Lesson #1: Types of tea

Lesson #1: Types of tea

Welcome to the tea course of the tavalon tea bar. In this inaugural lesson, we'll examine the basics of tea to help differentiate the varieties.


But first, let's cover the essential question of this course: "What is tea?"


Tea is the most consumed beverage in the world, surpassed only by water when it comes to the mostconsumed liquid on Earth. An often-surprising fact to tea novices is that all teas come from the same plant. The scientific name of this versatile plant is camellia sinensis. The different varieties of Camellia leaves (black, white, green and oolong) stem from how they are made.


How the leaves are processed 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 allowed to absorb during processing and drying. More oxygen produces dark-colored black teas.


Less oxygen results in green tea. Unprocessed leaves are classified as white teas.
Black tea, currently the most popular tea in the US, was originally produced out of necessity rather than taste. 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, arduous trip back from Asia, would lose freshness. Merchants would “ferment” the leaves to lengthen preservation, thus creating a new variety with a darker flavor that is more bitter than other varieties. Because this was the only way that they could enjoy tea for centuries, black tea remains the favorite for most Westerners. Examples of our black tea include NYC Breakfast, Ceylon King and others.


As a contrast, green tea is an unfermented tea. This tea has recently enjoyed resurgence in popularity, thanks to recent scientific findings touting its health benefits. But this tea has been around for thousands of years, making the history books as the first tea to be discovered. An ancient Chinese legend tells that Shen Nung, a skilled ruler and creative scientist, was the first to discover and enjoy delicious effect of tea leaves and hot water. While visiting a distant region one summer day, he stopped to rest. In accordance with his ruling that all drinking water be boiled (as a hygienic precaution), the servants began to boil water for him and his advisors to drink. Dried leaves from the nearby bush fell into the boiling water, making the clear water transform to a pale green. As a scientist, the Emperor was interested in the new liquid, drank some and found it very refreshing.


Examples of tavalon’s green tea include Pure Green, Summer Fruits, Jasmine Dream, and others.


Oolong tea is a "semi-fermented" tea that is principally 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 many Chinese restaurants. Some tavalon oolongs include Too Long Oolong and Peachy Oolong.


White tea is produced, on a very limited scale, in China, India and some other smaller tea-producing countries. It is the least processed of its many varieties, made with no steaming or pan-firing. But to connoisseurs, "white" is considered the apotheosis of tea. White tea employs only the best leaf from each tea plant at each harvest. But due to exclusivity and unfamiliarity, the gentle, subtle taste of white tea has yet to make a significant impact in America (but that will soon change thanks to tavalon!).


Examples of tavalon’s white teas include Great White (generically called White Peony or Pai Mu Tan), Tropical Peony and others.


Flavored teas are generally made by combining the essential oils of the desired flavor with black, green or white tea (usually from China or Sri Lanka). Thanks to modern science, virtually any flavor imaginable can now be blended with tea. Examples include our Peachy Oolong tea (essential oils of Peach), Tropical Peony (oils of Pineapple and Coconut), and even our Earl Grey black tea (flavored with organic bergamot oil).


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 drank (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 clever NYC tea stores, this naïveté will soon be a thing of the past!


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