AN INTRODUCTION TO TEA
Kilogram selects teas that were made using time-tested, refined techniques. Our teas are sourced each year while at their peak of freshness. We work to ensure the tea is sustainably produced, and whenever possible certified organic.
Our teas, blends, and ingredients are evaluated using strict comparative methods to look for the sensory stimulating aspects of tea such as complexity, depth of flavor, aroma, and cup color. There are three factors that won’t just decide how we categorize teas, but will directly contribute to the finished tea’s flavor.
Tea comes from the plant Camellia sinensis; the word sinensis is Latin for China. Kilogram selects tea from two varieties, Camellia sinensis var. assamica and Camellia sinensis var. sinensis. Cultivars (cultivated varieties) are the numerous variations of these varieties that have been developed over the thousands of years of tea production.
The most common variety is Camellia sinensis var. assamica. The assamica variety was first cultivated in Central Asia. The leaves grow to be 4-10 inches in length but are often harvested before they reach maturity. Left to their devices, the trees may reach 50 feet tall, but typically are pruned to be three foot tall bushes that are easily harvested. Assamica tends to be very productive and can produce five or more harvests a year. Cultivars such as the da yeh grown in Yunnan, China are among the oldest cultivated tea trees.
The second most common variety is Camellia sinensis var. sinensis. This variety has small leaves compared to the assamica plant. The leaves grow to three to five inches in length at maturity. In the wild, sinensis plants can grow to be 30 feet tall, but like the assamica plants they are pruned to a manageable height. Sinensis tea tends to have a slow growth cycle which means that they are harvested only one to four times a year depending on the elevation and weather conditions. Some sinensis plants can handle some frost, but they are most productive and grow rapidly in warm weather. The best quality sinensis cultivars are unmatched in body, complexity, and mouthfeel.
Herbal infusions or tisanes are not produced from the Camellia sinensis plant. Kilogram doesn’t carry any decaffeinated teas since the decaffeination process is extremely detrimental to quality. Instead we source herbs and herbal blends that are naturally caffeine-free. All of the herbs and ingredients are sourced with the same care and share the same appreciable qualities as our teas.
Terroir is a French term that loosely translates to “sense of place.” The term is used to describe the relationship between an agricultural product and the place where it came from. It takes into account the geographical features of land, geology, and climate. Each of these factors will influence the character of a tea.
Depending on the variety, tea tends to prefer specific climates, and grows best in between the tropics. All tea plants require a large amount of annual rainfall. Harvest begins in spring and continues into late summer. The amount of rainfall and temperature throughout the growing season will determine the crop size and the quality of each individual harvest. Often the best growing areas are prone to having lots of fog and cloud cover that protects the plants from excessive heat.
Soil composition is also important. Plants grown in soils with unusual mineral deposits tend to produce unique flavors. The replenishment of minerals and soil nutrients is crucial to sustainability. Organic farming methods protect biodiversity, creating a healthy, nutrient dense environment for tea plants to live long, productive lives with minimal replanting. An added benefit is year-to-year consistency since tea quality is directly related to the health of the land.
Tea plants have a complicated relationship with elevation. Growing tea at low elevation encourages rapid maturation, which won’t adequately produce complex flavors for most cultivars, whereas high elevation slows growth, allowing the plant to develop sweet, clean, and complex flavors.
While variety and location have a tremendous impact on the flavor of a tea, processing will highlight and preserve certain flavors over others in the cup. Once a tea is harvested, it will undergo a series of steps to become a finished product. The aim of the tea maker is to both preserve and create the flavors that came from the cultivar and terroir. It isn’t as simple as just drying the leaf. Kilogram offers green, white, oolong and black tea because they offer sweet, complex, and clean flavors. Any Camellia sinensis leaf can be processed to create these different tea types, but generally a specific cultivar is selected for a specific processing style.
Each process is different, but shares similar steps: plucking, sorting/cleaning, primary drying, withering, firing, drying, final sorting and packing. Adjusting the amount of time, the order in which the steps happen, and differences in technique, ultimately determine whether a tea is green, black, white, or oolong.