Ever consider the implications of single-origin teas? Or why Darjeeling tea is a quality standard? We are entering a new culture of connoisseurship where, as a consumer, thinking and making distinctions within our endless options is a sure way to discovering more of what we like.
We know that Camellia sinensis, the tea plant is cultivated in various natural environments. From high altitudes of the Nepali Himalayas to rocky cliffs deep in the Wuyi mountains. These are growing conditions fondly spoken as the terroir of tea, between taste connoisseurs seeking to identify flavor characteristics of a tea’s origin.
Beyond the allure of vast and open landscapes, single-origin teas carry a mark of its growing environment. The characteristics in aroma and flavor that we are fond of are thanks to a natural order of achieving homeostasis, or a balance in nature. A tea plant growing in some of the highest tea plantations in the world, an altitude of two thousand meters in Darjeeling for instance, is stunted by the lack of oxygen and extreme changes from warm days to cold nights. The growth of the plant here is slow but every new bud released contains a high concentration of aromatic oils that lead richer flavors and a more complex cup.
Like altitude, we find another underlying factor in the physical environment that shapes tea in remarkable ways. From Wuyi Mountains in China, come a family of teas better known as rock oolongs. A deliciously unique class of teas shaped by rich organic minerals that compose the soil of this rocky mountainous region. The soil composition is an important feature that feeds the plant with nutrients it needs to grow and thrive.
Nature would have it that complex teas we love have come from environmental conditions that are harsh and challenging to a plant. Stressors that activate internal defenses called secondary metabolites alter the chemical composition of the plant, creating a tea that carries a wider spectrum of flavors and body than tea from plants grown in constant climates. A hot and dry merciless wind known as Cachan comes down onto the Uva region, home to our Kipling’s Cup ceylon tea, that lasts for six to eight weeks during the summer harvest. The plant reacts to the hot wind as if in a drought, by closing the leaves in order to protect itself. The chemical changes inside the leaf lead to a concentration of flavors—a special summer crop from Uva that sells for a high price.
Image courtesy of Frank Douwes on Flickr
As the old Chinese saying goes, "Yun wu chu hao cha"—‘‘Where there are cloud and mist there is bound to be good tea’’. Mountainsides blanketed in a mist that covers tea plants are favorable places for growing quality tea. The mist helps in numerous ways such as providing moisture for new shoots to grow, particularly during dry seasons. It is also useful as a natural shade from the sun to stimulate the plant’s production of chlorophyll. Our Tiger Rock Wu Lu green tea has a complex but smooth character and comes from Zhejiang province, a lush mountainous terrain blanketed with a mystical mist in the early mornings of harvest.
Another unique green tea from China notably shaped by nature is the famous Bi Luo Chun. Traditionally it is cultivated in a biodynamic environment, within a mix of fruit trees which are important in lending this tea the fragrant characteristics it is best known for.
Much like this is biodiversity central for the cultivation of the acclaimed Oriental Beauty oolong from Taiwan. Where briefly before harvest, the little grasshopper Jacobiasca formosana spreads across the tea crop to nibble on its leaves. As a mechanism of defense, the plant begins producing Terpenes, an organic compound with a strong odor that deters the insects. The sweet fragrance and honey we taste in the cup is the result of a symbiotic relationship between plant and insect. It is the unique feature that makes this tea so special.
A dedicated pursuit in taste begins with identifying hints of a tea’s origin. Stretch your senses to new terrains with tea. Explore our selection.
Illustration of a tea plant is a part of Biodiversity Heritage Library's image archive.