Black tea, green tea, white tea, oolong tea, pu-erh tea, purple tea, and herbal infusions are the most common types of tea. If you’re unfamiliar with tea, the numerous types and varieties can be confusing and overwhelming. What is the precise distinction between black tea and green tea? What about rooibos and herbal teas? Are you able to distinguish white tea from oolong tea and purple tea from pu-erh tea?
Here are a few cups of tea that you may want to try for yourself.
Camellia Sinensis : The Tea Plant
All varieties of “true” tea are derived from the same plant. Camellia sinensis is the botanical name for the tea plant. This plant originated thousands of years ago in southern China, where it has been cultivated and consumed for hundreds of years. Camellia sinensis is divided into two varieties: camellia sinensis var. sinensis, which is native to China and other East Asian countries and has a milder, mellower character, and camellia sinensis var. assamica, which is native to India and is generally more robust.
The camellia sinensis tea plant is used to make black tea, green tea, white tea, oolong tea, pu-erh tea, and purple tea. Each of these teas develops its own distinct personality as a result of its harvesting and processing methods. Certain teas are steamed, while others are pan-fired. Some are permitted to oxidize, while others are not. Certain tea leaves are hand-rolled into tight balls, while others are coarsely chopped or allowed to air-dry in their natural shape. Certain teas are harvested in the early spring, while others are harvested in the summer and fall.
Numerous factors influence the appearance and flavor of tea, and over hundreds of years, specific tea processing methods have been developed. Today, tea is classified into six distinct categories, each with its own distinct signature characteristics and processing methods.
Many people who are new to the tea world are only familiar with black tea. At the grocery store, you can purchase black tea in name-brand teabags such as Lipton or Tetley. Black tea is also found in popular breakfast blends such as English Breakfast and Irish Breakfast. Black teas are typically high in caffeine, containing about half as much as a cup of coffee. They brew a dark, coppery color and typically have a more robust flavor than other varieties of tea.
The Manufacturing Process of Black Tea
Tea leaves are harvested, wilted, and then lightly crushed to produce black tea. Certain types of black tea, such as Irish Breakfast, are crushed-tear-curl, or CTC, into even smaller pieces. After that, the tea leaves are fully oxidized, resulting in a brownish-black color.
Where Black Tea Originates
China and India are the primary producers of black tea. Sri Lanka, Nepal, Vietnam, and Kenya are also emerging tea-producing countries that export black tea. Indian black teas, on the whole, are stronger and more robust, and are frequently used in robust breakfast blends that stand up well to the addition of milk and sweetener. Numerous varieties of Indian black tea are classified according to a unique system of tea grading to indicate their quality.
Chinese black teas are typically lighter and mellower in flavor, and are typically consumed without milk or sweetener. They frequently contain slightly less caffeine than black teas from India. China Keemun and Golden Yunnan are two popular Chinese black teas.
Another variety of camellia sinensis tea is green tea. It is frequently brew a pale green or yellow color and have a lighter body and a milder flavor. They contain approximately half the caffeine found in black tea (about a quarter that of a cup of coffee.) Gunpowder, Jasmine Yin Cloud, and Moroccan Mint are all popular green teas. Ilam of Nepal is one among the high quality tea producers.
The Manufacturing Process of Green Tea
Green tea is harvested and immediately steamed or pan-fired to prevent further oxidation. Stopping oxidation shortly after harvest is responsible for the bright green color and light, vegetal flavor of green tea leaves. After rolling or pressing the tea leaves into their final shape, they are dried.
Where Green Tea Originates
China and Japan are the primary producers of green tea. Japanese green teas are steamed immediately following harvest to prevent oxidation. They have a slightly savory, oceanic flavor and brew to a pale emerald green color. Occasionally, Japanese teas are shaded for several weeks prior to harvest, which increases their chlorophyll, caffeine, and l-theanine content. Sencha, Kukicha, and Gyokuro are all popular Japanese green teas.
After harvest, Chinese green teas are typically pan-fired to halt the oxidation process. These teas are typically milder in flavor than Japanese green teas and brew to a soft golden color with a light body and mellow flavor. Dragon Well, Gunpowder, and Chun Mee are all popular Chinese green teas.
Minimally processed tea or the very delicate white tea is highly prized by connoisseurs and enjoyed by both experts and beginners. It has a delicate body and a mild flavor that finishes crisp and clean. White tea is typically caffeine-free, although some silver tip teas may contain a trace of caffeine. White teas such as Bashan Silver Tip and White Peony are popular.
The Manufacturing Process of White Tea
Prior to drying and packaging, white tea undergoes minimal processing. White tea is sometimes harvested from the very first tips and buds of the tea plant, before they open to form full leaves, as is the case with silver tip and silver needle teas. Other white teas, such as White Peony, are harvested once the leaves have unfurled and begun to grow. White teas undergo minimal oxidation in both cases.
Where White Tea Originates
White tea is produced primarily in China, more specifically in the Fujian province, where it has a long history. Certain types of specialty white tea are also produced in Nepal, Taiwan, and Sri Lanka.
Semi-oxidized tea that falls between black and green teas in terms of oxidation are Oolong tea. Oolong teas range in oxidation from about 10% to 80% and brew to a pale yellow to a rich amber cup of tea. Numerous oolongs can be re-infused numerous times, with each cup exhibiting subtle differences and nuances of flavor.
The Methods Used in the Production of Oolong Tea
Numerous varieties of oolong teas, such as Milk Oolong, are made from long-cultivated special varietals of the tea plant that impart unique flavors to the tea. Harvested, wilted, and then subjected to partial oxidation, oolong teas are processed. Depending on the type of oolong, they may be oxidized briefly or extensively, approaching the level of a black tea. After drying and packaging, some oolong teas are hand-shaped into small, tightly rolled balls.
Where Oolong Tea Originates
China and Taiwan are the primary producers of oolong teas. The Wuyi Mountains and Anxi, both in Fujian province, as well as Guangdong province, are oolong-producing regions in China. Taiwan, a small island off the coast of mainland China, is renowned for its oolong specialty teas, particularly the highly sought-after Milk Oolong.
This type of tea is an aged, partially fermented tea with a flavor profile similar to black tea. Pu-erh teas have an inky brown-black color, a full body, and a rich, earthy, and deeply satisfying flavor. Pu-erh teas contain approximately the same amount of caffeine as black tea (half that of a cup of coffee.)
The Methods Used in the Production of Pu-erh Tea
Initially, pu-erh is processed similarly to green tea. Harvested leaves are steamed or pan-fired to prevent oxidation before being shaped and dried. After the leaves have dried, they are fermented. Sheng pu-erh is made in the traditional manner, with tea leaves aged over a longer and more gradual period of time. Shou pu-erh is produced through an accelerated fermentation process. Both types of pu-erh are frequently aged for several years to enhance the tea’s rich and earthy flavors. Our pu-erh teas are aged for approximately three years.
Where to Find Pu-erh Tea From
Pu-erh originated in the city of Pu-erh in China’s Yunnan province and is still produced primarily in that region today. As is the case with other artisanal foods such as champagne and parmesan, only teas produced in Yunnan province are officially designated as pu-erh. However, other provinces such as Hunan and Guangdong produced aged teas in a similar fashion.
Purple tea is a relatively new type of tea that has been available commercially for only a few years. The tea is made from a rare purple-leaved tea plant that was discovered growing wild in India’s Assam region. Purple teas are primarily grown in Kenya, Africa, today. They have a delicate body and mild flavor, are caffeine-free, and are high in antioxidants and anthocyanins.
The Manufacturing Process of Purple Tea
Purple tea is typically made in a similar manner to oolong teas. Harvested leaves are wilted and partially oxidized before being shaped and dried. Purple tea brews to a light reddish-purple color due to the distinctive color of its leaves.
Where Purple Tea Originates
Purple tea was discovered growing wild in India’s Assam region. Following their discovery, these rare tea plants were transported to Kenya, where the Tea Research Foundation of Kenya worked to develop a cultivar suitable for commercial tea production. Kenya, previously the third-largest producer of commercial tea behind China and India, has surpassed China and India to become the largest producer of purple tea. Our purple teas are sourced from the Tumoi Tea Garden in Kenya’s Nandi Hills.
Matcha is a powdered green tea that is extremely popular in Japan. When whisked with water, it can be consumed on its own or added to lattes, smoothies, and baked goods. Matcha has a silky, rich flavor with umami notes and a slight bitterness.
Matcha’s Manufacturing Process
Matcha is made from specially selected tea plants that have been shaded for at least three weeks prior to harvest. The shading process boosts the chlorophyll content of the plants, giving them a deep emerald green hue. Additionally, it increases the caffeine and l-theanine levels in the tea, which contributes to the tea’s unique umami flavor. Immediately following harvest, the leaves are steamed to halt the oxidation process. Gyokuro refers to leaves that have been shaped and dried in the manner of a typical green tea. Matcha is made by stone-grinding these leaves into a very fine powder.
Where Matcha Originates
Green tea powder was first manufactured in China during the Tang Dynasty. Chinese monks introduced Buddhism and matcha to Japan in the 12th century. Matcha’s ritualized use by Japanese monks quickly gained popularity, and by the 15th century, it had spread to Japan’s upper classes. Throughout the centuries, an intricate tea ceremony centered on matcha has evolved. Today, matcha is most closely associated with Japan, where it has a long history and cultural significance.
Teas with Flavors
Any of the teas mentioned previously can be flavored with a variety of spices, herbs, fruits, or flowers. These additional ingredients work in conjunction with the tea base to create distinctive flavor combinations and tea blends. Teas can be flavored in a variety of ways, from floral to sweet, spicy to smoky, and everything in between. Masala Chai, Jasmine Yin Cloud, and Lychee Purple are all popular flavored teas.
Mate Tea Mate is a tea-like beverage made from a South American native plant. Although mate is unrelated to the tea plant Camellia sinensis, it does contain caffeine. Mate is traditionally steeped in a hollow gourd using leaves and hot water. After that, the tea is consumed through a filtered straw called a bombilla. In many South American countries, mate is shared among friends by drinking from the same gourd and refilling it as it is passed from person to person. Mate may also be prepared in the same manner as other teas and tisanes, by steeping the leaves in a mug or pot using an infuser or filter.
While herbal teas are colloquially referred to as “tea,” they are not related to true teas made from the camellia sinensis plant. Rather than that, herbal teas are a combination of various herbs and spices. In general, it does not contain caffeine. They come in a wide variety of varieties, including single-ingredient teas such as Peppermint and Chamomile, as well as inventive blends such as Lavender Lullaby and Atomic Gold.
Herbal teas are occasionally referred to as herbal infusions or tisanes. Peppermint, chamomile, hibiscus, ginger, and lavender are all popular herbal tea ingredients. Herbal blends frequently contain medicinal properties and can be used to treat a variety of conditions ranging from sore throats to upset stomachs.
Teas made from Rooibos
Rooibos is a type of herbal tea made from a South African native plant. These teas, which are occasionally referred to as red bush tea or red tea, are naturally caffeine-free. Rooibos has a full body similar to black tea, making it an excellent choice for those who enjoy black tea but want to avoid caffeine. It is naturally sweet and delicious on its own or with a splash of milk. Additionally, Rooibos can be blended with other ingredients to create flavored blends such as Earl Grey Rooibos and Rooibos Chai.
Recognize Tea Classifications
When it comes to tea, there are a few fundamental classifications that help clarify how the tea is processed and what it will taste like when brewed. Beyond these broad categories, there are numerous tea varietals, growing conditions, and processing methods. Even when the same tea varietal is used and similar growing and processing conditions are followed, teas grown in different locations develop distinct characteristics as a result of their environment’s unique terroir.
At the end of the day, there are as many varieties of tea as there are tea producers. Whether you’re new to tea or an avid tea drinker, there are always new and interesting single-origin teas and tea blends to try!