Kinds of Tea

Green, black, white, red – the vast array of tea varieties can be dizzying. With the sudden upsurge of interest in high-quality loose-leaf teas, where does a newcomer begin? How about starting with the one plant that produces every tea in the world? The Camellia sinensis is an evergreen native of China. It takes a variety of forms, growing 15 to 20 meters tall, with leaves ranging from smooth and shiny to fuzzy and white-haired. The plant gives rise to more than 3,000 varieties of tea worldwide which can divided into five basic categories: black, green, oolong, white, and puerh. Black tea is allowed to wither, which precedes a process called oxidation (sometimes incorrectly referred to as fermentation) during which water evaporates out of the leaf and the leaf absorbs more oxygen from the air. Black teas usually undergo full oxidation, and the results are the characteristic dark brown and black leaf, the typically more robust and pronounced flavors of black teas, and, when brewed appropriately, a higher caffeine content compared to other teas (50-65% of coffee, depending on the type and brewing technique). { read more } Green tea is allowed to wither only slightly after being picked. Then the oxidation process is stopped very quickly by firing (rapidly heating) the leaves. Therefore, when brewed at lower temperatures and for less time, green teas tend to have less caffeine (10-30% of coffee). Greens also tend to produce more subtle flavors with many undertones and accents that connoisseurs treasure. { read more } Oolong tea (also known as wulong tea) is half-fermented tea. Oolong is produced in China and Taiwan. Leaves selected for the production of Chinese Oolong are processed directly after being plucked. They wither in the sun, after which they are shaken in bamboo baskets in order to gently bruise leaf edges. Next, they are in turns shaken and laid out for drying, until their surface becomes a bit yellowish, and the bruised edges become slightly rusty (as a result of a reaction with oxygen). This fermentation (oxidation) process is stopped after about two hours with the process of panfrying. Oolong leaves are never broken by being rolled. Oolong tea from Taiwan is fermented for a longer period, producing a darker and more saturated infusion than the Chinese kind. { read more } White teas are the most delicate of all teas. They are appreciated for their subtlety, complexity, and natural sweetness. They are hand processed using the youngest shoots of the tea plant, with no oxidation. When brewed correctly, with a very low temperature and a short steeping time, white teas can produce low amounts of caffeine. { read more } Puerh  (or Puer) tea is in a category all its own. Though it could simply be classified as a type of Chinese black tea, it is differentiated from other black teas by the fact that it is fermented not once, but twice. The double oxidation process is followed by a period of maturation, which is often used to develop a thin layer of mold on the leaves. The mold imparts a distinctive soil-like flavor that many people find off-putting. For this reason, pu-erh tea is often consumed for medicinal purposes rather than for pleasure – aside from being known for its strong earthy quality, it is recognized as a powerful digestive aid. { read more }

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