5 Basic Varieties of Tea
A good rule of thumb is that the more the leaves are processed, the stronger the flavor is.
Black teas are perhaps the most common on the market.
Black tea is withered, rolled, fully oxidized and fired in an oven to create a warm, toasty flavor. They range from mellow Chinese tea to full bodied Assams from India. In the finest black teas, complex flavors similar to honey malt, and cocoa develop.
It has a darker appearance, stronger flavor, and higher caffeine content compared to other teas. However, the caffeine content in black tea is still around half the level of coffee. Often black teas can be consumed with sugar, milk, or lemon.
It is also the most popular base for iced tea and other scented teas including Earl Grey.
Oolong Teas are semi-oxidized teas, which places it mid–way between green and black teas. It can range from 8% oxidized (close to green tea) to 80% (close to black tea).
It is one of the most time-consuming teas to produce as it requires numerous steps to produce, with many variations within each step.
The leaves are rolled, then allowed to rest and oxidize for a while. Then they'll be rolled again, then oxidized, over and over. Often, gentle heat is applied to slow the enzymes down a bit.
Over the course of many hours (sometimes days), what is created is a beautiful layering or "painting" of aroma and flavor. The flavor of individual oolongs teas differ greatly but one can usually expect a complex roundedness complemented with notes ranging from floral & fruity flavors, to creamy or even nutty finish.
A great oolong can be steeped eight or so times, each steep releasing a new dimension of flavor. It has a caffeine content also mid–way between that of green and black teas, and it decreases dramatically from the first to the third brew.
Because of their smooth yet rich flavor profiles, Oolongs are palatable, even to those who are new to tea drinking.
Green teas are the most ancient teas. Originally from China, they were also transplanted to Japan many centuries ago.
Green tea production methods vary but the focus is always to preserve the green color, thus, green teas are not oxidized.
The leaves are heated soon after picking in order to stop oxidation. This type of processing preserves a high level of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals accounting for the various health benefits of green tea.
Two main methods yield green tea: steaming and pan-firing.
1. STEAMED TEAS, mostly from Japan, tend to be bright and vibrant in color. It has a mild flavor, with vegetable-like astringency.
2. PAN-FIRED TEAS, mostly from China, range in color from pale to dark green, and are toasty and grassy in flavor.
Both are subtler than oolong and black tea and they are best consumed without any additives, although some people may prefer to add lemon or a sweetener, but not milk.
Higher grades of green tea have a fuller, more complex flavor, and can usually be steeped more times than the lower grades.
The lack of oxidation is responsible for the very low caffeine content of green tea. Its caffeine effect produces a nearly steady, mild high with no big peaks or plunges.
It is therefore the perfect meditative aid because it acts as a mild stimulant, without causing insomnia or nervousness. It refreshes and quiets.
White teas are the least processed teas and among the rarest teas in the world. Long popular in China, they are just becoming well-known in other countries.
They are simply plucked, and allowed to wither and dry. They are produced in limited quantities, and are therefore more expensive than the other types of tea.
Only the unopened and recently opened buds (the newest growth on the tea) are used. Those leaf buds become Silver Needles white tea. If the next two leaves are picked, they yield White Peony tea.
White tea produces a very light colored infusion, and are the most delicate in flavor and aroma- fresh and mellow with a hint of sweetness and a slight “flowery” taste.
When you first drink white tea, it seems quite tasteless - as if you were drinking hot water. However, after a while, you’ll become aware of a subtle change in your breath and at the back of your mouth. You will taste a soft, nourishing sweetness and eventually experience a similar sensation down your throat.
Its caffeine content is even lower than that of green tea and is considered to have a very high level of antioxidants. White tea is best consumed without any additives at all.
Pu'erh Tea is a completely different art because of how it is sourced and processed.
Most of the world’s teas are grown on plantations on bushes arranged in wonderfully manicured rows, but not Pu’erh.
Pu’erh leaves are hand-plucked from trees that are planted and allowed to grow wild. They’re allowed to live unpruned, unmolested, unfertilized. A lot of these trees are hundreds of years old.
These ancient forests are located in the Himalayan foothills in superb clay soil. There’s little direct rain or sunlight, the best conditions to grow the perfect teas.
It is prepared much like a green tea (heated and not oxidized), before undergoing a secondary process- FERMENTATION. This is done via the introduction of a bacterial environment that allows for the development of enzymes not found in other teas, giving it a unique flavor.
The aging process lasts anywhere from a few months to several years. Very old, well-stored pu'erhs are considered "living teas", just like wine.
They are prized for their earthy, woodsy or musty aroma reminiscent of autumn leaves, and rich, smooth taste.
Pu-Erh tea are potent in that they can be steeped several times without compromising its taste. If steeped properly, it can be re-used up to 10 times before having to discard. It has a caffeine content similar to Black Tea, and it decreases considerably after the first brew.
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