A Reading on Tea Leaves (a.k.a. The Value of Panda Poop)

Considering myself a bit of a tea connoisseur, I jumped when a recent opportunity to document an Octavia Tea Tasting presented itself.  Elizabeth Stephano, my friend and owner of Octavia Tea, had arranged with local merchant Graham’s 318 to host the event hoping to educate the community about her company and about tea, in general.  Despite my tea pot collection, fancy little brewing mechanisms and collection of teas from all over the world, this class certainly was an education for me, as I realized I had a lot to learn…

Elizabeth shared that tea is the world’s most consumed beverage, next to water. True tea (white, green, oolong, and black tea) is the product of a specific plant: the Camellia sinensis, whereas herbal teas are made up of other ingredients, such as the chamomile plant, peppermint leaves, spice mixes or dandelion.

Having always assumed that white tea, green tea, oolong or black tea were all products of different types of tea plants or mixes of different ingredients, I learned that the type of tea a leaf becomes is actually determined by how it is treated after being harvested.  White tea leaves are completely unprocessed, whereas black tea is processed heavily.  To make black tea, withered tea leaves are rolled, bruising them and releasing their juices.  Sticky and exposed to the elements, the leaves are then allowed to oxidize and, as a final step, are fired to seal in their flavor.  This process creates a more brisk and pronounced flavor in the tea, in contrast to white tea leaves which are brewed without processing.

I also learned that, though I’ve tried to give them a great home and care for them the best I could, I’ve been mistreating my poor little white and green teas.  Not only have I been putting too much tea into too small a strainer (when one uses a mesh tea ball, the expansion of the tea in such a small space often disallows the center leaves to be fully exposed – Elizabeth recommends a brewing basket or fill-your-own tea bag), but I have also been using boiling water.  For best results, Elizabeth recommends that green and white teas be brewed with water which has been brought to a boil, then allowed to slightly cool.  And for a stronger tea, use more leaves; do not brew longer.  Elizabeth recommends a brew time of 3 – 3 1/2 minutes.

Teas vary in price and quality depending on the origin, how the tea is harvested (the highest quality tea picked by hand rather than by machine), when the tea is harvested and the type of ingredients used.  The world’s most expensive tea was recently priced at $35,000 a pound ($200 a cup) due to its use of panda poop during the fertilization process.  Since bamboo is both rich in vitamins and minerals and a staple in the panda’s diet, these benefits are said to infuse from the panda excrement into the tea leaf.  Someday when I’m rich and famous I plan to give this tea a try… right next to my monkey poop coffee.

Perhaps most importantly, Elizabeth discussed a variety of health benefits teas provide.  To simplify, I broke these into the true tea categories, below:

White Tea: The healthiest of the teas due to its unprocessed nature, white tea has the highest levels of antioxidants (believed to maintain health, slow the aging process, and fight disease) and the lowest caffeine content of the true teas.  White tea is also high in theanine, an amino acid found only in high quality teas which promotes mental and physical relaxation, boosts the immune system and increases concentration.

Green Tea: Rich in EGCG, a natural and potent antioxidant, green tea is known to promote weight loss and good health.

Oolong Tea: Studies completed in Taiwan and China have shown that regular consumption of oolong tea is linked to lower blood sugar and the lowering of cholesterol. Oolong tea is also believed to reduce plaque in arteries, aid in weight loss and boost metabolism.

Black Tea:  Black tea has been shown to have high levels of theaflavins and thearubigens, strong antioxidants linked to reduction of cholesterol and cardiovascular health.

With over ten years in business, Elizabeth has compiled enough expertise on tea to fill a small booklet: Her Tea Guide is available on the Octavia Tea website.  Here you can read about further health benefit information, the origins of each tea, tasting protocol, etc.

And just to dwell on the complete admiration I have for my friend’s business, I’ll point out that she not only researches and distributes high quality teas, but she also operates the company and designs all her own labels; her original artwork is found on each package.  Elizabeth has a true passion for tea and has made it her life’s work – an accomplishment I deeply respect.

Finally, what would an article on a tea tasting be without my recommendation? Immediately after the tasting, I was found ordering up a cup of the Ginger Peach white tea.  I tend to like green and white teas best and loved this blend which (perhaps randomly) was placed first in the day’s line-up.

Now, what better downtime, blog-reading-companion is there than a warm, healthy tea cup? (Or an ice tea cocktail, as summer’s a-coming…!).  I hope you’ve learned something new, here, and that you’re found “trying a spot of tea” sometime soon.  Cheers!


3 thoughts on “A Reading on Tea Leaves (a.k.a. The Value of Panda Poop)

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  2. Love this. I have grown to love a cup of tea and always felt like such a novice when it came down to the technicality of it all…making me wish this shop was right around the corner! I’ll be checking out her store for sure. Love reading your posts as always!

    1. I know! Her Tea Guide is awesome; there’s so much I didn’t (and still don’t) know. On a side note… these pics were all taken with my new (used) Sony Nex-5 Craigslist camera purchase. I’d love some tips if you have any feedback, photog friend. You can Facebook me.

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