Friday, December 3, 2010

Color / Colour: Tea vs. Peppers

This post is inspired by reading a post about Tetley Colour Therapy Tea on Carol's blog Cha Cha Cha. A lot of times, when people think of color and tea, flavored teas and various blends come to mind, often including "exotic" ingredients like cornflower, which impart little flavor or aroma, but have a bright blue color. But, as much as I love herbal tea, for the most part, I tend to prefer pure teas over flavored ones, so I want to talk about the color of pure tea. And I want to talk about peppers.

I love peppers...sweet, hot, and anywhere in between, and I'm also still excited at discovering the incredible diversity of peppers at the Newark (Delaware) Farmer's Market recently, which is where these pictures come from. What in the world do peppers have to do with tea? I think peppers give a good illustration of what tea is, and what tea is not:

These peppers clearly illustrate how diverse a single species can become under cultivation. This highlights what tea is: tea is incredibly diverse. The tea plant, Camellia sinensis, comes in many cultivars, with different leaf sizes and shapes, each with their peculiar flavor and aroma characteristics. Furthermore, just like peppers can be eaten fresh, sun-dried, grilled, flame roasted, pickled, fermented, powdered, pureed, and/or put into all matters of food, the manner of producing the finished tea leaf is also highly varied, and also introduces another layer of variability.

However, the peppers also present a stark contrast to tea, highlighting what tea is not: tea is not intensely colorful. It is not neon orange like a habanero or bold red like a red bell pepper or ripe cubanelle, nor will you ever find any purple teas like a purple bell pepper. But you will find teas matching the pale green of the caribe and hungarian peppers, the dark green of the serrano, or the dark, almost blackish green of the chilaca, and you will find many yellow-colored teas, and many brown teas, with some tending towards a reddish hue.

Peppers are intense:

Not just in color, I think peppers are a perfect example of what tea is not. Peppers can be insanely intense. The inconspicuous, long, narrow, plain green pepper pictured on the right side of the upper-left corner of the picture looks subtle in color, but take one nibble and there is nothing remotely subtle about it: this is a cayenne pepper, and will inflict pain on the first bite. I've found that many people I know can't even handle dishes prepared with serrano peppers, which are several notches down on the Scoville rating scale that measures a pepper's heat. And the comparatively wimpy Jalapeno is still considered, for better or worse, a "hot pepper".

The Color of Tea?

The color of tea is interesting. Often, the color of the dry leaf of a particular style of tea is sometimes an indicator of quality, and a trained eye can pick out the difference and use it to select higher-quality loose-leaf tea. But the difference doesn't always stare you in the face: it takes time and experience to recognize. Similarly, I've found that if you brew a Japanese green tea with different temperatures of water, the cup comes out a different color. This change in color usually corresponds to a marked change in flavor and aroma. However, this phenomenon is also subtle, and requires attentiveness to spot: your cup is not going to start glowing bright orange if you brew your green tea with water that is a bit too warm: you might just notice it doesn't look quite as golden.

So while I like the way a hot pepper can grab you from the first bite and not let go until the end of the meal (or well afterwards), I also like the way tea takes a little exploring before you experience all the different elements of it.

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