I recently took a tea class after work at this little place in Soho called Palaisdhetes. It was dark and rainy that night (oh hey, thanks daylight savings time!) but on the brighter side, I got a variety of warm, comforting teas and education about the collection.
Our instructor Aurelie traveled all the way from France, where the company is located. She was very friendly and passionate about tea, and now I know why this common beverage inspires such feelings.
Each tea container has a different smell, and most of them are exceptionally aromatic. "If your tea doesn't give you pleasant smell, most likely it won't give you pleasant taste" she said.
Here are the highlights of what I learned:
- Tea comes from a plant Camellia Sinensis and was originally grown in China. About 5,000 years ago, tea was served only to Kings and Queens of China.
- The tea tree needs to grow in an area where the temperature stays between 32-100 degrees Fahrenheit. It does not grow in places with lots of direct sun, and they need rich soil. That's why we see lots of tea plantations in India, Japan, China, Indonesia, and a few in Africa. They are very rare in America or Europe. Rooibos is one tea that exclusively comes from Africa, it is also known as red tea. It actually isn't from a tree, instead it comes from bushes.
- All teas come from the same tea plant (camellia sinensis). White, Black, Green, and Oolong tea are prepared through a process of drying, heating and oxidation. White tea has a fast process from harvesting to drying the leaves. Green tea goes through a heating process either with steaming, or roasting. Oolong goes through an oxidation process, and black tea is the most oxidized which makes them stronger in flavor.
- Herbal tea is an infusion between dried fruit, spices, and flowers. It is also caffeine-free by its nature. Most herbal teas are naturally sweet, and have a pleasant scent. Decaf tea however, has to go through a process of removing caffeine on the leaves. So don't get confused between caffeine-free or decaf on the label.
I tasted white tea called Bai Mu Dan from China, Green tea called Sencha Ariake from Japan, Oolong called Dong Ding from Taiwan which was my favorite, and Darjeeling from India.
I left the tea place feeling warm and somewhat more knowledgeable about tea. Except now I have to find my way to the subway in this early afternoon, mid-winter darkness!
If you're interesting in an authentic tea experience and high quality tea in general, here are my other favorite tea places in New York City: