Tea and Murder

April 11, 2023

In writing a novel, authors research much more material than goes into the story. If we add too much, our editors call it an info dump. But too little, and things might not make sense.

In Star Tangled Murder, hairstylist Marla Vail and her detective husband, Dalton, attend a battle reenactment at a living history village where the town marshal ends up dead. During their investigation, they learn about tea production. I researched the topic and was surprised at the complexity of the process.

Tea bushes first arrived in the United States from China in the 1700s. Attempts to cultivate the camellia sinensis plant in this country failed until a chemist, Dr. Charles Shepard, founded the Pinehurst Tea Plantation in Summerville, South Carolina in the late 1880s. He produced award-winning teas until he died.

Meanwhile, the Lipton Company acquired a farm on Wadmalaw Island in South Carolina. They relocated Shepard’s plants there. William Barclay Hall, a professional tea taster, bought the land in 1987. He converted the farm into a commercial operation, and the Charleston Tea Plantation was born. They renamed it the Charleston Tea Garden when Bigelow took over the property.

After water, tea is the most consumed beverage in the world. Each type of tea requires different processing. You can’t just pluck leaves off a plant and brew a pot. For example, green tea leaves are steamed on arrival to halt oxidation and to preserve their freshness. Black tea requires withering, rolling, and oxidizing. Oolong is a semi-oxidized tea that falls in between the other two. The tea plant grows best in places with high heat, humidity, good rainfall, and acidic soil. China, Sri Lanka, India, and Kenya are the four major suppliers.

Tea is promoted as having various health benefits. In particular, green tea drinkers allegedly have a lower incidence of cancer and cardiovascular disease. This may be related to the high content of polyphenols in green tea. These have antioxidant, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties and may also stimulate the immune system.

Green tea is one of the least processed varieties. Only the top two leaves and a bud from one stem are picked. This is called the flush. During harvesting season, the plant produces a new flush every seven to fifteen days. For black and oolong tea, two to four leaves down from the top are picked. There’s also white tea made from the buds of a plant. The only step for white tea is drying it to reduce moisture.

Yellow tea is similar to green tea in the initial production process, but it requires an additional procedure called sealed yellowing. This removes the grassy scent associated with green tea. Matcha teas are a type of Japanese green tea. The leaves are ground into a fine powder and then whisked into hot water. It has more antioxidants than green tea but also more caffeine.

When writing a book, it’s a fine line between dumping too much info into the story versus sharing this information with readers. I cut out this portion from the final version of Star Tangled Murder:

“Here the leaves for black and oolong teas undergo oxidation on these conveyor belts. This kickstarts the fermentation process. Next is what we call disruption,” he said, gesturing to a rotating tumbler. “Tossing the leaves tears them and allows for oxygen to penetrate the bruised cells. When sufficient oxidation has occurred, the leaves enter a gas-heated dryer for a short period to stop fermentation. This stage is called fixation and is the most critical part because it determines the tea’s taste, aroma, and color.”

“Then it’s ready for consumption?” Marla asked, not seeing anything that would account for the security measures.

“Not yet. The leaves go through a sieve to filter out undesirable particles, such as stems and fibers. Then the tea is shaped into tiny pellets to intensify the flavor. Once this cycle is complete, the tea enters the final firing stage in this oven.”

This would have been too much detail to leave in my story. I might find it fascinating, but readers want to move on to see what happens next regarding the mystery.

Tea and Murder #cozymystery #research Share on X

Do you like learning new topics in a mystery, or do you prefer a story that sticks to the bones of the plot? And what’s your favorite kind of tea?


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8 thoughts on “Tea and Murder

  1. I like a good balance between learning something new and a story with good pacing. You do both well! And I try to do the same. My favorite teas are black teas, like darjeeling, assam, English breakfast, and just plain black tea. I’ve never tried matcha, but after reading this I think I should.

  2. I clicked the link and this is what popped up!

    Oops! That page can’t be found.
    It looks like nothing was found at this location. Maybe try one of the links below or a search?

  3. I found the inclusion of the tea production in Star Tangled Murder, interesting. I love when I learn something new when I read a fiction story.

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