My last culinary stop within Germany for now was supposed to be a tea ceremony in the North West of Germany – an area called „Ostfriesland“ (East Frisinia) and which is known for it’s tea culture for centuries.
So I arrived at a tea museum Thursday afternoon and was told to enter the back area where the ceremony was going to take place. When I came into the room I’ve noticed loads of tea pots hanging from the ceiling, loads of boxes most likely containing tea, a little plant looking like a Ficus and about 20 other guests waiting for the ceremony to start. Well, it was clear what the pots, the boxes and the guests were doing there… but that plant? I had no idea.
Soon after the ceremony started the meaning was revealed – it was an actual tea plant! But have you ever seen one? Well, I haven’t and I was absolutely astonished. There only exists one kind of tea plant all over the world which gets different names depending on the region it’s growing. So an „Assam“, „Ceylon“ and „Darjeeling“ is the same tea plant just with a different place of origin. Of course the soil, highs, surroundings and weather conditions do have an impact on the taste but there are no specific breedings of the plant itself. I didn’t know that. Did you?
Hence the weather, surroundings and soil do have a main impact on the taste of the tea it differs with every harvest. A „Ceylon“ doesn’t taste the same all the time. That’s why a specific sort of tea might contain a different mixture of teas (from different areas) to get that specific taste. Therefore specialists to try up to 400 samples of tea each and every day to buy charges which meet their program. After that every tea need to be mixed separately to gain the same taste through the year. Sounds weird, but it’s true! And the water which is used to boil the tea with has a major impact, too. The taste of a tea might be totally destroyed just by using different water.
Another fact I didn’t know was that everything which is made of the tea plant might be called tea (quite logic) BUT everything else like herbal teas, rooibos and fruit teas basically aren’t teas! They are simply not made of that certain plant. That’s why they normally would have been called „infusions“ but as this would sound very weird and confusing for the customer they are all called tea. I didn’t know that either. Did you?
It’s the same with white, green, black and yellow tea – they are all from the same plant just different parts of it with a different kind of processing. For example white tea is about buds and the blossom of the tea plant. They are almost looking white, are very young and contain the highest portion of coffein. The upper 20% are used for black tea. Soon after harvesting the leaves are dried for 12-18 hours under higher temperature to be pressed afterwards to open their cellular structure to reveal their aroma. The following step is called „Fermentation“ and takes 2-3 hours where the leaves extract their cellular juice and oils. That’s why the leaves become very dark, too. And thats also how that certain tea got it’s name. After that they will be dried again to make the tea and its aroma durable.
It’s a bit different with green tea. Those leaves won’t be pressed so that this kind of tea has less aroma/strength and won’t color dark. The duration of procession is much shorter, too.
Yellow tea is made of the lower part of the plant where the leaves are almost yellow.
Each tea has a certain way to consume – the water temperature and infusion time differ for a perfect aroma.
So how does a „Ostfriese“ drink his tea? First he prepares a cup with a piece of rock candy which is called „Klütje“. It lays in the center of the cup and won’t be moved, stirred or drunken during the tea time. One tea time normally contains three cups of tea and that one piece of sugar need to last for all of them. In the earlier days sugar has been a very expensive good. That’s why it was easy for visitors to see whether he / she was appreciated within the family. The priest of the village also got a bigger piece of sugar to make sure he’s of a positive mind.
After the tea is poured some cream will be filled along the rim into the cup. That won’t be stirred either. That’s how the tea becomes „cloudy“. The whole procedure is done by the lady of the house – the guest isn’t allowed to do anything. The tea will be filled up again as soon as it’s empty. The common behavior speaks of three cups. Four would be naughty, two would show the lady of the house that it isn’t enjoyable. So three it is. After the third cup a spoon has to be placed at the rim of the cup to show that the guest had enough.
In average Ostfriesen are drinking about 300 liters of tea per year. German in comparison do drink 26l tea, 169l coffee and 130l of alcohol. So Ostfriesen might know what they are talking about! To be honest – I got the impression that they are real specialists in their topic and I gained a lot of knowledge about tea! I enjoyed the ceremony a lot! Thank you