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  Not Just Wine Issue 43, Summer 2006   
Making TeaMaking Tea AquavitaeAquavitae Wine ParadeWine Parade  Contents 
Issue 42, June 2006 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 44, September 2006

Making Tea

Brewing a good tea is an art made of many and small details, big and small factors allowing the making of an excellent beverage, delicious, aromatic and healthy

 To many, making a cup of tea is the simple operation of heating water, and when it starts boiling, throw a tea bag, wait for some minutes and then removing the bag. Therefore are being added other ingredients, in particular milk, lemon juice and sugar, as it seems this is what it should be done in order to make tea, and finally the hot cup of amber and steaming tea can be drunk. To others, making tea is a refined art made of small and big details, sometimes of elements of suggestive formality, scrupulous care of cups and teapots, the rigorous choice of tea qualities and, last but not the least, superfine water, choice of right temperature and infusion times. All that in order to get out the maximum pleasure that only an impeccable infusion of tea can give to peace and tranquillity of the ones who see in tea something more than a simple beverage. To many, all that can be considered as exaggerated, even maniacal, an useless waste of time in order to show off something which is incomprehensible. After all, making tea simply means taking some tea leaves and pour on them some warm water: a simple and immediate operation.


Left to right: white tea, green tea,
semifermented tea, black tea. In the background the first chapter of Lu Yu's Cha
Jing
Left to right: white tea, green tea, semifermented tea, black tea. In the background the first chapter of Lu Yu's Cha Jing

 If in its most essential definition making tea is just pouring warm water on tea leaves, the simplicity of this act hides a sublime and refined art made of important factors and fundamental conditions, a practice which is elevated in many eastern countries - first of all China, Japan and Korea - to the rank of ceremony. The preparation of tea, in its simplicity, requires the most scrupulous control of every single stage and the use of quality elements: not all the tea is the same, not all the water is the same, not all teapots are equal one to each other and so on. Sound exaggerated? Well, try to imagine the preparation of any recipe by using low quality ingredients and not being harmonic one to each other, approximate cooking techniques and times, even worse, not suited for that dish. The result which would be obtained is of course not very inviting or pleasing, something which is true for the making of everything, from food to wine, from pencils to skyscrapers. The preparation of tea is a process that in its simplicity requires the most scrupulous attention, in every aspect.

 

The Importance of Water

 In the preparation of tea, water plays a primary and fundamental role. If we think water is the ingredient whose quantity makes the main element of the beverage produced by the infusion of tea leaves, it is easy to understand how the quality of this crystalline liquid is fundamental. It is not by chance in China water is defined as the mother of tea. Before discussing the quality a good water should have, it is good to remember the mistakes and the types of water unsuitable for making tea. First of all, it should be avoided the water which has been already boiled as the tea will be tasteless and flat. Water should not be too alkaline because this would cause the oxidation of polyphenols contained in tea and their subsequent precipitation, with the result of making a flat and tasteless infusion. Another type of water which must be avoided is the one containing high quantities of iron, copper and other metals, as this would make a darker infusion as well as affecting the taste of tea. Distilled water, despite the fact it ensures better hygienic qualities, is not suited for the preparation of tea.


 

 Lu Yu - the most important figure in the history of tea of all times and by many considered still today as the god of tea - in its famous Cha Jing (classic of tea) writes «mountain spring water is the best, the water of rivers has an average quality, the water of wells is the least suited one». Moreover «among mountain waters, the best ones are those dripping from stalactites and the one which gathers in pools between stones and from which slowly flows». These indications are certainly useful and still valid, provided one is lucky enough to live in a mountain and near a spring of water. The first consideration suggested by Lu Yu is to avoid water which has stagnated or rested in any way: the best tea water must always and however be fresh and running. For this reason, the best water everyone has in their houses is the one flowing out from faucets, provided this water has good chemical and organoleptic qualities. For this reason, bottled mineral water does not represent the best choice, saved the case its use is mandatory because the water flowing out from faucets is of bad quality, something which frequently happens, unfortunately.

 How can be then recognized a good faucet water suited for the preparation of tea? Get a glass of fresh water from the faucet, smell and taste it: first of all it must not have any bad smell or taste; these would be passed to the infusion of tea therefore ruining aromas and flavors. In particular, the excessive quantity of chlorine - added to water for hygienic purposes - will affect the organoleptic qualities of any tea infusion. A simple way to remove chlorine from water is to allow the water to rest for about one day, whereas it is a mistake - in case this water should be used for the preparation of tea - to preventively boil it, as boiled water would make a tea with a flat taste. Also water hardness - that is the concentration of calcium and magnesium ions - influences both the color and taste of tea while making it bitterer, therefore it is always best to avoid the use of particularly hard water. Finally, it should be remembered the water distributed by municipal waterworks, are scrupulously controlled and processed in order to make them hygienically safer. However this processing and the problems associated to distribution, such as the passage in pipes up to home faucets, enrich water of extraneous substances - both of chemical and organic nature - which should be properly filtered.

 As the best water for the preparation of tea is always the running one, also for the fact it is richer in precious oxygen, and by considering not all have the luck of using fresh mountain spring water, uncontaminated and crystalline, the best solution is then to make use of the most running water we have at hand in our houses: faucet water. However, by considering the things already mentioned, this water could also be unsuited for the preparation of tea because of its bad chemical, physical and organoleptic qualities. A good solution is represented by the use of water filtering systems in order to significantly reduce chlorine, metals, hardness, solid substances of chemical and organic nature. Home water filtering systems are usually expensive, therefore a good solution is offered by the many carafes available in the market which make use of active carbon filters, generally sold at a “reasonable” price. In general terms, the water which is obtained after filtering is far better than any mineral water for the preparation of tea, also offering the advantage of being fresh and running.

 The fact water plays a primary role in the infusion of tea, it is something which was well known since ancient times, when in China they began the use of precious Camelia Sinensis tea for the making of the beverage. No matter how good the water can be, it is however important - and this cannot be otherwise different - to use a tea of excellent quality. However, a tea having an exceptional quality can be easily ruined by a bad quality water or boiled in a wrong way. The importance of water in the preparation of tea can be easily understood with a simple practical test, something which is worth - as always - more than one thousand words. It will be enough to make the same type of tea, belonging to the same pack and used in the same quantity, with bottled mineral water, faucet water and filtered faucet water. It is essential to pay attention on the very same conditions, therefore equal quantity of tea leaves, equal quantity of water, same type of teapot and cups, same infusion time. If you still believe the importance of water is something exaggerated, compare the three tea infusion by evaluating color, transparency, limpidity, quality of aromas and taste. In a moment the answer will be very clear.

 

The Infusion of Tea Leaves

 Whenever warm water is being poured on tea leaves, it is magic. Leaves begins to open up, releasing their color to water, releasing their aromas and flavors. As for the taste of tea, it should be remembered it changes according to type, area of origin, harvesting period, processing and infusion. As opposed to what it is commonly believed, the taste of white, green and semifertemed Wu Long teas (the latter also called oolong) is not bitter. In case it is perceived this taste, the causes are generally three: use of bad quality water, use of bad quality tea, water temperature too high. Excellent quality tea will never make a bitter infusion, or better to say, with an evidently bitter taste. The tendency to make a bitter infusion is a characteristic of black tea (or red, like the Chinese call it) because of the type of processing used for the leaves. For this reason, infusion time for black tea is always shorter than for the other teas, and at the end of the infusion, leaves will be removed from the beverage. Tea leaves contain more than 300 chemical components, present in variable quantities and according to type, production area, position of the leaf in the plant and processing techniques.

 The extraction of these substances depends on the size of tea leaves, chemical and physical qualities of water, water temperature and infusion time. The first substances to be extracted from tea leaves, after having poured warm water on them, are alkaloids - caffeine, theopyliline e theobromine - therefore a short infusion time makes a beverage rich in these substances and pretty stimulant. As the infusion time is prolonged, usually after the fourth minute and always according to the type of tea, the extraction is mainly about catechins - precious elements having antioxidant properties - as well as other polyphenolic substances. These substances are mainly contained in green and white tea, whereas black tea, because of the oxidation process required for its production, contains a lower quantity of antioxidants. An interesting effect of catechins is the property of contrasting and regulating the absorption of caffeine in the body, therefore lowering the stimulating and hypertensive effects of this alkaloid. Longer infusion times - a practice which is good to avoid for black tea - give a less stimulating beverage, while increasing, at the same time, the countless healthy effects of tea for the body.

 

The Preparation of Tea

 The preparation of tea infusion - the method mainly used in the world - requires, as we have already seen, the availability of both water and tea leaves of high quality. Besides that, it is necessary to have proper tools allowing a good preparation, while avoiding, in particular, to ruin the quality of the beverage. As for the quality of tea, it should be remembered the best ones are always those produced with the sprouting buds of the plant. The leaves next to the buds make a decreasing quality tea, because they get harder and tougher and make a less aromatic and more bitter beverage. In case tea is excessively bitter this certainly is because of the low quality of leaves or bad quality water and its use. The kettle used to heat water is very important. It should be made from inert metals: in this case the best choice is always stainless steel. Cast iron kettles - common in Japan and in China - offer the advantage of keeping the water warm for a longer time, something useful in case of repetitive infusions, a very common practice in the east for the making of green and white tea.

 The material used for making the teapot to be used for the infusion of leaves is very important, likewise, it is very important the material used for making cups, such as in case of guywan, the famous Chinese cup with a lid used for single and personal infusions. In these cases the rule is simple and uncompromising: avoid teapot made from metal, including silver, although they look like elegant and exclusive objects, they are not suited for the infusion of tea. The best materials for the infusion of tea are porcelain and earthenware, in particular red earthenware from Yi Xing, in the province of Jiangsu in China. In particular, Yi Xing earthenware teapots - to be exclusively used for green and white teas - because of their porous nature, with time will absorb the organoleptic qualities of tea, therefore allowing a seasoning of the teapot which will make, with time, better and better infusions. The best tea cups are the ones made from very fine porcelain, with a thin border of few millimeters: a thicker border, besides being not very comfortable and unpleasing to the touch with the mouth, alters the tactile sensations of tasting. The quantity of tea to be used for the infusion varies according to the type of tea, generally a quantity of 2 or 2,5 grams (about one teaspoon) is enough for all the cases and according to personal preferences. A fundamental factor is the boiling of water and its temperature at the moment of being poured on the leaves.

 The fundamental rule is that water must never boil in a tumultuous way: as soon as little bubbles coming up from the kettle will be seen, it is the right time to stop heating. Now pour a small quantity of water in the teapot in order to warm it. For the preparation of black tea, the water must be immediately poured on the leaves, whereas for the other types of teas it is good to wait for the temperature to cool down. For semifermented tea will be used a temperature of 80-90° C (176-194° F), for green tea 70-85° C (158-185° F) and for white tea 65-80° C (149-176° F). It should be remembered for teas produced with buds only or with the first leaves next to the bud - that is the ones having a higher quality and finesse - will always be used the lower temperature: a trick which will avoid the delicate leaves to get cooked. When the water will have reached the proper temperature, the water used for warming the teapot will be discharged and the leaves will be added. At this point the warm water will be poured on the leaves and the teapot will be closed in order not to lose aromas. The infusion of black tea will require 4-5 minutes, after that the leaves will be removed from the infusion in order to avoid an excessively astringent and bitter taste.

 Despite the removal of leaves is not suggested for white, green and semifermented teas, their infusion times can go from 5-7 minutes, up to even 15 minutes for some white teas. It is generally believed it is necessary to remove the leaves from the infusion of these teas in order to avoid an excessive bitter taste, indeed, we have seen this is something depending on other factors, not on the infusion time. After having finished the consumption of the infusion, it can be poured more warm water to the same leaves: a very common practice in the east which gives a more delicate tea however delicious. And now stop, reconcile yourself with the world and with yourself, let the frenzy to get out of your life and allow yourself the tranquility and peace of a good and fragrant cup of tea.

 



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  Not Just Wine Issue 43, Summer 2006   
Making TeaMaking Tea AquavitaeAquavitae Wine ParadeWine Parade  Contents 
Issue 42, June 2006 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 44, September 2006

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.



Liquore di Mirto Selezione Speciale, Lucrezio R (Sardinia, Italy)
Liquore di Mirto Selezione Speciale
Lucrezio R (Sardinia, Italy)
Raw matter: Myrtle berries
Price: € 18.00 - 50cl Score: Wine that excels in its category
This liquor shows an intense brick red color, transparent. The nose reveals intense, clean, pleasing and refined aromas of myrtle, clover and cinnamon with almost imperceptible alcohol pungency. In the mouth has intense flavors with perceptible alcohol pungency which tends to dissolve rapidly, balanced sweetness with pleasing bitter hint, intense flavor of myrtle. The finish is persistent with flavors of myrtle and cinnamon. Produced by the maceration of myrtle berries for 2 months followed by an aging in barrique for few months. Alcohol 38%



Filuferru Barricato Collezione Privata, Lucrezio R (Sardinia, Italy)
Filuferru Barricato Collezione Privata
Lucrezio R (Sardinia, Italy)
Raw matter: Pomace of Sardinian grapes
Price: € 18.00 - 50cl Score: Wine that excels in its category
This distillate shows a brilliant amber yellow color, transparent. The nose denotes intense, clean, pleasing and refined aromas of vanilla, licorice, hazelnut, dried fig and honey with almost imperceptible alcohol pungency. In the mouth has intense flavors with perceptible alcohol pungency which tends to dissolve rapidly, balanced sweetness, intense flavors, agreeable roundness. The finish is persistent with flavors of dried fig, hazelnut and honey. This filuferru is distilled with a discontinuous steam operated alembic still and ages in barrique. Alcohol 40%.



Grappa di Malvasia Monovitigno, Magnoberta (Piedmont, Italy)
Grappa di Malvasia Monovitigno
Magnoberta (Piedmont, Italy)
Raw matter: Pomace of Malvasia
Price: € 17.50 - 70cl Score:
This grappa is colorless, limpid and crystalline. The nose denotes intense, clean, pleasing and refined aromas of pear, apple, grape, praline, hazelnut, white rose and peach with almost imperceptible alcohol pungency. In the mouth has intense flavors with perceptible alcohol pungency which tends to dissolve rapidly, balanced sweetness, intense flavors. The finish is persistent with flavors of peach, pear and grape. This grappa is produced with discontinuous distillation at very low steam pressure. Alcohol 42%.



Acquavite d'Uva di Malvasia 2001, Casa Luparia (Pidmont, Italy)
Acquavite d'Uva di Malvasia 2001
Casa Luparia (Pidmont, Italy)
Raw matter: Malvasia di Casorzo
Price: € 21.00 - 50cl Score:
This grape brandy is colorless, limpid and crystalline. The nose reveals intense, clean, pleasing and refined aromas of grape, white rose, pear, apple and honey with almost imperceptible alcohol pungency. In the mouth has intense flavors with perceptible alcohol pungency which tends to dissolve rapidly, balanced sweetness, intense flavors, agreeable roundness. The finish is persistent with flavors of grape and white rose. A well made distillate produced with discontinuous bainmarie distillation. Alcohol 42%.





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  Not Just Wine Issue 43, Summer 2006   
Making TeaMaking Tea AquavitaeAquavitae Wine ParadeWine Parade  Contents 
Issue 42, June 2006 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 44, September 2006

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 Colli Orientali del Friuli Rosazzo Bianco Terre Alte 2002, Livio Felluga (Italy)
2 Brunello di Montalcino 1999, Castello Banfi (Italy)
3 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2000, Zenato (Italy)
4 Riesling Central Otago 2004, Felton Road (New Zealand)
5 Wine Obsession 2001, Vignamaggio (Italy)
6 Trento Talento Brut Riserva Methius 1998, Dorigati (Italy)
7 Notarpanaro 1999, Taurino (Italy)
8 Chianti Classico Riserva Novecento 2000, Dievole (Italy)
9 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 1998, Santa Sofia (Italy)
10 Nero al Tondo 2001, Ruffino (Italy)
11 Chianti Classico Riserva Novecento 2000, Dievole (Italy)
12 Don Antonio 2003, Morgante (Italy)
13 Aglianico del Vulture La Firma 2002, Cantine del Notaio (Italy)
14 Palazzo della Torre 2000, Allegrini (Italy)
15 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Costasera 2001, Masi (Italy)

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