Learn About Tea
Types of Tea
July 26, 2012
There are more than 15,000 varieties of teas produced in about twenty-five countries of the world. With the diverse colors, sizes, and shapes of tea leaves, as well as different methods for drying them, the taste of brewed teas can range from subtle to pungent. The hue may also vary from pale yellow to vibrant red or robust mahogany brown. Below are some of the most popular varities.
An overview of the different kinds of tea
White Tea is the dried buds and very young leaves of the tea plant. These are the baby of the tea plant and are given extra “stuff” to survive in the cold, cruel world. The tea plant gives buds extra sugars for energy, extra antioxidants as a type of sunblock to temper the strong rays of the sun, extra amino acids to build the proteins to make more leaves, and extra caffeine to ward off hungry bugs that would devour the tender buds. White Tea is dried in covered sheds or dried in ovens.
Ceylon Silver Tips is a white tea that only has buds, giving it a natural honey-like and maple sweetness.
So that is why White Tea is so special. It is light and slightly sweet. Please note, contrary to many opinions, there is caffeine in white tea. Also there are tiny hairs on the buds.
Green Tea is, probably, the original tea. Ancient Chinese put the green leaves into hot water to make a healthy broth. However, they needed to preserve the leaves, so they decided to “fix” the leaves green. After several centuries of experiments, the less-ancient Chinese settled upon throwing the green leaves into a hot pan and turning them around with their hands. The leaves would stay green and not turn brown. They found that using this method also allowed for pretty shapes.And the leaves developed more complex and pleasant flavors because of the sugars and amino acids combined within the hot pans. This is like the crust of bread or a steak. Still today, many Chinese teas are “fixed” green in hot pans carefully attended to by artisans (with calloused hands.)
Chinese Green Teas have vegetal flavors, but with more pleasant and complex flavors like roasted nuts.
Japanese Green Teas began when Buddhist monks studied at Chinese monasteries. However, Japanese Green Teas are prepared differently than Chinese Green, as the green leaves are “fixed” using hot steam for 30 – 90 seconds. And the extra seconds sure can make a difference, just like when you leave asparagus in a steamer for too long- it becomes mush. After this steam treatment, the leaves are rolled to straighten them out and dry them. The bright green color is preserved using this method. It is the moist steam (versus the dry heat of the Chinese) that defines Japanese Green Teas. Japanese green teas have a very vegetal flavor like cooked spinach.
Genmaicha is a blend of a summer harvest green tea named bancha and roasted rice kernels. The rice kernels give it a nutty flavor along with a brothy body that we all typically enjoy.
Most medical studies on the possible health benefits are done in China and Japan, so most studies are done on green tea. Green has highest concentrations of the most probable compounds that promote continued health the flavonols: EC, EG, ECG and EGCG. These all sound similar, however the one with the most initials (ECGC) is considered the best anti-oxidant. The highest levels of ECGC are found in Spring teas from China and Japan, such as Mejiawu Lung Ching and Ichiban Sencha.
Yellow teas are a class of rare teas that come from China. The process is secret. However, what Mike has gleaned, is that the green teas used are not completely “fixed” green. The Chinese artisans cover them over with a cloth and the leaves continue to turn color or oxidize slowly and slightly. Yellow teas are vegetal with slightly sweet fruity flavors and aromas.
JunShan Yinzhen evokes subtle aromas of sweet mangoes and passion fruit, though the brew itself is not as fruity. It has a mild, sappy-sweet creaminess similar to panna cotta. Each sip of this exquisite tea brings about new depth and nuance that endures through the entire cup.
Oolong teas were developed in the coastal Chinese province of Fujian, about 300 – 400 years ago. We think that oolongs were developed last, because they take much skill to “tease” out the delicious flavors and wonderful colors found in various oolongs. The leaves are plucked in late spring, when the leaves are bigger and tougher. The Chinese have found that leaving the fresh leaves in the hot sunshine of late Spring is very important to bring out the complex and fruity flavors that are prized in oolongs. Then the tea is slowly, slowly rolled either into a long twist or into a tight ball. What is happening is that the leaves are slowly falling apart. All the sugars, amino acids, anti-oxidants found in white tea have become complex parts of the green leaf, and now they slowly fall apart, and recombine into other compounds. Mike calls this the “Death of a Leaf” and he is very happy to enjoy the results: great flavors and creamy body. In the olden days the dried teas were finished over charcoal fires, so they would be good for many months. Nowadays, ovens are used so the bright flavors and aromas of oolongs can be appreciated. However, there are some that appreciate the smokier taste of the traditional “charcoal-fired” oolongs.
Oolongs from China and Taiwan have complex floral and fruity flavors and lovely colors.
Ti Quan Yin is a classic lightly oxidized oolong that is fruity, floral, buttery and with a slight vegetal quality.
Black teas are the ones that we are most familiar with in the West. These were developed in China around the time when teas were first being sold to Europe and America. It probably happened when a Chinese artisan made a mistake and did not fix green teas. And the tea turned black. The Chinese were not quite sure what to do with these teas, so they sold them to the Westerners. That is why most Westerners like black tea and most Asians love green tea. Over the years, more and more Westerners asked for black tea, soon the Chinese were “harvesting mountains” of black tea. The only problem was paying for all that black tea. So the British tried several different ways to overcome this problem,none of them would be politically correct today. They ended up growing teas in India and Ceylon (now called Sri Lanka.) So there are two schools of black tea: the Chinese Teas and the British Legacy Teas (BLT.)
Great Western has a light body for a Ceylon tea. Its Lemony astrigency makes for a desirable cup of tea.
What happens with black tea is that the green leaves are allowed to lose the moisture found in the fresh leaves, that is they “wither.” Then the leaves are put into large machines that automate what used to take many Chinese to do, “rolling” the withered leaves in their hands. This strong action mixes up compounds that are used to defend the tea plants and leaves from hungry bugs that would devour and destroy the plant. These self-defense compounds change the anti-oxidants into big, brown compounds that are hard for bugs to digest, so with an upset tummy, the bug bugs off! And we are left with a black tea.
A large factor in how tea tastes in the speed of going from fresh green leaves to the black tea. The British Legacy teas are rushed through the process fairly quickly. While, often, the Chinese find ways to slow that change in color and all the other changes (and there are many changes.)
British Legacy Teas (India, Sri Lanka, and Africa) are more brisk and assertive. Many people find they need to add milk and sugar to enjoy them.
Chinese Black Teas are mellow, complex, and slightly sweet. They may be drunk without milk and sugar.
Pu-erhs are teas from Yunnan Province in China. They are truly fermented teas, because various microbes are allowed to react with the tea. They come in many colors, shapes and sizes. Some are drunk immediately and some are aged for decades. Pu-erhs have earthy flavors. The older ones can be quite complex.
Herbals are dried plant parts and are sometimes called Tisanes. These generally do not have caffeine and are light in body. They are not from the tea plant. However there are many types of herbals.
Spiced Plum is a flavored herbal teas, pairing the sweet tartness of plum with the warmth and spice of cinnamon. This herbal is heartier than most and makes for a distinct cup.