Types of Tea
Camellia sinensis is the variety of plant, an evergreen shrub, from which all tea is produced. There are 5 basic steps for processing tea: plucking, withering, rolling, oxidizing, and firing. Tea can also be divided into five basic categories: black, green, oolong, white, and pu'erh. Each type of tea has different tastes, health benefits, and characteristics depending on the way it is produced. The climate, soil conditions, and the oxidation process, during which water evaporates out of the leaf and the leaf absorbs more oxygen from the air, all play a part in determining its flavor characteristics. Herbal tea is not actually considered tea since it does not contain the Camellia sinensis plant.
Tea was first cultivated in Asia over two thousand years ago and has become the second most consumed drink in the world. Grown in areas of elevation, premium teas are hand-plucked and take over 2,000 leaves to make one pound of finished tea. These days, premium teas can also be grown in flat fields and at lower altitudes.
The fine white hairs on the unopened or recently opened buds give this tea its name. Light, sweet, and delicately floral white teas are the most delicate in flavor and aroma. They have little to no processing. Using only the newest leaves, this type of tea is simply plucked and allowed to wither and dry. Unlike some other teas there is no rolling or shaping of the leaves. Unopened buds are used in the finest white teas. Some consider it to be the most premium tea available, and it is usually more expensive due to its rarity.
Green tea is often praised for its health benefits and antioxidants. Unlike white tea, green tea is plucked, withered, and then rolled. There are many different styles of green tea and they can vary significantly depending on the production process. Different methods of heating are used to prevent oxidation. If the leaves were allowed to oxidize they would become oolong or black tea. When manufacturing the finest green teas, hand-making methods are still employed in many places.
Oolong tea is very time consuming to create because it utilizes all of the basic steps of tea processing (done repeatedly). Mainly, the rolling and oxidizing steps are performed multiple times. This semi-oxidized tea produces much more complex flavors than other teas, like green tea or white tea. With rich, floral, and fruity flavor profiles, oolong tea is ideal for someone new to drinking tea.
Black tea is mainly enjoyed as iced tea. It also has been proven to give similar health benefits as green tea. The black tea process is very similar to the methods used in oolong tea, but the oxidation time is different and steps are not repeated. This is a fully oxidized tea and processing methods vary from country to country which leads to a variety of flavors including floral, malty, spicy, and nutty.
The processing, storage, and taste for this tea is different from any other on earth. This leads it to be one of the most unusual teas around. The unique characteristics of this tea make for a connoisseur following. Pu'erh is not oxidized but fermented instead and falls into one of two categories: raw (Sheng) or ripened (Shou). Depending on which one is being made the aging process can be anywhere from a few months to several years. This produces smooth earthy flavors and aromas unlike any other variety.