Fermented tea has been a beverage of choice for many years. The fermentation of tea leaves changes their nutritional chemistry. It also affects the way that the tea smells and tastes. Fermented tea is frequently prepared as a liquid infusion from the leaves.
Not only does it have the same nutritional benefits as regular tea but it also is rich in probiotics. It can contain antioxidants, which protect against free radicals, as well. Knowing how to ferment tea leaves is good knowledge to have so that fermented tea could be enjoyed at any time.
Fermented teas are becoming very popular. They can be compared to a special wine. The process to ferment a tea leaf can be rigorous and time-consuming, but it adds special value to the drink.
How to Ferment Tea Leaves
Whether the tea leaves are being semi-fermented or fully fermented, they undergo the same basic process. The process can be a bit time consuming but the results are worth it.
First, the tea leaves or herbs are placed in a pot or large cup. They are then steeped using hot water for a few minutes. It is up to the discretion of the person drinking the tea whether or not they want a strong or soft taste. The longer they are steeped in the water, the less bitter they become.
The leaves are then placed in glass jars. The lids of these jars are only partially closed so that the air can enter the jar. Depending on the quality of leaves and the taste preferred, these leaves can sit in the jar for a few days to months.
After the leaves have sat for the preferred period, they are then broken down. Some people prefer to use food processors for the convenience of time. Others enjoy breaking them down manually.
The tea leaves are then combined with other ingredients that are special to that specific type of tea. For example, kombucha tea leaves are combined with mushrooms. These ingredients then sit to pickle (ferment) for another set period of time.
Before the luxury of electric tools, the process took farmers and tea experts even longer to complete. Traditionally, charcoal ovens were used to keep the environment warm and moist. They were also used to heat the water. Factories now use electric- and gas-powered ovens to complete the heating process.
What has not changed is the attention to detail it takes to get a tea leaf perfectly fermented. The different levels of fermentation require precise attention to detail. The best way to keep track of the fermentation process is to carefully observe the color of the tea leaf. The darker the leaf, the more fermented it is.
It is not common for fermented teas to arrive ready for purchase in grocery stores. Many start as green teas, which then slowly oxidize over time.
If a business wants to mass-produce fermented teas, then they use a composting process. This process must be carefully monitored to make sure that the moisture and temperature are perfect for fermentation.
Fermented tea becomes more valuable with age because the process is very time-consuming. The longer it has a chance to ferment, the more it is worth.
Types of Fermented Tea
There are many different types of fermented teas. Some are sweet while others are more bitter. Some even require several extra months of fermentation. However, they are all still delicious and healthy to consume.
Fermented teas are normally classified according to how they are made. Piled teas are fermented using natural fungus under very dry conditions. Pickled teas are formed using a wet process with lots of acidic bacteria.
Dark tea is aged in bamboo. The bamboo could be fashioned into baskets and coverings. Bamboo thrives in moist environments where fungi grow. The chemistry and nutritional value of the bamboo allow the rich flavor of dark teas to flourish.
Kombucha is a very popular fermented tea. It is made using mushrooms and other fungi. It is slightly alcoholic and is mostly consumed for the health benefits it gives. It does taste bitter and many people choose to add sugar or fruits to sweeten the drink.
Pickled tea is also a popular kind of fermented tea. This tea is not consumed by drinking a liquid. Rather, it is consumed by chewing on fermented tea leaves. The leaves are pressed into bamboo baskets until a fermentation cake is formed. This tea is known for the many health benefits it has.
Fermented teas are normally sold as compressed tea shapes. The herbs that are fermented are packed into bricks, bowls, or discs. The teas must be aged for several weeks or even years. The prices are most comparable to producing wine from grapes.
Non-Fermented to Fully Fermented Tea
The degrees of fermentation vary from non-fermented teas to dark and heavy fermentation, otherwise known as fully fermented. The degree of fermentation is heavily dependent on the type of leaves used.
Most tea leaves derive from the same plant, called the Camellia Sinensis. However, this plant can grow in many different areas of the planet. Different types of Camellia Sinensis, such as black teas, differ from those of the oolong tea.
Non-fermented teas contain almost all of the original flavor of the leaf. There are not many other additions made during the fermentation process. For example, jasmine petals are not combined with any other herbs. Rather, they sit by themselves to ferment. This leaves a soft, gentle flavor.
Semi-fermented teas are only partially fermented. Oolong and TenRen King’s tea fall under this category. They are only medium-dark and their flavor changes in bitterness only slightly.
Fully fermented teas have sat in fermentation vessels for long periods of time. These teas are very dark and bitter. Black tea is the most common type of fully fermented tea.
There are also such things as post-fermented teas. These teas have a unique taste to them. This is because they are previously fermented teas that have been fermented again.
The tea leaves are firstly fermented and then they rest for a couple of days. The leaves then go through another fermentation process. The most popular post-fermented tea is Pu-Erh tea.
Benefits of Fermented Tea Leaves
The fermented tea is thought to have originated in Asian countries. It is made by adding specific strains of yeast and sugar to tea and then letting it sit for weeks. Fermentation also produces acid and other gases that have nutritional benefits.
The bacteria and yeast form film on the surface of the liquid. This film contains hundreds of thousands of bacteria. This is also called a colony. These bacteria are great for the gastrointestinal system.
Probiotics can help improve many aspects of health in those who consume it. They can help the digestive system, improve inflammation, and even promote weight loss.
Fermented teas also contain bioactive chemicals that work as antioxidants once digested. The antioxidants help reduce fat and improve cholesterol levels.
They also help control blood sugar. Some studies even show that drinking fermented tea for long periods can help reduce the risk of diseases. These diseases include prostate cancer and colon cancer.
Because fermented tea is filled with many bacteria and probiotics, it is very healthy to consume. But it is important to check the labels when purchasing fermented tea from grocery stores. Many mass-produced ready-to-drink tea products contain high sugars.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.