Personal flavor: Different kinds of tea boasts specific aroma and taste. For tea lovers, it is much more than a drink to quench thirst but it is an essential part of daily life (Courtesy of kedai-the-laresolo.blogspot.com) They form the holy trinity of beverages – wine, coffee and tea – and each has its devotees. For the millions who love tea, it is much more than a drink to quench thirst – it is an essential part of daily life.
Take Ratna Somantri, for example. Since she was a child in Cirebon, this 30-year-old auditor has been drinking tea after meals instead of water. When she was younger, she always drank Melati green tea, her mother’s favorite; now that she no longer lives with her mother, Ratna pours boiling water over several varieties of tea every day. Or Bambang Muhtar Rusdianto, a 43-year-old tea lover who lives in Bogor. Bambang – known in the virtual world as Bambang Laresolo – drinks up to two liters of tea a day, and is still searching through every nook and cranny in Indonesia for tea experiences.
Their love of tea brought these two together in cyberspace. Ratna and Bambang are moderators of the Tea Lovers mailing list in Yahoo groups, which Ratna established in 2007 out of her desire to find tea lovers in Indonesia to share their knowledge and experience of tea.
Most members are in Indonesia, although there are also residents of other countries such as Japan and Holland. The age of the members ranges from 18 to those who have passed their half-century.
Interestingly, the mailing list membership is not confined to tea lovers but also includes distributors of some brands of tea. There are also members who have joined the Indonesian Tea Council and the Research Center for Tea and Quinine.
The emails circulating among members show that the preferred topic of conversation is the background of tea. There are those who discuss their favorite teas and those who ask about the drink’s health benefits. Many also share tips about where to buy insulated glasses and other special tea-drinking equipment.
Special treatment: Each tea type requires the water to be at a different temperature (Courtesy of kedai-the-laresolo.blogspot.com) The archives of conversations of this mailing list provide a wealth of information about the history of tea and the best ways to get the most out of a cup of tea.
For example, there are several types of tea – white, tea, black and Oolong – depending on the production process employed, each of which requires the water to be at a different temperature.
“To scald the green tea leaves, the water temperature must not be too hot [around 60 to 70 degrees Celsius], otherwise the taste can turn bitter,” Bambang explains. “It’s different when we scald black tea. We use boiling water [100 degrees Celsius] to make sure the color of the tea comes out.”
It’s not only the water temperature that’s critical; the amount of tea leaves used is also important when influencing the taste. Too few leaves mean that the aroma and the taste aren’t revealed, and if there are too many leaves the taste can be bitter. Therefore, a true tea lover must be patient and careful, and follow the necessary rituals, starting from how to keep the tea leaves to how to scald and serve them.
“If the rituals are followed correctly you will taste that aroma and the aftertaste because every type of tea is different,” Ratna says. “Even tea leaves from the same plantation but picked during a different season can have a different taste. In the hands of a master, tea that is not good can become delicious – and vice versa.”
Because of her fondness for tea, every time Ratna travels she brings home souvenirs in the form of local specialty teas. For example, last year she brought home from Hong Kong a kind of green tea called Pu Erh, which comes from China’s Yunnan province, and can be 30, 15 or 10 years old.
“When tea lovers on the mailing list hold a gathering for the first time, they bring their teas so these can be tasted together. For later gatherings the programs take a theme, such as black tea,” says Ratna, who once studied under tea experts at the Purple Cane Tea Art Center in Malaysia.
Around 20 mailing list members, who benefit from sampling each other’s tea collections, usually take part in these gatherings in the real world. Like Ratna, other members also bring home souvenir teas from overseas, such as green tea from Japan, Oolong tea from Taiwan and black tea from India or Sri Lanka.
Many also bring their own local teas, which might be famous in their native area but relatively difficult to find in other regions. Such teas include the Bendera brand of black tea from North Sumatra, Tambi black tea from Central Java, Walini green tea from West Java and Malino green tea from South Sulawesi.
“Once we held a gathering in the Gunung Mas tea plantation,” Bambang says, whose blog, www.kedai-teh-laresolo.blogspot.com, shows the factory process of tea production. As tea lovers know, different teas come at different prices. For example, teas produced under the Garut name, and which are simply packed in plastic only, cost less than Rp 5,000 (40 US cents) per ounce. The high-quality Gyokuro green tea from Japan, on the other hand, can cost up to Rp 10 million per kilogram.
But if tea lovers are willing to spend a lot of money on their favorite leaves, it is because they have well and truly fallen in love with the aroma and the taste of the drink.
Of course, it helps that tea contains antioxidants that mean it can be beneficial to health.
Bambang, who takes medicine everyday to reduce his high blood pressure, feels the benefits of tea in reducing his illness. When he switched from tea to coffee for two weeks, he noticed the difference.
“The result was that my blood sugar levels and blood pressure went up although I kept taking my medicine. Finally I stopped drinking coffee and went back to drinking tea. Not much later my blood sugar levels decreased and my blood pressure is back to normal,” says Bambang, who has successfully shared his hobby of drinking tea with his wife and work colleagues.
For tea lovers such as Bambang and Ratna, drinking tea has a significance beyond the pleasure of just enjoying their favorite beverage: Tasting tea from different areas also means getting to know local cultures. “For example, people in China only want to drink Oolong tea, green tea or white tea. For them, black tea and tea mixed with sugar or another additive just isn’t tea. But there are many people who like drinking tea with sugar,” Ratna says.
She points out that the different teas in Indonesia also make for personal favorites. “For example in Sumatra, people like drinking strong black tea without sugar. In Java many people like drinking Melati green tea, to which they add sugar.”
As her own favorites, Ratna chooses Japanese green tea and Oolong tea from Taiwan.
“I find that tea tasting of fruit, with honey mixed in, is also delicious,” she adds, and that is not her only pleasure associated with the beverage.
“Drinking tea with friends and eating fried bananas is very enjoyable, isn’t it?”
This article was taken from THE JAKARTA POST. Read the original article