A Predator of Information

Our songs will all be silenced, but what of it? Go on singing.

Laboratory Grade Tea

27 June 2016 1:08 PM (tea)

Teas from India usually bear the name of the estate where they were grown, which flush[1] they were part of, and a grade[2]. Teas from China and Japan that follow a traditional tea style[3] have that as their name and sometimes a grade[4].

Lately, I've noticed a some teas, all Japanese, whose names are a word or two and a number, like Icha Kariban #152[5].

Seeing this, it's hard not to imagine Japanese men in a laboratory carefully building a novel strain of tea gene by gene, having long rows of men in business suits sampling each cup for aroma and flavor until at last the one-hundred fifty-second sample they test has the most ideal fit for their parameters.

Apparently it is, kind of. They've been testing different growing conditions and a bit of selective breeding and running the tea in question through gas chromatographs and taste tests with professional tea tasters.

There's no genetic engineering, but you can't have everything. I look forward to the day when of transgenic bacteria or algae are grown and dried onto a cellulose substrate to build made-to-order teas[6] with optimized flavor profiles.


[1] Indian tea harvests are divided up by flush. The first flush is in the early spring and is very light and delicate; it has a reputation as the best. The second flush is picked during the early summer, it's a bit more full-bodied. I prefer second-flush tea since I think it tastes more like itself. The rains flush is harvested in the late summer, and the autumn flush is harvested in, well, autumn. Both are considered to be bad, particularly the rains flush. However, they're both strong and full bodied. They work very well for things like masala chai or Thai iced tea where you're going to be dumping other flavors all over them and adding milk.

[2] Indian tea is graded using the Orange Pekoe system. Contrary to what you might think, Orange Pekoe is not a variety of tea, it's the standard size screen tea leaves are passed through to sort out the broken ones. Below Orange Pekoe are smaller sizes of broken leaf. Dust and fannings often go into tea bags. Broken orange pekoe is just what it sounds like: larger pieces of broken leaf. There's also the Crush, Tear, Curl process which turns whatever tea you have into little shreds suitable for putting into a tea bag. You can have more letters tacked onto the ‘OP’ like ‘FTGFOP’. Grades are best read right to left. This one is whole leaf tea as graded by the Orange Pekoe system that is ‘Golden Flowery‘, meaning it has immature leaf buds, it is ‘Tippy‘ which means that it has a whole lot of leaf buds, and it is the ‘Finest’ which basically just intensifies the other letters. FTGFOP is often ¼ leaf buds by weight. You can also expand the acronym as ‘Far Too Good For Ordinary People’.

[3]Things like 大紅袍 (Da Hong Pao or ‘Big Red Robe’), 玉露 (Gyokuro or ‘Jewel Dew’), 鐵觀音 (Tieguanyin or ‘Iron Goddess’), and 龍井茶 (Longjing Cha or ‘Dragon Well Tea’).

[4] East-Asian grades aren't as rigidly standardized as they are for Indian tea. You might have ‘finest’ dragon well but ‘imperial grade’ big red robe.

[5] Yes, I know the first Google hit for that is the Snooty Fox Tea Shop. No, there's no relation. I get most of my tea from TeaSource or a local outfit called Das Teehaus.

[6] Yes, as far as I'm concerned transgenic bacteria sprayed onto a cellulose substrate that contain the same compounds as tea and produce an aroma and flavor like tea are tea. Chamomile and mint are not even if they're more superficially similar in that they're actually plants.

One response

  1. Digital says:

    Have you heard of the Open Agriculture Food Computer? It's basically this, but for all plants, and you can build your very own and share your plant performance with others. In essence, crowd-sourcing how to grow crops, making it local, and reducing the staleness period as warehouses keep stocks of food around for months.

    Plus, isn't the idea of a "Food Server" and "Food Datacenter" just kinda neat?

    Open Food Computer

    The Food Computer is a controlled-environment agriculture technology platform that uses robotic systems to control and monitor climate, energy, and plant growth inside of a specialized growing chamber. [...]

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