Types of Tea
Types of Tea
Tea is typically classified in the following categories
Black tea is far and away the most popular type of tea in the U.S. and U.K., but since there are so many variants within this broad category, that’s not saying much. China, India and Sri Lanka are major producers of high quality black tea, but they are quite distinct from one another, with Darjeeling black teas being the most delicate and light in flavor, while Assam, Ceylon and Keemun (from China) can be quite bold, malty and robust. Black teas, in general, tend to be more receptive to milk and sugar than other types of tea, but they can certainly be enjoyed without either.
Oolong tea is often categorized between Black and Green, and rightly so. Oolongs come in many varieties (like black tea), with some being dark and toasty, while others take on light and floral traits. Most oolong tea is produced in Fujian, China or Taiwan (Formosa), but both produce high quality teas. Oolongs are partially oxidized through a delicate process that includes extra rolling of the leaves, sometimes opening up to reveal not only a full leaf, but also a stem that can add to the complex flavor profile, which results in an ability to be re-steeped and enjoyed over and over again! Each steeping brings out different flavors, so it’s recommended to save the leaves. Oolong is typically used in the Chinese tea ceremony, gongfu cha, or “making tea with effort.”
Pu-erh is a recent introduction to the global market, but it’s been consumed in China for about 1000 years, making it thousands of years younger than green tea. While the term “fermentation” is sometimes incorrectly used to describe the oxidation process of tea, pu-erh tea truly does experience fermentation since the leaves are often compressed into discs (bing) or bowls (tuo). There’s been a long-standing belief in China that Pu-erh has medicinal properties. As a result, this tea is highly sought after within China, decreasing global supply. Due to an aging and fermentation process, many pu-erh teas are given a vintage, similar to fine liquors and wine. The colors of these pu-erh teas tend to be dark red, similar to a black tea, and the aroma can be pleasantly pungent, along with a very earthy taste. Pu-erh is sometimes consumed in a manner consistent with the gongfu tea ceremony.
China is the birthplace of tea and that birth started with green tea. The processing of green tea varies in the three major countries of production: Japan (steamed) China, and to a lesser extent (in quantity, not quality) Darjeeling (both dried). Just like with black and oolong teas, there are countless varieties of green tea, which in addition to being processed differently, take on characteristics influenced by their location (altitude, climate, soil). The differences are so pronounced in Japanese teas compared to the Chinese and Darjeeling counterparts, that you wouldn’t be faulted if you considered as a different type of tea altogether. The recommended preparations of these teas are dramatically different as well. Even though black tea is the dominant tea of choice in the U.S., U.K. and India, the most common tea consumed in China is lung ching (green) and in Japan, sencha (also green). Matcha is a green tea produced in Japan when high quality sencha tea is ground up. Matcha is the type of tea used in the Japanese tea ceremony, also known as chanoyu, or “way of tea”.
White tea comes from hand-picked young tea leaves, referred to as buds. As a result, they maintain white fuzz, or downy, that gives it a silver-white look. This is as close to consuming the tea leaf straight off the plant as can be, and as a result, white tea is packed with more polyphenols, (an anti-oxidant proven to boost the immune system) than any other type of tea. The delicate processing of white tea also results in a very light, sometimes sweet flavor. China (Fujian) is the largest producer of white tea, but India (Darjeeling) and Sri Lanka (Ceylon) also produce high quality alternatives. Common varieties of white tea are white peony, silver needles and bai mu dan.
It’s important to understand that “decaffeinated” means most of the caffeine has been removed from the tea leaf (as with coffee). For anyone looking to avoid caffeine, there may be a negligible amount of caffeine that should have minimal to no impact on the body. All types of tea can be decaffeinated, including some fairly high quality teas, but for the premium estate teas, it’s uncommon, since most tea drinkers prefer to enjoy their tea with the caffeine.
Caffeine-Free Tisanes, aka “Herbal Tea” and Rooibos
Tea comes from the Camellia Sinensis plant, Black, green, white, oolong and pu-erh all come from this plant. If you enjoy something other than this in a manner consistent with tea, it’s considered a tisane, or herbal tea. The most popular tisane is chamomile, a daisy-like flower. Rooibos, also known as African Red Bush, is a caffeine-free herbal tea that has increased in popularity due to the reported health benefits and ability to be blended.
Flavored and Blended Tea
Any tea or tisane can be flavored with different herbs, like rose petals or lavender, or by adding an essential oil such as jasmine or bergamot (the distinct flavor of Earl Grey).