Tea and wine - It's all about the Terroir

Tea and wine - It's all about the Terroir

terrroirTerroir is a term used to describe the general conditions of a certain place, like the soil, climate, water, location and altitude, all which affect the final taste and aroma of wine.  The term can also be applied to the tea plant, Camellia sinensis. If you like wine, there is a big chance that you will like drinking loose leaf tea because of the complex flavors created by terroir.

Rain is an important terroir factor that hugely influences the characteristics of tea and wine.  A rainy season may create large tea leaves and plump grapes, but with a much diluted flavor. Conversely, a dry growing season will produce smaller harvests, and perhaps a stronger flavor profile.
There are also regional variations – the same plant variety grown in different regions will produce different flavor profiles.  Such factors including the length of the growing season, the altitude of the vineyard or tea garden come into play. Altitude affects the ambient temperature which in turn affects the moisture content of the soil. 

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A great example is Assam and Darjeeling Teas.  Both are well known Indian Teas with very different flavor profiles. These teas are named after the areas they are grown in.  Assam being a very brisk tea and is the prevalent flavor in an English Breakfast Tea while Darjeeling has a lighter color and is called the Champagne of teas because of its delicate flavor.  While they are 2 different varieties of the tea plant, this example demonstrates terroir.  Assam is grown in a hot tropical area in the lowlands.  Darjeeling is grown in higher elevation of the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains which is much cooler on average.  Assam gets abundant rain while the Darjeeling region gets less. 

Here in the Finger Lakes region in western NY, the Riesling grape, a German cultivar has been grown for about 60 years.  Local growers, some of them German, picked this variety because the terroir was similar to that of the grape's native Germany where Riesling grapes are grown.  Over the years, Finger Lakes grape growers have managed to create Riesling grapes and wine that has received critical acclaim.  NY State Rieslings can be drier than those created in Germany which tend to be sweeter and is the German preference for Rieslings.  So this goes to show that both terroir and processing go hand in hand to create a great wine.

Skills matter.

When it comes to converting grapes into wine and tea leaves into loose tea, good skills determine the final product created. This processing knowledge is passed on from one generation to the next. Its more of an art than science.  These "trade secrets" are hard to duplicate even if you get precise directions because so much of the knowledge is learned and practiced for centuries.   Tea growing and processing in places like China and India have been perfected over a few hundred years unlike the Finger Lakes in NY (but has done remarkably well). 

Expert wine and tea makers are considered living national treasures and are celebrities in their countries.

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Other similarities between Tea and Wine.

One thing in common for both drinks is astringency - the tart taste in wine called dryness and in tea called briskness. Sweet taste can also be found in the loose tea, but to a lesser degree in comparison to wine. Wine, made from sweeter grapes, can be very sweet.  There is no such sweetness in tea leaves.

Social Aspects

Both wine and tea are cultural markers.  Centuries ago, wine and tea were both made popular because they prevented death from water born pathogens. Monks urged their drinking to promote better health. Over the years, water quality improved, but the habit of drinking both has stuck to become part of the world's daily rituals.  In some Middle East countries it is impossible to conduct business without first accepting several obligatory cups of tea. While in England, tea breaks are sacred and observed daily sometimes several times daily. 

You can read about the British tea practices here.   

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