Tea Types

Black Teas

More than 90% of the tea consumed in the United States is black tea, which is produced from the assamica variety of the camellia sinensis plant. Steeping black tea yields a deep amber color that has a robust, full-bodied flavor. Because of this color the Chinese refer to this tea as "hung-cha," or red tea. Although production methods vary between tea producing regions, there are basically four steps to producing black teas: The first is withering, where the freshly plucked leaves are spread out and left to wither until the leaves lose some of its moisture, stiffness, and much of its weight. Next, the withered leaves are put through a rolling process, usually done by machine, but still done by hand in some regions to preserve the "tip," a sign of quality in a tea leaf. The rolling process releases the natural enzymatic properties of the leaf to begin oxidation. During this process, the chemical properties of the leaf changes, bringing about the leaf's coppery red color and deep flavors. At the proper moment, the enzymatic oxidation process is halted using high heat, usually by firing the leaves in hot pans or large drying vessels. At this stage, the leaves turn black and the majority of its moisture is expended. Finally, the teas are graded for quality and packed.

White Teas

Perhaps white teas were so named because they are processed on the opposite spectrum of tea processing from black teas. Whereas black tea processing requires (essentially) four basic steps to optimize the oxidation process, the white teas go through a minimum of processing that consist of just two steps - plucked leaves are fired or steamed immediately after the withering process. Because the leaves do not undergo the rolling-to-oxidation process, white teas have the least amount of caffeine and yield a fresh, natural flavor. White teas are considered a rarity because they are produced in very limited quantities that are grown only in China, primarily in the province of Fujian. The finest quality white teas are made from leaf buds that are plucked just before they open, and because they are not rolled, the finished product often retains the fine silvery needles that existed on the buds themselves. There are those that the more downy the appearance, the better quality and more delicate the tea. Because of the minimal processing of the leaves, some research also indicates that white teas have more health benefits than green tea.

Green Teas

Green tea is made from the sinensis variety of the camellia sinensis plant which originated in Asia. The leaves are picked in the same manner as for black tea, but are immediately steamed (in Japan) or fired (in China) to halt the enzymatic properties that would otherwise lead to oxidation. Green tea is rich in vitamin C, and of all teas contains the highest levels of polyphenols (flavonoids), which are known for their antioxidant properties. Since its discovery in China over 5,000 years ago, green tea has been noted for its ability to clear the mind for prolonged periods without fatigue. Because of its delicate qualities, green tea should be steeped using less than boiling water (140 to 170 degrees), taking care not to oversteep which can cook the leaves and spoil its subtle characteristics. Green tea will lose its flavor faster than other teas, so we recommend that you purchase smaller quantities more frequently.

Oolong Teas

Oolong teas are handcrafted, highly prized teas that are manufactured primarily in China and Taiwan. They are often referred to as "semi-fermented" tea. Fine oolong teas are produced by means of a labor intensive process that produces a rich, high quality flavor. When the leaves are harvested, the tea maker must ensure the leaves are not picked too soon, taking into consideration the weather conditions and quality of the leaf. The leaves are immediately taken to an area where they are wilted in direct sunlight. After this withering process, the leaves are shaken in bamboo baskets to lightly bruise the edges of the leaves. The leaves are then spread out and rolled alternately to dry and oxidize. The oolong teas generally undergo a shortened oxidation period, anywhere between 12% to 70% fermentation. Depending on the length of the oxidation process, the resulting tea can be anywhere between a green and black tea. Once the oxidation is complete, the teas are fired, and then rolled to form the tea into its final shape. In general, Formosa oolongs undergo a longer oxidation period and have a richer, darker liquor than the light rust colored infusion of the China oolong. Fine oolong teas are often prepared and enjoyed Gongfu style to savor their complex tastes and fragrances.

Scented & Blended Teas

Historically, teas scented with the blossoms of flowers were first produced during the age of the Ming Dynasty in China, an era during which their arts and textiles, including fine porcelain, embroidery, and paintings, embodied beautiful and elaborate floral patterns. The most enduring tea developed during this time and considered a classic, is the jasmine scented green tea, a favorite still today throughout northern China and indeed much of the world. The best jasmine tea is produced in Fujian, a province situated along China's southeastern coast and separated from Taiwan only by the narrow Taiwan Straits. It is here that notable jasmine is produced. Ideally, the best jasmine tea starts with tea leaves plucked from early April to late May which are steamed to produce green tea. The leaves are stored until August, when the leaves are then mixed with the blossoming jasmine flower. The scenting operation is usually carried out in the evening, when the plucked but unopened buds begin to pop open and release their fragrance. The leaves are then refired, to remove the moisture in the blossoms and preserve the taste. A more recent innovation - the Jasmine pearl teas - are tightly rolled spheres that when steeped, open up to release their intoxicating perfume. Fine black and oolong jasmine scented teas are also finding increasing popularity.

Other scented teas from China include the Lichee tea, which is a black tea scented with the juices from the lichee fruit, something akin to a plum with a citrus like quality. Another traditionally scented tea is the Rose Congou, which are large leafed black teas scented with rose petals.

Today, there is a great variety of scented teas available in the market. Some of the more successful new blends start with green, black, or oolong teas that have been scented with such fruits as apples, mango, papaya, or pineapple, and such flowers as hibiscus, sunflower blossoms, blue mallow or cornflower. Gaining increasing popularity are teas that include chocolate, vanilla, mint, coconut, or even a combination of these bold and new flavors.

When two or more types of tea leaves are combined, the result is a blended tea. The most well known blends include English Breakfast, usually a combination of Indian (Assam), Ceylon, and African teas, and Earl Grey, a blend of Chinese teas or Chinese and Indian black teas that have been scented with the oil from the bergamot fruit. A variation of Earl Grey is the well-balanced Yunnan Earl Grey, which is a Chinese black tea from Yunnan that has been scented with bergamot. Other classic blends include the Irish Breakfast, a tea made of strong, dark Assams that sometimes include African and Indonesian tea leaves.

We include in this discussion teas that have been blended with other natural ingredients, though not necessarily considered a "blend" in the classic sense. The most notable is the "Chai" tea, which originates in India and is a black or green tea that has been blended with spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and peppercorn. Chai is usually served with milk and sweetened with honey. Sometimes the tea and spice blend is brewed in milk instead of water. Another blended tea is the "Genmaicha", which is a Japanese green tea that has roasted and sometimes popped brown rice. The toasty flavor makes this tea easy to drink and is popular with those new to green tea.

This article was taken from INFUSIONS OF TEA. Read the original articles here