The Japanese tea ceremony, still called The Way of Tea, is a revered practice in Japan and is centered around the art of preparing and presenting matcha in an almost meditative fashion. It was originally developed as a spiritual practice and the principals of the practice—harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility—are still central to tea ceremony today.
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Generally, lower-quality green teas are steeped hotter and longer while higher-quality teas are steeped cooler and shorter, but usually multiple times (2-3 typically). Higher-quality teas like gyokuro use more tea leaves and are steeped multiple times for short durations. Steeping too hot or too long results in the release of excessive amounts of tannins, leading to a bitter, astringent brew, regardless of initial quality. The brew’s taste is also affected by the steeping technique; two important ones are to warm the steeping container beforehand to prevent the tea from immediately cooling down, and to leave the tea leaf in the pot and gradually add more hot water during consumption.
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Rooibos, also known as African red bush, grows near Cape Town, in the Cederberg region. To produce red tea, manufacturers harvest and chop the needle-shaped green leaves of the rooibos plants, which are then dampened and fermented for 12 hours. Once fermented, the leaves oxidize, turning red before they are dried and sold as loose or bagged tea. When steeped in hot water, the resulting liquid has a reddish-amber hue and an earthy taste that isn't bitter because it's low in tannins. You can drink it alone or with milk, sugar, honey or lemon. This somewhat astringent tea is rich in antioxidants, including quercetin, aspalathin and nothofagin, all of which have anti-inflammatory and calming properties, according to the "Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry," published in July 2009.
Matcha is a high-grade green tea ground into powdered form. The green tea powder is whisked into hot water, instead of steeped, to form a frothy drink. The meditative act of preparing, presenting, and sipping matcha is the backbone of the Japanese tea ceremony. While matcha’s origins are ceremonial, the green tea powder is widely popular around the world in beverages like tea lattes or boba tea, and as a cooking ingredient in everything from ice cream to salad dressing.
Grown under shade for three weeks prior to plucking, gyokuro is one of the most exclusive varieties of tea produced in Japan. The shading technique imparts a sweeter flavor, and produces a particularly rich color thanks to the higher amounts of chlorophyll in the shaded leaf. Gyokuro tea is associated with the Uji region, the first tea-growing region in Japan. It is often made using smaller-leaf cultivars of the tea plant.