Different types of tea
There are thousands of different kinds of teas, each with their own individual appearance, taste and aroma. All types of tea come from the same basic plant, the Camellia Sinensis plant. The Camellia Sinensis plant is native to Asia, but is currently cultivated around the world in tropical and subtropical areas. With over 3,000 varieties, tea is the most consumed beverage in the world after water.
The differences between teas arise from processing, growing conditions, and geography and can be categorized into 4 major categories: white, green, oolong and black.
Why they have different appearance, taste and aroma?
The difference in appearance, taste and aroma for the tea depends on oxidation. Oxidation (also called fermentation) is a natural process that changes the color and flavor of the leaf. To initiate oxidation, fresh tealeaves are rolled (either by hand or machine) in order to crack the surface of the leaf so that oxygen will react with the plant’s enzymes.
Black tea is fully oxidized, oolong tea is partially oxidized and green and white teas are unoxidized. Generally speaking, the less a tea is oxidized, the more gentle and lighter it will be in taste and aroma. Heavily oxidized teas will yield a dark deep reddish brown or earthy infusion, while a white will yield a pale yellow-green liquor. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. A gyokuro, the highest grade of Japanese loose leaf green tea, will have a much more intense flavor than a smooth, toffee-like full leaf black tea from Sri Lanka.
While common, it should be noted that many popular infusions like chamomile or linden flower are not real teas because they do not come from the Camellia sinensis. But because of their popularity, information on herbal infusions is included below.
By selectively exposing the tealeaves to oxygen, tea producers can bring out certain flavors and aromas. In other words, the oxidation process will determine many of the tea’s flavor characteristics as well as whether the tea will be categorized as white, green, oolong or black.
TYPES OF TEAS
Black tea is the most well-known variety of tea in the West. Known as “red tea” in China, black tea leaves are fully oxidized. In the case of most black teas, younger leaves are picked before being withered, rolled, fully oxidized, and fired. While created originally in China, black teas are now cultivated worldwide. Some of the most famous black teas come from the Indian regions of Assam, Darjeeling, and Nilgiri as well as Sri Lanka. The use of machines is becoming more common, but the best black teas are those entirely done by hand. Machine-processed teas tend to be of lower quality and are generally used in tea bags.
FAMOUS CHINESE BLACK TEAS:
KEEMUN – a sophisticated tea known for its refined orchid-like aroma and subtle notes of dark chocolate.
LAPSANG SOUCHONG– the tea leaves for Lapsang Souchong are actually smoked over a pine wood fire to infuse the tea with a deep, dark, smokey character. This tea is often used in Russian breakfast and afternoon blends.
YUNNAN – teas from Yunnan tend toward being milder or sweeter in flavor, with chocolate or honey tones.
FAMOUS INDIAN BLACK TEAS:
DARJEELING – Often referred to as “the champagne of teas,” teas from Darjeeling in India tend to be lighter, with a refreshing astringency.
Black tea is allowed to wither, which precedes a process called oxidation (sometimes incorrectly referred to as fermentation) during which water evaporates out of the leaf and the leaf absorbs more oxygen from the air. Black teas usually undergo full oxidation, and the results are the characteristic dark brown and black leaf, the typically more robust and pronounced flavors of black teas, and when brewed appropriately, a higher caffeine content compared to other teas (50-65% of coffee, depending on the type and brewing technique).
The long-standing trend in black tea, taken from the British, has been to create “blends”. For centuries, tea companies take various kinds of tea to create a particular flavor or character-for example, a strong breakfast tea or a delicate afternoon tea. And just like a perfume house, several older tea companies are known for their signature blends. But as the quality and character of tea harvests can vary greatly year to year, tea companies rely on the skills of tea blenders to take different teas from the year’s harvest to create the same taste again and again.
However, another trend in black teas has recently taken off. The new vogue, imported from continental Europe, is estate teas, meaning teas that come from a single tea garden or estate from a particular year. Like a good wine, estate teas can capture the particular character of region and the year’s weather. Because of their unique character, estate Darjeelings have gained global popularity in particular and can often be auctioned for thousands of dollars per pound. Of course, because estate teas are at the mercy of the elements, quality can vary dramatically year to year.
With both blends and estate teas, it is frequent to see black teas divided into broken leaf and full leaf categories. A broken-leaf tea consists of leaves that have purposely broken into small pieces during processing. The smaller size allows the water to extract more of the tea leaves’ components in a short period of time. For this reason, broken leaf teas tend to be more brisk and higher in caffeine, making them an excellent morning teas to be paired with milk and sugar. Full leaf teas, on the other hand, tend to be more refined and gentler on the palate. While there are exceptions, like many of Assam’s full leaf teas, these teas are traditionally taken later in the day without anything added.
Health Benefits of Black Tea
Black teas contain the highest levels of caffeine among all types of tea. For someone who is looking for an efficient energy boost, this would be a great choice. However, for caffeine sensitive individuals, consumption of black tea should be moderate. Black tea does contain low levels of catechins, but is noted for having the highest levels of theaflavins and thearubinins. As more research is showing, these compounds are just as effective as the catechins in green tea in preventing heart disease, stroke and cancer, and lowering cholesterol.
Dark Tea is from Hunan and Sichuan provinces of China and is a flavorful aged probiotic tea that steeps up very smooth with a natural slightly sweet note.
Oolong tea (also known as wulong tea) is allowed to undergo partial oxidation. These teas have a caffeine content between that of green teas and black teas. The flavor of oolong (wulong) teas is typically not as robust as blacks or as subtle as greens, but has its own extremely fragrant and intriguing tones. Oolongs (wulongs) are often compared to the taste and aroma of fresh flowers or fresh fruit.
Oolong, also spelled Wu Long, teas are semi-oxidized. The term in Chinese actually means “Black Dragon”. Oolong teas have long been cultivated in both mainland China and Taiwan. In general, larger, mature leaves are picked, withered, rolled, oxidized, and then fired. The leaves can be allowed to oxidize between 10% to 80%. Often, different tea estates have their preferred ways of making oolong tea. It is because of the intricacy of this process that oolong teas can have the widest array of flavors and aromas. Furthermore, oolongs can be steeped several time, with each successive infusion having its own distinctive taste and fragrance.
FAMOUS OOLONG VARIETIES
TAI GUAN YIN – named for the Iron Goddess of Mercy, this beautiful oolong yields a light amber liquor, with creamy texture and floral overtones.
DONG DING – This tea is noted for its bright green appearance and fresh vegetal notes.
Health Benefits of Oolong Tea
Oolong Teas are unique because they span an oxidation range of 20-80%, where some are closer to green teas, and others are more similar to black teas. Caffeine levels vary accordingly, where greener oolongs will have less caffeine content and darker oolongs will have higher caffeine content. Oolong teas, because they have higher oxidation levels than green tea, will also have lower catechin levels, although catechins are still present. However, although catechins decrease with oxidation, theaflavin and thearubigin levels increase. These polyphenols help in defending the body against stroke, dementia, heart disease and cancer. In addition to this, oolong teas have long been believed to aid in digestion, so have a cup with or after your next meal.
Green Tea is allowed to wither only slightly after being picked. Then the oxidation process is stopped very quickly by firing (rapidly heating) the leaves. Therefore, when brewed at lower temperatures and for less time, green teas tend to have less caffeine (10-30% of coffee). Greens also tend to produce more subtle flavors with many undertones and accents that connoisseurs treasure.
Because they are unoxidized, green teas keep their vital color. To prevent oxidization, the leaves are heat processed to eliminate the enzyme responsible for oxidization. In China, this is generally done by roasting or pan-firing the leaves, while the Japanese generally accomplish this by steaming the leaves at a high temperature. Each process tends to bring out a more particular flavor from the tea leaves. The Chinese style of processing tends to bring out a mouthwatering range of flavors from citrus-like to smoky with a lighter body. The color of the liquor is usually not a true “green”, but a pale yellow or straw color. The steaming process yields a deep vegetal or herbaceous quality-a characteristic prized in Japanese teas. Japanese green teas range in color of liqour from the pale green of a light sencha, to the deep grassy green of a gyokuro. Green teas that have been steamed contain more moisture and are therefore more delicate. Such teas should be stored at cooler temperatures and consumed sooner after picking than pan-fired teas.
FAMOUS CHINESE VARIETIES
DRAGON’S WELL (LUNG CHING) – grown in Zhejiang Province, and processed by a flat pressing of the leaves particular to this variety. Delicate flavor with a sweet aroma.
PI LO CHUN – Or “Green Snail Spring”, this tea is grown near the summit of Tung Ting Mountain in Jiangsu Province. A refined and mild tea.
FAMOUS JAPANESE VARIETIES
SENCHA – a pure green steamed tea, with refreshing astringency and grassy or vegetal flavors.
HOUJICHA – roasted green tea leaves and stems, with a nutty or toasty aroma and taste.
GYOKURO – tea bushes are shaded for around 3 weeks, just before picking. The leaves from these plants produce more chlorophyll and amino acids like theanine, resulting in the tea having a deep green color and rich, almost savory flavor (known as umami in Japan.) A pure green steamed tea, with refreshing astringency and grassy or vegetal flavors.
MATCHA – from shade-grown bushes, similar to Gyokuro, Tencha leaves are picked, they are then processed and dried, and then ground in stone mills to a fine powder called Matcha. This powder is traditionally whisked into hot water to become the thick, frothy and bright green beverage that is the center of Japanese tea ceremony.
Health Benefits of Green Tea
- Antioxidant effect
- Inhibition of hypertension
- Hypoglycemic effect
- Strengthens capillaries
- Maintains elasticity of the skin
- Antimicrobial activity
- Prevention of halitosis
- Radical scavenging effect*
- Promotion of wakefulness
- Eases fatigue and sleeplessness
- Diuretic effect
THEANINE (AMINO ACID)
- Antagonistic effect against convulsive action of caffeine (no jittery side effects)
- Promotion of a physical sensation of relaxation
- Inhibition of hypertension
- Improvement of brain function
Y-AMINO BUTYRIC ACID
- Inhibition of hypertension
- Strengthening of blood vessels
- Prevention of halitosis
- Antioxidant effect
- Prevention of flu
- Health maintenance of skin and mucous membranes
- Radical scavenging effect
- Hypoglycemic effect
- Antioxidant effect
- Health maintenance of cells
- Radical scavenging effect
- Supports immune system
- Fights colds and influenza
- Maintains taste, vision and smell
- Prevention of cavities
- Strengthening and growth of bones
- Prevention of osteoporosis
- Alleviation of arthritis symptoms
- Anti-fungal activity
- Antiallergenic activity
White teas are the most delicate of all teas. They are appreciated for their subtlety, complexity, and natural sweetness. They are hand-processed using the youngest shoots of the tea plant, with no oxidation. When brewed correctly, with a very low temperature and a short steeping time, white teas can produce low amounts of caffeine. Of course, steeping with hotter temperature and longer time will extract more caffeine. But by definition, white tea does not have less caffeine than other teas.
White tea undergoes the least processing of all teas. Traditionally cultivated in China, white tea was picked only a few days out of the year, when a white down, known as bai hao, appeared on the tender shoots. The tea shoots are allowed to wither then dry to prevent oxidization. This process is a delicate one, requiring strict attention from the tea makers. Nowadays, other tea growing regions as Darjeeling and Sri Lanka have begun to cultivate white tea, in an effort to capitalize off white tea’s growing popularity.
White tea tends to have the most delicate flavors and aromas. The nuances are gentle, even elusive, evoking fresh flavors like bamboo or asparagus or earthier elements like almonds. Aromas tend towards subtle floral bouquets.
FAMOUS WHITE VARIETIES
SILVER NEEDLE (BAI HAO YIN ZHEN) – this tea contains only white, downy buds and the purest, most delicate flavor.
Health Benefits of White Tea
White Tea is the least oxidized of all types of tea. Because of this and the higher proportion of young bud leaves, white tea is usually very low in caffeine, which makes it a good choice for people who are watching their caffeine intake. Many people believe white tea to be even better for you than green tea because it has been processed less. Research has shown that white tea contains the same free radical fighting catechins as green tea. White tea can help to prevent heart disease, cancers and stroke, as well as helping to treat diabetes. High levels of calcium and fluoride help maintain healthy teeth, gums and bones. White tea is an excellent addition to your daily routine.
Puer is an aged black tea from China prized for its medicinal properties and earthy flavor. It is perhaps the most mysterious of all tea. Until 1995 it was illegal to import it into the U.S., and the process of its production is a closely guarded state secret in China. It is very strong with an incredibly deep and rich flavor, and no bitterness, and an element that could best be described as almost peaty in flavor.
Despite the common misnomer, there is a variety of tea that is actually fermented. Named for a town in China’s Yunnan province, Pu’er teas consist of larger leaves that can be aged for several years. Often, the most highly prized Pu’er teas will actually have a light dusting of mold. Pu’Er leaves are usually compressed into various shapes before being aged. During the aging process, Pu’er teas are exposed to microflora and bacteria that ferment the tea, in a way similar to wine or yogurt. The process takes longer though, and the tea’s flavor profile can change drastically and increase in depth over many years. Like fine wines, many connoisseurs become collectors of very old and well-aged Pu’ers. Some of the most highly regarded and expensive teas of this type are well over 30 years old.
Pu’er teas yield a dark, hearty brew that is low in caffeine. The taste is usually earthy and mellow, lacking much of the astringency of other types of tea. Chinese tradition says that Pu’er aids the body with digestion, while new studies indicate that Pu’er may help in reducing cholesterol.
FAMOUS PU’ER TEAS:
There are many famous “vintages” from different regions in China, but true Pu’ers from one of Yunnan province’s mountainous tea farms are considered the most prized.
Health Benefits of Puer Tea
The unique processing of Pu-erh teas, where the leaves are literally fermented and aged, chemically changes the makeup of the tea. Pu-erh tea has varying, but generally low levels of caffeine. It also contains very high amounts of flavonoids, which are aggressive in lowering LDL cholesterol and lowering blood pressure. Studies have shown that pu-erh has the ability to break up fats, which makes this tea especially effective at aiding digestion after particularly heavy or greasy meals. Traditionally, this type of tea was also believed to aid in weight loss, and is now included in many “slimming” tea formulas. Recent studies in rats have shown a decrease in body mass and higher metabolism when consuming pu-erh, however the effect on human metabolism has not been proved. While it may or may not aid in maintaining a healthy weight, the other benefits to the heart and body are important enough to consider trying this unique tea.
So which tea is your favorite? Do know us in the comment section.
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