Types of Tea
Welcome to the tea course of the Tavalon tea bar. In this inaugural exercise, we'll examine the nuts and bolts of tea to help differentiate the varieties.
To start with, how about we cover first the fundamental question of this course: "What is tea?"
What is tea
Tea is the most consumed beverage on the planet, outperformed just by water when it comes to the most consumed liquid on Earth. A frequently amazing fact to tea beginners is that all teas come from the same plant. The scientific name of this versatile plant is camellia sinensis. The diverse assortments of Camellia leaves (black, white, green and oolong) come from how they are made.
Tea usually comes from these countries: China, Japan, India, and Sri Lanka. Recently, there are other countries that grow tea, like Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam, and Kenya. The origin of the tea leaves impact the flavour (hence, not all teas are created the same), and other factors that can influence the quality of the tea are soil type, altitude, plant type and age of the tea plant.
Each country can produce all the types of tea, however, some countries are more popularly known for a certain type of tea. For example, Japan is known for green tea and matcha tea, China for white tea and pu-erh, Sri Lanka for black tea.
To give you an overview, here are the top tea producing countries in the world and what they usually produce:
1. China - green tea, oolong tea, pu-erh tea, yellow and jasmine teas
2. India - spicy chai blends, Assam and Darjeeling
3. Kenya - black tea, artisan teas
4. Sri Lanka - Ceylon black, Ceylon green, Ceylon white tea
5. Turkey - Turkish (black) tea, Rize tea
6. Indonesia - black tea
7. Vietnam - black tea, green tea, Shan Tuyet tea
8. Japan - green tea; bancha, sencha, genmaicha, hojicha
9. Iran - black tea
10. Argentina - black tea, yerba mate
How the leaves are prepared will determine their final classification as black, white, green, and oolong teas. The main difference between the many tea varieties is how much oxygen the leaves are permitted to retain during processing and drying. More oxygen produces dark-colored black teas.
Here's a diagram on how teas are processed:
Fewer oxygen results in green tea. Unprocessed leaves are classified as white teas. Black tea, currently the most mainstream tea in the US, was originally produced out of necessity rather than taste.
Brief History: Black Tea
When European traders first started exporting tea from China, many found that the green tea leaves (green leaves were all that were existed at the time), due to the long, exhausting trip back from Asia, would lose freshness.
Merchants would “ferment” the leaves to prolong preservation, thus creating a new variety with a darker flavour that is more intense than other varieties. Since this was the only way that they could enjoy tea for quite a long time, black tea remains the most loved for most Westerners. Examples of our black tea include Aussie Breakfast, Earl Grey and others.
Brief History: Green Tea
To differentiate, green tea is an unfermented tea. This tea has recently enjoyed an increase in popularity, thanks to recent scientific findings touting its health benefits. However, this tea has been around for thousands of years, making it in the history books as the first tea to be discovered.
An ancient Chinese legend tells that Shen Nung, a skilled ruler and innovative scientist, was the first to discover and enjoy the delicious taste of tea leaves and hot water.
While visiting a distant region one summer day, he stopped his journey to take a rest. As per his ruling that all drinking water be boiled (as hygienic measures), the servants began to boil water for him and his advisors to drink.
Dried leaves from the nearby bush fell into the boiling water, transforming the water from clear to a pale green. As a scientist, the Emperor had gotten interested in the new liquid, drank some and found it very refreshing.
In the Limelight: Oolong Tea
Oolong tea is a "semi-fermented" tea that is primally manufactured in China and Taiwan (often called Formosa in the tea world, the old Dutch name for Taiwan).
Oolong tea falls somewhere between Green and Black teas, and can resemble either (depending upon the way that it is processed). This tea is best known to Americans as an accompaniment for General Tso's Chicken in a lot of Chinese restaurants. Some Tavalon oolongs include Peachy Oolong.
In the Limelight: White Tea
White tea is created, on a restricted scale, in China, India and some other smaller tea-producing countries. It is the least processed of its many varieties, created with no steaming or pan-firing. But to connoisseurs, "white" is considered the apotheosis of tea.
Why? It's because white tea can only be made from the best leaf from each tea plant at each harvest. But due to restrictiveness and unfamiliarity, the gentle, subtle taste of white tea has yet to make a significant impact in Australia (but that will soon change thanks to Tavalon!).
Examples of Tavalon’s white teas include Tropical Peony.
In the Limelight: Flavoured Tea
Flavoured teas are generally made by combining the essential oils of the desired flavour with black, green or white tea (usually from China or Sri Lanka). Thanks to modern science, the blend of any flavour imaginable with tea can now be done.
Although tea is one of the most enjoyed beverages worldwide, it is also one of the least known. For example, most tea drinkers in Darjeeling, India have never drunk (or even heard of!) a Japanese Hojicha.
This is primarily due to the fact that the enjoyment of most teas remains mainly isolated to that tea-growing region. Luckily, with the dawn of shipping and creation of online store in Australia, this naïveté will soon be a thing of the past!