A quick overview of tea.
All teas are made from the leaves of the same plant - 'Camellia Sinensis'. Tea types vary due to different processing methods. There are 5 types of tea:
Black tea, Green tea, Oolong tea, White tea and Pu-erh tea
There are also herbal and fruit infusions (including South African Rooibos) which technically are not 'tea' as they are not grown from the camellia sinensis. These teas are various dried herbs and fruits that are infused with hot water. In our modern world we now call them teas, however it is important to know they are not derived from the famous tea plant.
Tea is grown in more than 55 countries throughout the world. The second most consumed beverage in the world behind water. Tea types vary based on different growing conditions, including different altitudes, temperatures, weather, soils and drainage, plucking methods and processing methods. Tea manufacturing is an art form and passed through the generations. As tea comes from the same plant all teas contain similar nutritional and health benefits.
Black Tea is what we commonly think of tea in the Western world. Our culture loves a strong black tea with a splash of milk. It has a strong red colour with a rich aroma and taste. Black tea is fully oxidised, also known as fully fermented. Oxidation is when oxygen causes the freshly plucked leaves to transform from green to black, this develops taste and aroma, and varying levels of oxidation give strength and bitterness to the tea. To stop this process heat is applied either by panning or steaming, which kills the enzymes that were allowing oxidation. The final steps of processing is drying or firing the leaves. The whole process is a very careful and well experienced balance in perfecting the perfect colour and aroma for the perfect tea.
Green Tea stays green as it has not been oxidised (unfermented). Due to minimal processing the leaves have retained high levels of antioxidants and vitamins. Also a reason why green tea tastes bittersweet and fresh, sometimes you can smell the freshly plucked leaves. Green tea is extensively researched and loved for its many health benefits.
Oolong Tea is somewhere in between. Oolongs are semi-fermented teas (partially oxidised). There are two types of oolongs; greener ball like which are 20%-30% oxidised and darker more open leafed oolongs which are 60%-70% oxidised. Oxidation commonly occurs by spreading the leaves in the sun, creating a slightly sweeter tasting tea. The leaves are then bruised to realise flavours, either by being shaken or tumbled. Lightly oxidised again indoors then panned and rolled. Drying at the end to remove any water content. As the process is in between green and black, the taste is also somewhere in between. Oolongs generally are slightly fruity and have an addictive taste. Oolongs are very popular after dinner and as a weight loss tea.
White Tea is the least handled tea, it is non oxidised and simply withered in the sun. Very popular for it's health benefits due to it being minimally processed. It's called white as the steep is nearly colourless and tastes light and refreshing. White tea has the least caffeine of all teas. More expensive tea as only the buds are plucked. These young buds contain most nutrients on the tea plant. A great Chinese story is that historically white tea was only picked by virgins before the sun rose in the day, using scissors and a bowl. Also when drinking Silver Needle tea, if your buds sit upright, then this brings good luck. White tea is amazing, give it more time to steep and slightly cooler water and you won't be disappointed.
Pu-erh Tea is unlike other teas. It starts as green tea then is post-fermented. After being processed the leaves are stored to engage an ageing process. During this ageing process the leaves undergo oxidation and bacterial and microbial fermentation, this creates the unique flavour and aroma. Pu-erh has an earthy taste and steeps a dark colour. Interestingly the leaves are plucked from ancient trees, the older the trees, the more expensive the tea. Similar to vintage wine, pu-erh are becoming rare and some are collectibles. Even though the tea is aged and dark in colour the taste is quite mellow and not bitter.
Herbal Teas and Fruit Infusions are very popular in our modern world. Many varieties and blends, herbals and fruit infusions have many health benefits, are caffeine free and also taste great. Fruit infusions particularly are great for a summer iced tea. Herbals are widely consumed for medicinal benefits. For a very long time people have been using plants to heal, keep their bodies in balance and enhance their wellbeing. Enjoy the wonderful delights of these blends. Please note that some herbs can react with medications or aggravate allergies so consult your medical professional if you are unsure.
There are many different teas in the tea family, be adventurous and experiment with them all.