All tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant, but it is the differentiation in processing (or manufacturing) is what makes our different types of tea.
Tea processing has five basic steps, but not all forms of tea follow all the steps; some teas repeat steps. Basic processing includes picking (or plucking), withering (allowing the leaves to wilt), rolling (to remove juices), oxidizing and firing (drying).
the most critical part of creating tea is oxidization. This occurs when the tea leaf enzymes interact with oxygen after the cell walls are broken down. This can happen either slowly or quickly. To oxidize tea leaves rapidly, they must be rolled, cut or crushed. To oxidize them more slowly, they are simply left to their own natural decomposition. To visualize this a little better, let’s put it into the context of apple pie. When apples are left on the counter, they will eventually turn brown on their own (natural oxidization). When they’re cut and exposed to air, they turn brown far more quickly (rapid oxidization). Remember this apple concept, because that will be important in just a bit.
There are five basic types of tea: White, Green, Oolong, Black and Pu’erh.
White Tea is the least processed of all the teas. The name comes from the fuzzy covering that is on the unopened or recently opened tea leaf buds. this is the newest growth. The leaves are simply picked and allowed to wither dry. The leaves are never shaped or rolled. While some oxidization does occur naturally, the leaves are mostly white or green. White teas produce a very pale green or yellow liquor which has a delicate taste and aroma.
Green Tea is picked withered and rolled. It isn’t oxidized because heat is applied. Let’s go back up to our apple pie for a second. When you baked those apples they were just as delicious and white as they were when you cut them. That’s because the heat from the oven halts the oxidization process. For green tea, the leaves are heated just enough to stop the enzymes from turning the leaves brown. With green tea, the fresh leaves are either steamed or pan-fired (tossed in a hot, dry wok). The leaves are then shaped by curling them with the fingers and pressing them to the sides of the pan. The leaves are them rolled into different shapes, given a final firing to dry them completely, and then they’re done. Green tea’s liquor is typically pale yellow or green. Pan fired green tea tends to have a toasted or grassy flavor, while steams green teas end to taste more like a mild vegetable.
Oolong Tea is one of the most time-consuming teas to make. It uses all five steps in the tea-making process. Oolong is a tea that is half between a green and a black tea. these teas can range from 8% to 80% oxidized leaves and is judged by its amount of brown or red on each leaf as it’s being made. the tea leaves are rolled, then left to rest to allow for oxidization. Then they’re rolled again, and oxidized several times before being ready. Some times a gentle heat is applied to slow the enzymes a bit. This process can take several days, but what’s created is a complex layer of aromas and flavors. Due to their smooth (yet rich) flavors, this is the perfect “gateway tea” for those new to the culture and art of tea drinking.
Black Tea also uses all five complete steps, but it is oxidized more fully. The steps are followed in order and not repeated. Black tea is typically made in its entirety within a day of picking. The liquor of Black Tea can be dark brown or deep red. Black Tea has both the strongest flavor and stringency. It is regularly consumed with milk and sugar and is also the most popular for use in iced teas.
Pu’erh Tea (pronounced “puh-ARR”) is a tea aficionado’s dream. When creating this tea, it first undergoes a process similar to Green Tea. However, before the leaf is dried, it’s pressed into dense cakes. it is then “fermented” (but not turned to alcohol) or “cured”. Depending on the type of Pu’erh being produced, the aging process lasts from a few months (“raw” pu’erh) or sebveral years (“ripe” pu’erh). When well stored, older pu’erhs are considered “living teas” just like wine! They have a very earthy aroma and a deep, smooth taste.
And to think…… you just thought there was only one type of tea!