Researching for Art Making - Lets Talk about Tea

Researching for Art Making - Let’s Talk about Tea

Before my Thoughts on Tea, a note:

I love what I do.  I love my work because I get to choose what to pursue when it comes to making art.  When I initiate a project, there's research that has to be done and this newfound knowledge is what gets woven into my final product.  

I find a lot of gratitude in sharing ideas that inform through my art, and this is what inspires me to keep making dynamic, educational watercolors. 

For this upcoming Tea Time and Watercolor workshop series, I'm diving into the topic of Tea, and want to share some of my notes, which typically stay in my sketchbook journal.  This time around I’d like to share some of my research from my journey to Asia.

So here it goes, my thoughts on the topic of  Tea:

I started learning much more about tea when I traveled to Sri Lanka last year.  I stayed at an employee-owned tea farm (Amba Estate), where I was able to learn first hand the process of harvesting and fermenting tea, and some history for one of the most cultivated crops on the Asian continent. 

  • Scottish businessman Thomas Lipton started his company, Lipton Teas (yes, that household name) in Sri Lanka in the 1890s.  This brand of black tea is currently a blend from all over the world, but when he started it, it was single origin.   
  • Tea is just one plant, and it is part of the camellia family. In latin, the plant is Camellia sinensis.
  • There are only six types of tea and these are determined by how the tea is processed after picking the leaves. 
  • A host of hot drinks are marketed as teas, but not everything we consider to be a tea is actually a tea. Many of them that contain roots, other kinds of leaves or dried herbs are actually infusions, or tisanes – like mint, lemongrass, and hibiscus. 
  • Only brews containing actual tea leaves are technically teas.

  • The word, Chai in many languages literally means, Tea. So, although to us,  the name Chai Tea refers to a particular blend,  announcing that you'll have a chai tea could be considered redundant. 

Here are the ways in which each type of tea is made, summarized.  

White tea: Leaves go through no processing. White tea contains the highest levels  of caffeine of all teas. It is also the most expensive because white tea contains only young, smaller, and therefore more tender leaves. Brew at 80° celsius.  

Green tea: The leaves are allowed to wither right after being picked.  They’re then allowed to oxidize for only a short period of time by rapidly heating the leaves.  Flavors are fragrant and generally very bright.

Yellow tea: Leaves undergo similar treatment as green tea, but go through more oxidation, and a slower drying period. They tend to be less grassy in flavor.  All yellow teas come from China.

Oolong: Leaves have been heated without oxidation, and some burning of the leaves happens which creates complexities in flavor  that you won't find in Green Tea. The caffeine present in these teas is in between Green and Black tea, and the flavors are often described as fruity and floral. 

Black tea: Leaves that have been fully oxidized, which is different than going through a fermentation process. Oxidation occurs when water evaporates out of the leaf and the leaf absorbs more oxygen from the air.  The flavors of black tea are robust and varied. Brew at 97° celsius. 

Post Fermented: Leaves that have been fully oxidized, and then ripened for longer.  

Masala: Literally means, a mix of spices.

Tea can have more caffeine than coffee, it just depends how the leaves are steeped in water- for how long and at what temperature.  These factors can determine not only the amount of caffeine, but will also impact the flavor profiles of the tea. 

I'll finish with a saying I've heard a few times – “Coffee boosts you, tea revives you”.