Tea appreciation can be scientific and determined methodologically step by step. Let's break down the elements of a good tea into five categories.
1. Raw tea and the kind of tea it's suitable for making
Tea varietal and the growth stage of the tea leaves determines the most suitable kind of tea to make. Starting from the top, different tea varietal has different flavours and aroma. Each varietal has different levels of polyphenol, amino acid, caffeine, carbohydrate, and aromatic components. Varietals with larger tea leaves contain more bitter polyphenols so they are suitable for making black tea. Black tea's high oxidization will turn the bitter polyphenols to a less bitter form. Medium and small tea leaves contain less polyphenols so are more suitable for oolongs and green teas.
2. tea farm environment
Tea environment involves sun, air, soil and water; all the essentials for growing anything. Conditions for daylight hours, strong or weak sunlight, temperature, rainfall, weather, humidity, altitude, latitude and local terrain all further influence the tea quality. Any change of condition causes a stress on the tea plants. For example, high mountain teas are constantly stressed due to cool temperature and possibility of complete ruin caused by frost bites. On lower altitude levels, teas are stressed by conditions such as bug bites, torrential downfalls, high heat and humidity.
3. tea farm maintenance
Tea farms maintenance requires management on fertilizers, pesticides, weed, bug prevention, trimming and irrigation. Proper management and strict cleanliness and health regulations will further improve the quality of the tea. Fertilizers used wrongly not only deteriorate healthy soil, it also worsens the quality and quantity of tea plants. Weed should be managed side by side with tea plants so it can retain water and hold soil together during heavy rain. Tea leaves must not be picked completely so to support the health of the plants and the plants must be trimmed properly to maintain top shape in quality and quantity year by year.
4. Tea making skills
With everything falling into place and luck of good weather, the raw tea material relies on the technique of tea pickers and tea makers. Different maturity of tea leaves contain different internal property which would determine the kind of tea it is most suitable for. The tea makers must be able to control the processes based on the condition of the raw material and the environment (humidity, temperature, sun, time of day). Tea makers must be able to react and constantly adjust their processing method in order to make the best tea out of the raw teas. Final steps such as getting rid of stems, yellow leaves, roasting and mixing tea will further refine the quality and consistently provide quality product.
Tea is basically a processed dry good. It needs proper dry storage; away from sunlight and humidity and air. Proper storage will age the teas which will turn the teas into something different and unique from the fresh teas. Aging is generally good for oolongs and black teas and not great for green teas.
Elements for making a good tea isn't just the elevation, picking only young buds or drinking them fresh within 3 months. It begins from the classical 5 elements; earth, water, air, fire, and aether and extending to the works of everyone involved from trimming, weeding, picking, processing to the final stage of storage. Understand it like planting vegetables and growing trees and making jam, every element involves the other; it's a cycle of nature!