There are more than 1500 varieties of tea available worldwide and one of the most interesting tea facts is that all true teas come from the same plant, Camellia Sinensis. How a tea is produced specifically affects the flavors and aromas, and is what makes it unique from other teas. There are 6 main categories of teas. Each type of tea is unique thanks to its processing methods. Let’s explore all of them and a few extra.
1. White Tea- White tea is the least processed of all teas. Originating in China’s Fujian Province, this type of tea is made from the buds and the leaves from the Camellia Sinensis plant. They are carefully handled so there are no bruised or broken leaves. The buds and/or leaves are picked, withered and dried. White tea is light in color. In fact, some buds still have fine white hair. These hairs are a layer of protection from any harmful attacks (ie. Insects, harsh weather). It is the most delicate tea in flavor and aroma, as the leaves are not rolled or crushed in the process.
2. Green Tea- Green tea is the oldest type of tea. It is slightly oxidized. The leaves are picked, withered and then either roasted in a pan or steam-heated to stop oxidation. Pan-firing is more common for Chinese tea and steaming is more common for Japanese tea. With pan-fired green teas, the tastes can be more vegetal. With steamed green teas, the tastes can be more grassy. The shapes of green tea leaves also vary from flat, to curled or tightly rolled. For fresh steeps, not stale, it is recommended to drink green tea within the first year.
3. Yellow Tea- Yellow tea is a rare tea that is produced in small quantities and only in China. It’s a lengthy process that usually requires the skills of an experienced tea master. High quality yellow tea is made from buds plucked in the early spring. While low quality yellow tea is made from buds and leaves from later in the year. Processing yellow tea is similar to green tea. However, it also goes through a “yellowing” stage where the leaves are wrapped in paper. Therefore, skipping this step would simply make the tea a green tea, not yellow.
4. Oolang Tea- Oolong tea is semi-oxidized and the leaves are curled, twisted or tightly rolled. The best way to describe the characteristic of oolong tea is that it is between green tea and black tea. An oolong can be lightly oxidized and share soft flavour notes from a green tea, or an oolong can be heavily oxidized and share bold flavour notes from a black tea. The leaves are picked, withered, bruised, and then partially oxidized. Oolong is anywhere from 10-80% oxidized, and some are also roasted after the oxidization. The more red/darker your leaves are, the more oxidized.
5. Black Tea- Black tea is the most oxidized type of tea. It is perhaps the most common type of tea. Black tea is grown largely in Kenya and many Asian countries, including Sri Lanka, India and China. But, this type of tea is referred to as “red tea” in China because of the colour of the liquid when steeped. Orthodox and CTC (cut, tear and curl) are the two processing methods for black tea. The leaves are picked, withered, rolled or cut, oxidized and dried.
6. Herbal Tea- Herbal tea (also known as tisane) is not actually tea as it does not contain any leaves from the Camellia Sinensis plant. Herbal tea is prepared the same way as tea–steeping in hot water to extract flavours–which is why it is often categorized as tea. It is a good option for something naturally caffeine free. Herbal teas can consist of dried fruit, flowers, nuts, herbs and spices. Do you favour one type of tea more than the other?