Tea Types Defined

By EverythingForTea.com

The world of tea is rich in its culture and the varieties of tea produced. Green, white, black and oolong teas all come from the plant Camellia sinensis, an evergreen that grows mainly in tropical and subtropical climates in mostly mountainous areas. Leading tea-producing countries include China, Taiwan, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malawi, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Argentina.

The various types of tea differ as a result of the level of oxidation that occurs in the leaves after picking and the post-harvest processing. After picking, the plant’s intracellular enzymes begin to break down chlorophyll and tannins are released causing the tea leaves to darken. This enzymatic oxidation process can be stopped by heating.

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White tea is the least processed of teas and is made of the tea buds and youngest leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. The leaves are steamed and dried right after harvest and not allowed to oxidize. White tea is very delicate in flavor but has a complexity and natural sweetness that accompanies its beautiful light color.

Green tea is also minimally oxidized after harvesting since it is steamed or pan-fired to denature the oxidizing enzymes leaving the dried leaves to retain its green color. Without oxidation however, green tea is more delicate and should be prepared with care to avoid a bitter taste. Green tea is best steeped at temperatures less than boiling, between 165–175 degrees Fahrenheit for 2–3 minutes to appreciate its grassy, sweet, botanic aroma and flavor.

Oolong tea is partially oxidized after harvesting and therefore is somewhere in between green and black tea in its taste and color. The recommended steeping temperatures are also intermediate at 180 and 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Quality oolong tea often comes from the northern Fujian province of China or the island of Taiwan and can range in aroma and flavor from silky and delicate to woody or fruity.

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Black tea is dark in color because the leaves are allowed to fully oxidize before they are dried. Black tea leaves can be steeped in water at boiling temperatures between 208–212 degrees Fahrenheit, and longer at 3–5 minutes for a deep amber-colored infusion. Black tea contains the most tannins, which result in more astringency (dry, puckering mouth feel) and therefore is often served with a sweetener and dairy accompaniment. A cup of good quality black tea can range in flavors from robust and malty to mellow and sweet.

Two other tea types produced from Camellia sinensis are Yellow tea and Pu-erh (also pu’er). Yellow tea requires elaborate processing and thereby limits the cherished varieties available today. Read more: Secrets of the Elusive Yellow Tea.

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Pu-erh teas are fermented and aged tea products from Yunnan province. Before 1995, these teas were not available in the United States and have become popular for its bold earthy flavor that is most often consumed in multiple quick steeps. Pu-erh tea is commonly labeled with its vintage year and region of production.

Herbal teas are not made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant but are infusions of herbs, flowers, fruits, spices or other plants. Tisanes, is another name for the wide variety of herbal infusions. Herbal teas are naturally caffeine-free and should be steeped in boiling temperatures 208 – 212 degrees Fahrneheit for approximately 5 minutes to attain optimal flavor and color.

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