There are thousands of varieties of tea throughout the world, and even among these the tea can be processed in a unique and different way. India’s Assam region harvests the most tea, and second in total world production is Sri Lanka. Among the varieties of tea are oolongs, assam, darjeeling, silver needle, wuyi, gyokuro, sencha, dragon well, white peony, and ceylon. There are thousands of types of teas, and the choices can be overwhelming. Most of these different types fall under four main types. These four main ones are ones which you are probably familiar with if you are a regular tea drinker: green, black, oolong, and white teas.
Do the Different Types of Teas Come from Different Plants?
There is only one type of plant that tea comes from, which may surprise someone who is new to the world of tea. All tea comes from the Camellia sinesis plant. There are some teas, called tisanes, which don’t come from Camellia sinesis. These include chamomile and herbal teas. But a newcomer might wonder how the single plant produces so many different types of teas.
If Teas All Come from the Same Plant, What Makes Them Different?
Anything can change the outcome of a tea. And there is a lot that affects the Camellia sinesis plant. Changes in the weather or different altitudes can impact how a tea turns out. Different parts of the world have different climates and different compounds of soil. These account for very varied types of teas that exist in the world today. A look at the four main types of tea:
Green tea is pretty well known these days and it offers many health benefits. It’s harvested in the spring, and after harvesting the oxidation process is stopped. Green tea is fermented a little longer. Some types are grown in the shade, and some are grown in sunshine. It’s a common variety of tea and can be found in most grocery stores, but there are certain types of this tea which are incredibly expensive. Some types of green tea can cost hundreds for a few ounces.
Black tea is oxidized more than the other three types of teas. The leaves are left to dry until they turn dark. It is also known to have health benefits as the other types. Black tea has much more caffeine than the other types of tea, and is consumed more world wide than the other types of tea.
Oolong, also called wu long, has a longer oxidation process, like black tea. Oolong tea varies in taste, but can have a woody or flowery flavor. Oolong is similar to green and black teas, and is a cross between the two.
White tea is harvested in the spring, like green tea. It’s sweet in taste and has a delicious aroma. It is the least fermented type of tea and goes through a very simple process. It’s simply left out to be dried by the sun or in a room with specially controlled climate. It has health benefits that include its ability to fight cancer and fight off organisms that cause disease.
Chinese Wū long or Oolong is a type of tea located between green and black in the Chinese classification. In other words, Oolong is half-fermented tea. Oxidation ranges from 20% to 40%, and the most characteristic feature of this tea is that the leaves are fermented unevenly. Along the edges of the tea leaf fermentation can be quite astringent, almost like black tea with well pronounced reddish rim around a leaf but in the center of leaf fermentation, is very weak, close to green teas. As a result, Oolongs have a wonderful aroma and taste that combines the freshness of green tea and tartness of black tea.
Oolong combines the best qualities of both green and black teas. Some highly fermented Oolongs give a fairly dark brown-reddish infusion. However, such Oolongs constitute only a small share of the vast diversity of this type of tea. Basic and famous Oolongs have a gentle light yellowish or greenish tinge honey extract. By appearance of the infusion, they are closer to green teas and by taste - to black teas. A good Oolong is both refreshing and delicious with no trace of bitterness and stronger aroma than any green or black teas. Oolong is a well known type of Chinese tea used in ceremonies. A widely-used ceremonial method of brewing Oolongs in Taiwan and China is called Gongfu Cha. For a complete appreciation of the taste of this tea, tea pairing is recommended: tea bowl and snifter cup used to appreciate the tea's aroma. Tea poured into a snifter cup and a drinking bowl is placed upside down over the top of the snifter cup. Then the two are inverted so that the snifter cup is upside down in the drinking bowl. The final stage is when the snifter cup is lifted and the tea is released into the drinking bowl. After all this manipulations, tea drinkers can respectfully receive the aroma and then enjoy the taste.
There are two main types of Oolong that are grown and harvested in China and Taiwan, the mainland and island tea. The next classification is the type of traditional treatment and characteristics of climate and soil. Oolongs grow high in the mountains, shrouded in fog, on the poor stony soils. The quality of tea depends on the orientation of the slope, the number of fogs during the growth and professionalism of collectors, who manually collect and sort out the tea leaves in difficult mountain conditions.
Oolong often resembles the form of twisted lumps consisting of strongly folded and compressed whole leaves. When touched, the lumps are elastic and dense. Fresh tea should be slightly shiny and have a strong fragrant. During the brewing process, the tea leaves unfold, expend and consume the entire volume of the teapot when steeped 2-3 times. Usually, Oolong brewed with water temperature of 176-194º F for 3-4 minutes. A teapot 150 ml takes about one heaped teaspoon. Expensive Oolongs can withstand multiple infusions up to 20-25 times. The fragrance of tea can vary from delicate peach tones to astringent walnut, with a corresponding color change of infusions darker with each subsequent brewing. There are varieties of oolong that color does not change and remains yellow-green, while others, originally given infusions of intense color give a pale infusion each subsequent brewing.
Oolong tea is the most diverse among Chinese teas in terms of taste and appearance . Oolong is tea-perfection conceived by Heaven and Earth.
There are numerous methods for brewing tea leaves. In Japanese tea ceremonies, powdered tea is whisked into green foam, in Mongolian, they reduced tea leaves dust by boiling with salted milk…Western tea lovers follow the Chinese way of brewing tea leaves in hot water. This way seems very simple, but there are several essential tips that are critical to a good cup of tea.
1. Make sure you use good quality cold water
2. Your kettle and teapot need to be clean
3. Use the correct amount of tea leaves
4. Use the correct amount of water at proper temperature
5. Make sure tea is steeped for the right length of time
6. Use proper storage for tea leaves
Use good quality cold water
Water that is used to make tea has a large influence on the tea taste. Water composition, chalk content, mineral content and hardness differ from region to region and influence the taste experience, greatly. For the best taste results, use good-tasting water. Only use fresh water which was not already cooked previously. Bottled spring or filtered waters are ideal for this purpose, find the kind you like. If using tap water, make sure it runs for couple minutes before poured in the kettle. Tap water lacks oxygen when it sits in water pipes for hours. Do not use distilled water.
Kettle and teapot need to be clean
Tea should always be prepared in a specific container, such as a teapot made out of glass or ceramics. Always preheat your porcelain, ceramics or glass with hot water. The best water and the finest tea can be easily destroyed if the kettle or teapot is not clean. A brownish residue on the inside of teapot builds up after every brewing and needs to be taken care of; otherwise it will add a bitter taste to freshly brewed tea. So, just rinsing a teapot does not take care of the problem. Use a small amount of detergent while washing and wipe out the inside with soft cloth or sponge. Make sure the teapot is rinsed off thoroughly after washing, otherwise you may add extra “flavor” to the delicate bouquet of brewing tea leaves. Even the kettle is used only to boil water; it needs to be washed occasionally due to mineral deposits build up. Iron teapots are especially suitable for green tea and oolong tea. In Japan, these pots are only used to keep the water hot for the tea ceremony. For Europeans, the Japanese have enameled the pots on the inside so that they can be used to brew tea. Iron pots are very stylish and are almost indestructible.
Use the correct amount of tea leaves
I have the easiest solution – read suggested instruction but if you like to experiment, here are some general tips to follow:
1. Use a tea measuring spoon. The decorative tea measuring spoons are available in many different forms and decors and determine the amount of tea needed for one cup. Particularly the longer spoons represent a good aid to reach the tea in the deep tea tins.
2. Use one teaspoon of loose leaf tea per each serving (6oz cup), 1-2 level teaspoon of herb blends and Rooibos, one heaped teaspoon of fruit blends;
3. After the amount of tea leaves is measured and placed in the teapot, add hot water;
4. Use tea strainers or tea filters while steeping. It will allow removing tea leaves easily when brewing process is done.
Use the correct amount of water at proper temperature
Each tea variety requires its unique treatment with respect to brewing. Most tea companies provide a suggested instruction on the package that refers to cup of tea being 6oz. The temperature of water varies depending on type of tea. Suitable thermometers for taking the appropriate water temperature are available.
1. Black and Oolong Tea requires fully boiling water 203-212 F;
2. Green and White Tea steeps best at 176-194 F, first stage of boiling also called “string of pearls”, when small air bubbles rising to the surface and water is starting to steam.
Right temperature will allow the delicate bouquet of tea composition to unfold fully, presenting its aroma.
Tea should be steeped for the correct length of time
The length of time depends on specifics of brewing leaves which need adequate time to open. White and Green tea requires 2 to 3 minutes due to being unfermented. Infuse the tea and let sit for 2 minutes. Many green tea drinkers also start by infusing half a cup of green tea with hot water for one minute before sieving it. Then the same tea is brewed again. This way, many of the bitter substances are eliminated.
Fully fermented black tea steeps longer 4 to 5 minutes. Pour the bubbly-hot water over the tea and let sit for 3 to 5 minutes. Note: 3 minutes for an energizing result and up to 5 minutes (and a little less tea) for a more calming effect. Stir the infusion once and then pour it over a sieve or tea filter. The brewing time also depends on the size of leaf, the bigger the leaf the longer infusion time. Do not let tea brew too long, otherwise it will become bitter and taste will suffer.
When it comes to fruit, herb and Rooibos tea, you do not have to worry. Due to being naturally decaffeinated, these tisanes need about 10 minutes on average to brew and will not go bitter.
There is a "Perfect Tea Hourglass" available to keep to correct time.
Proper storage for tea leaves
As all products, tea leaves have an expiration date. Although each type of tea has a different shelf life, it’s best to use tea within six month since day of purchase. Green and white tea is the most perishable due to short fermentation process. These types of tea need to be consumed in year of harvest. Black and Oolong retain their properties for several years. Pu-Erh gets only better with time. However, tea should be kept away from heat, moisture and sunlight. In order to preserve freshness tea should be stored in cool, dry, dark place in tea tin or ceramic container. Tins in various sizes are ideal for the storage of loose tea. The sensitive teas are well-protected against smell and light effects. The market offers many different decors that fit each tea character.
Now, when you know all the tricks, let Tea Party begin!