It may sound unbelievable, but all true teas come from the same plant. That’s right – one remarkable plant called Camellia sinensis gives us a multitude of delicious and unique options. Based on production and processing methods, we then get many different types of tea with signature flavors, aroma, and color. What are those teas you might ask? Well, we’ve put together an explanatory list!
If you are looking for a bold, strong flavor, black tea is the perfect option.Traditional iced and sweet teas you might find as the staple on any menu are made from black tea. Along with these, you’ve probably heard of Earl Grey and English Breakfast Teas, also made from black tea. It’s popularity partially stems from the caffeine it contains – about the same amount as a cup of coffee – and its long shelf life.
The particular variety of tea bush used to create black tea is Camellia sinensis assamica. The leaves are fully oxidized before processing which gives them the dark brown and red color as well as their signature smoky, robust taste. Since these teas are on the darker side from the high level of oxidization, you can always cut down the astringency with a bit of milk and/or sugar.
There are two different ways in which black tea is processed. In the most common methods, thewhole tea leavesare rolled and bruised. This is to start the oxidization after being harvested from the bush. Then, fire is used to heat the leaves and stop oxidization. In the second method, the leaves are broken into smaller pieces in order to speed up the process. This is called CTC, or “crush-tear-curl”. These broken leaves are most often placed into tea bags.
There are many countries that produce black tea, but it mainly comes from China, Sri Lanka, and Africa. Within the broad category of black tea there are sub types which include Assam, Darjeeling, and Ceylon. These are the result of climate, location, and processing methods.
For a lighter, milder tea without much caffeine, try a green tea. Green tea comes in several different varieties which can be served hot, iced, blended in smoothies, or even in some cases included in food dishes. Originally from Asia, this delicious tea is quite popular for its refreshing flavor and numerous health benefits.
Green tea comes from the same plant as black tea, but the difference is in processing. While black tea leaves are fully oxidized, green tea is prevented from oxidizing at all before drying. Immediately upon harvesting, the leaves are steamed or pan-fried in order to maintain their freshness. When the leaves are pan-fried (a method favored by China), the flavor becomes toasty with an earthy note. In steaming the tea (Japanese method), the tea takes on a sweeter, even floral, taste.
Like black teas, different processing methods result in different types of green tea. China has traditionally grown gunpowder and dragonwell tea, while Japan’s most popular types of green tea are sencha, matcha, and hojicha. Gunpowder and dragonwell are each respectively named for their unique shapes. Rolled into strands containing a fresh, green taste, sencha is Japan’s most popular green tea. Ground into a powder, Matcha has held a place in Japanese tea ceremonies for centuries, and also used in culinary arts. The last one, hojicha, is actually sencha, but roasted to gain a nutty accent.
When brewed, green tea is light and of a yellow to green color. The astringency is quite low in comparison to a black tea; thus, it does not necessarily need any milk or sugar. You can add some to suit your taste, but remember to be careful as you run the risk of covering up the naturally light flavors of the tea.
If you want to try something even lighter than green tea, you should test out a white tea. Mild and light, white tea can range anywhere from a floral taste, to sweet and fruity. It also contains minimal caffeine. Of all the different kinds of tea, it is the least processed and thus the most delicate.
The buds and young, new leaves of the tea plant are harvested to produce white tea. Since the flowers are still open, they have silvery-white hairs which is why we call it “white” tea. Then, the buds and leaves are withered and dried naturally with little to no oxidization. This results in the freshest tea possible.
Though initially produced in China, many countries now create their own white teas too. Some of these varieties include White Peony, and Silver Needle. Just like with any tea, the climate and location have an influence on the resulting taste profile.
Since white tea is so light and delicate, you should drink it plain to truly enjoy the full flavor. Also, be careful to not oversteep your leaves. You’ll avoid bringing out any astringency or bitterness in this pale-yellow brew.
If you like coffee, you might like the flavor of a tea called pu-erh. This tea is grown in the Yunnan province and named after the Chinese town Pu’er. Most similar to black tea, Pu-erh is very dark and rich, with a standard amount of caffeine. This tea is fermented and aged which gives it a signature earthy flavor.
There are two different types of pu-erh as determined by processing. The first is Shengpu-erh. In this traditional method, the tea leaves undergo steaming or pan-frying. Then, after drying, the leaves are aged for up to 20 years in order to bring about a truly complex flavor. In the second method, manufacturers heat the moistened leaves, and add bacteria. The leaves then age for a year or so until they are deemed ripe. This results in the type of pu-erh called Shou.
Some people find pu-erh a bit too rich for their tastes. For this reason, sometimes blends are made and other flavors such as ginger added for balance. Next time you have a chocolate-based desert, you might try pairing it with a good quality pu-erh.
Somewhere in-between a black and a green tea, oolong tea is another option for those who appreciate complex flavors. Depending on processing, the flavor and color of oolong changes dramatically. Tea producers will actually compete in Asia to see who has the best oolong tea – the proper artisanship of this tea is a pretty big deal for producers.
Oolong tea can be anywhere from only slightly oxidized to almost fully oxidized. This means that the taste of this tea can range from the grassy and sweet taste of a green tea to the dark and roasted tinge of the black tea. After being withered, dried, and roasted, oolong is typically tightly rolled. This is something that also affects its ultimate flavor when brewed.
Since each batch of oolong is unique,it’s best sipped plain so you can be sure to experience every individual note. Also, be sure to check the instructions and oxidization levels when steeping your tea to make sure you don’t accidentally bring out astringency. Plus, as an added benefit of oolong, you can steep the leaves multiple times, each time opening up new flavors as the leaves further unfurl.
You’ve doubtless heard of herbal teas. Well, you might be surprised to hear that, although we call herbal teas “tea”, they are not actually a true tea since they are not made from the Camellia sinensis plant. Herbal teas are made from exactly what the name implies – herbs. Spices, barks, and fruits are often added to create depth and different types of blends.
There are many popular herbals teas including peppermint, chamomile, and ginger just to name a few. These teas, or tisanes as they are sometimes also called, are often used medically. For example, some honey paired with an herbal tea can be the perfect way to ward off a sore throat. Not only are these brews good for ailments, their wide variety of flavors makes them a delicious option both hot and chilled
Now you’rearmed with the knowledge to pick out the best tea to match your tastes. Whether you want to drink tea for its health benefits, or simply for enjoyment, experiencing the flavorof your tea is always a big factor. From the rich, dark flavor of dark tea to the light and delicate refreshment of white tea, you’re sure to find a favorite you’ll go back to again and again.
My name is Andy, and I have been researching all about tea since 2007. My sister and I were both diagnosed with cancer the same year, which sent me on a quest, and this is where I landed. My mission is to continue researching and writing for the health and betterment of all who visit. I love tea and all it has to offer and hope each of you do as well
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