The finest teas are consistent-looking and fresh. Because tea readily picks up foreign aromas and fades in contact with light, teas should be sold and stored in containers that are airtight and opaque. Shops that keep their teas in glass canisters are as bad as those that display coffee in open burlap bags. In the proper container tea can last up to six months. But it should never be stored in the refrigerator or freezer. Black teas are dark, tannic teas made by allowing the fresh green leaves to wither and darken through oxidation (the term used in the tea business is fermentation).
The process takes about a day, after which the leaves are dried by warm air. Black teas include winy Keemun and smoky Lapsang Souchong from China, Ceylon teas from Sri Lanka and India, Assam and Darjeeling, the exquisitely delicate tea grown in the Himalayan foothills. Traditional blends like English breakfast are made of black teas. All Japanese and many Chinese teas are green teas, prized for aroma and finesse. They are processed by lightly drying the leaves. Some green teas are whole-leaf while others, including Chinese gunpowder, are made from leaves rolled into little balls, hence the name.
Japanese matcha is powdered green tea. Green teas should be sipped plain, without the addition of sweeteners, lemon or milk. One exception is Moroccan mint tea, made by pouring sweetened green tea over lightly crushed fresh mint leaves. Oolong teas are elegant whole-leaf Chinese teas partly withered and oxidized, something of a cross between green and black tea. Most that are exported are called Formosa, from Taiwan. The best flavored teas are made with natural ingredients and essences, not harsh artificial flavors.
For centuries tea has been infused with jasmine or rose petals for flavoring, and sometimes sold with the dried buds still in the tea. Earl Grey is flavored with oil of bergamot, a type of Chinese orange. Verbena, chamomile, lemon grass, peppermint and linden are some of the more popular herbal teas, or infusions. Herbal teas are often believed to have curative properties. Making a good cup of tea is simple. First, heat the teapot by filling it with water that has just come to a boil. Discard this water, and place 1 teaspoon of loose tea per cup in the teapot (the amount may vary according to taste).
Pour in fresh water that has just come to a boil, 6 ounces for each cup. Allow the tea to steep for 3 to 5 minutes; then, pour it through a strainer into a cup or mug. Some types of green tea should be made with water that has cooled down a bit. Using a tea bag eliminates the strainer, but it is still best to make the tea in a teapot so the water stays sufficiently hot. When tea is made, the leaves release their caffeine first, so the amount of caffeine can be reduced by pouring off all the tea after 30 seconds, then adding fresh boiling water to the leaves or the tea bag. Hide