. The quality of tea is also determined by the period of harvesting, meteorological condition of the season and place of cultivation.

 The processing method determines the category of tea. It is good to remember every type of tea - no matter the processing - is always obtained by the same plants: Camellia Sinensis and Camellia Assamica. Tea is generally classified in white tea, green tea, black tea (called in China red tea) and semifermented tea or oolong tea (Wu Long Cha in Chinese). To these categories is to be included the so called brick tea, that is green or black tea leaves - together or alone - that after having been processed with steam are pressed in compact “nest” shaped bricks - as well as in other shapes - of which the most renowned one is Tuo Cha produced in Yunnan, the Chinese region bordering Tibet. From Yunnan also comes the so called Pu Erh Cha, appreciated for its therapeutic properties. In China are also popular teas scented with flowers petals (Hua Cha in Chinese) - of which the most renowned ones are scented with jasmine and chrysanthemum - and not to be confused with other scented commercial teas - generally black - aromatized with the most improbable and different essences, not always of natural origin.


 

 What follows is a brief explanation about the processing for green and black tea. Soon after harvesting, the leaves are allowed to dry for about 8-24 hours at a temperature from 20° to 25° C (68-77° F), according to the type of tea to be made. Next the leaves are spread over mats and in ventilated rooms in order to allow a further drying and the proper loss of humidity: the leaves become softer and are now ready to be rolled. The rolling operation breaks the cells of the leaf therefore allowing an essential oil to come out which in contact with air oxidizes, a phase improperly called fermentation and that would be called oxidation instead. At this point the subsequent operations depend on the type of tea to be made. In the production of black tea, leaves are allowed to oxidize for some hours - according to style - a phase in which leaves get their typical dark brown color. The leaves are then toasted for about thirty minutes therefore completing the processing for black tea. In green tea the oxidation is never allowed and it is interrupted by processing the leaves to the effects of heat, such as steam, direct heat or slow toasting in copper pots.

 Listing all the types of tea would be extremely reductive, as in China only are found thousands different styles to which must be included the ones produced in Japan, Korea, India and Sri Lanka (Ceylon), as well as the ones of the rest of the world. Black tea produced in India is generally classified according to their quality and the processing technique, defined by specific acronyms. The primary classification is divided into whole tea leaves, broken leaves and tea dusts. The acronyms used for classifying whole tea leaves are, from the highest quality level to the lowest: FOP (Flowery Orange Pekoe), OP (Orange Pekoe), Pekoe, Pekoe Souchong and Souchong. The category FOP is divided into SFTGFOP (Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe), FTGFOP (Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe), TGFOP (Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe) and GFOP (Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe). Broken tea leaves (or simply broken) are classified into: GFBOP (Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe), GBOP (Golden Broken Orange Pekoe), TGBOP (Tippy Golden Broken Orange), FBOP (Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe) and BOP (Broken Orange Pekoe). These acronyms can also be followed by the number one to define “premium quality”, that is a higher quality. Tea generally used for filters belongs to fannings and dusts qualities, pretty small particles and generally made of debris from the processing. Two considerations about the terms Orange and Pekoe. The term Orange has no connection with the English word meaning the homonymous fruit, it derives from the noble Dutch family Oranje Nassau. The term Pekoe derives from the Cantonese expression Pak Ho (literally white downy) with which are usually called the young tea sprouts covered by white downy.

 

Brewing Tea

 The culture of tea is so widely spread in the world that every country has virtually developed its own techniques and ceremonies for its brewing. Among the most renowned ones are mentioned the Chinese method - which include many variants, techniques and ceremonies - the Japanese and the English, mainly used for brewing black tea. Despite of the method to be used, it is good to remember brewing a good tea is not simple, as it is not just throwing some leaves - or even worse a filter - in infusion in boiling water. Brewing tea is an act made of simple movements - even in case it is in the form of a ceremony - however it will be the quality of ingredients and of tools to make it a success. This premise can be seen as frivolous, however it is good to remember tea is an infusion, therefore the quality of water and of tea are of fundamental importance. To anyone who believes this to be excessive and maniacal, we suggest reading the thoughts of the great Lu Yu about choosing and boiling water: a detail which represents the different between an excellent tea and a bad one.


Ch\'a: the ideogram used to write Tea in
Chinese
Chá: the ideogram used to write Tea in Chinese

 Lu Yu - considered by Chinese people the god of tea - suggested the best water was the one found in mountains, preferably the one dripping from stalactites or gathered in wells formed in stones, to be used fresh and just gathered: a condition not easy for everyone. However it is good to remember a too much alkaline water will give a more insipid tea, and it is always advisable not to use water rich in calcium. What follows is the technique for brewing green tea - the most common type in China and having higher therapeutic properties - according to the Chinese method by using a teapot. Take a boiler, preferably made of stainless steel or cast iron. Heat the water and wait until boiling. This phase is extremely critical because in case water is allowed to a tumultuous boiling, tea will get an insipid and “burnt” taste. As the water begins boiling, with tiny bubbles floating to the surface from the sides like chains of pearls, turn the heat off. It should be remembered that for brewing a good green tea it is good to allow water to cool down at about 80°C (176°F) in order not to burn and ruin the delicate and aromatic green tea leaves. In case it is wished to brew black tea, it can be used the same boiling technique and pouring the hot water over the leaves on the teapot.

 The best teapots for brewing green tea indisputably are the ones made of red earthenware produced at Yi Xing (China), however also the ones made of porcelain represent a good substitute. Pour some hot water in the teapot in order to warm it and then throw it away. Put the tea in the teapot - usually two or three grams for every 2 deciliters of water (about a teaspoonful in about 6.7 fl.oz.) - and pour water at the right temperature on the leaves. The infusion time varies according to the quality and the variety of tea - including the area of origin and the production technique - however it is reasonable to allow an infusion time of at least 5 minutes. As this time is passed - if wished - leaves can be eliminated. Concerning this aspect it is appropriate to remember Chinese generally leave the leaves in infusion until the end of the consumption and in particular when they brew it with the typical bowl with lid - the so called Gui Wan - the most common tool in China for individual brewing and consumption of tea. A final consideration must be said about caffeine. This alkaloid, because of the effect of heat, is the first substance to be extracted from the leaves, whereas polyphenols - that is the most useful, healthy and therapeutic substances - require longer infusion times and they also efficiently slow the release of caffeine in the body. This does mean that a tea infused for 2 or 3 minutes is rich in caffeine and poor in polyphenols, in other words it will be obtained an exciting beverage. By allowing an infusion of more than 5 minutes - or even better to leave the leaves in the teapot - the effect of caffeine in the body will be lower while appreciating the endless benefits of this millenary, wonderful, precious and aromatic beverage. What has already said is not true for black tea, because a long infusion time makes the beverage astringent and bitter: in this case it will be used an infusion time of 3-5 minutes and therefore the leaves will be eliminated from the beverage.

 



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  Not Just Wine Issue 28, March 2005   
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Aquavitae

Review of Grappa, Distillates and Brandy

 

Distillates are rated according to DiWineTaste's evaluation method. Please see score legend in the "Wines of the Month" section.



Grappa Shiraz, Casale del Giglio (Italy)
Grappa Shiraz
Casale del Giglio (Italy)
(Distiller: Distilleria Pilzer)
Raw matter: Pomace of Syrah
Price: € 15.20 - 50cl Score: Wine that excels in its category
This grappa is colorless, limpid and crystalline. The nose denotes intense, clean and pleasing aromas of blackberry, plum, pear, licorice and hazelnut with pretty perceptible alcohol pungency. In the mouth is intense with alcohol pungency which tends to dissolve rapidly and balanced sweet hint. The finish is persistent with flavors of blackberry, plum and licorice. This grappa is distilled with discontinuous alembic still. Alcohol 43%.



Grappa di Vinaccia di Inferno, Pietro Nera (Italy)
Grappa di Vinaccia di Inferno
Pietro Nera (Italy)
(Distiller: Distillerie Bianchini)
Raw matter: Pomace of Chiavennasca (Nebbiolo)
Price: € 19.30 - 50cl Score: Wine that excels in its category
This grappa is colorless, limpid and crystalline. The nose reveals intense, clean and pleasing aromas of cherry, raspberry, plum, hazelnut, violet and licorice. In the mouth is intense with evident alcohol pungency which tends to dissolve rapidly, balanced sweet taste. The finish is persistent with flavors of plum, cherry and hazelnut. This grappa is distilled with a discontinuous alembic still. Alcohol 42%.



Grappa di Vinaccia di Sforzato, Pietro Nera (Italy)
Grappa di Vinaccia di Sforzato
Pietro Nera (Italy)
(Distiller: Distillerie Bianchini)
Raw matter: Pomace of Sforzato
Price: € 21.85 - 50cl Score: Wine that excels in its category
This grappa is colorless, limpid and crystalline. The nose denotes intense, clean and pleasing aromas of cherry, violet, raspberry, strawberry, licorice and plum with pretty perceptible alcohol pungency. In the mouth is intense with alcohol pungency which tends to dissolve rapidly, agreeable, balanced sweet hint. The finish is persistent with flavors of plum, cherry and raspberry. This grappa is distilled with a discontinuous alembic still. Alcohol 43%.



Grappa Uvaggio Barricato, Distilleria Bottega (Italy)
Grappa Uvaggio Barricato
Distilleria Bottega (Italy)
Raw matter: Pomace of Merlot and Cabernet
Price: € 13.82 - 70cl Score: Wine that excels in its category
This grappa shows a pale amber yellow color, limpid and crystalline. The nose reveals intense, clean, pleasing and refined aromas of plum, pear, raspberry, licorice, vanilla, tobacco, hazelnut, black cherry and praline with almost imperceptible alcohol pungency. In the mouth is intense with very balanced alcohol pungency which tends to dissolve rapidly, pleasing smoothness, balanced sweet hint. The finish is persistent with flavors of licorice, plum, hazelnut and black cherry. A well made grappa distilled with steam operated alembic. Ages for about 12 months in barrique. Alcohol 38%.





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  Not Just Wine Issue 28, March 2005   
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Issue 27, February 2005 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 29, April 2005

Wine Parade


 

The best 15 wines according to DiWineTaste's readers. To express your best three wines send us an E-mail or fill in the form available at our WEB site.


Rank Wine, Producer
1 Harmonium 2001, Firriato (Italy)
2 Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Emile 1999, Maison Trimbach (France)
3 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Villa Gemma 1999, Masciarelli (Italy)
4 Pinot Noir Napa 2002, Clos du Val (USA)
5 Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2002, Domaine Billaud-Simon (France)
6 Jerez Fino Tio Pepe, Gonzalez Byass (Spain)
7 Turriga 1998, Argiolas (Italy)
8 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Capitel Monte Olmi 1999, Tedeschi (Italy)
9 Moscato d'Asti 2003, Vignaioli di S. Stefano (Italy)
10 Brunello di Montalcino Prime Donne 1998, Donatella Cinelli Colombini (Italy)
11 Palazzo della Torre 2000, Allegrini (Italy)
12 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Riparosso 2001, Illuminati (Italy)
13 Notarpanaro 1999, Taurino (Italy)
14 Edizione Cinque Autoctoni 2001, Farnese (Italy)
15 Aglianico del Vulture La Firma 2002, Cantine del Notaio (Italy)

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