Types of Tea
All tea is produced from a plant called Camellia sinensis. There are approximately 1,500 different varieties of tea, all offering interesting and varied style´s, taste and colour. The character of tea, like wine, is influenced by the elevation of the garden, the soil, wind conditions and temperature and, of course, the quality of the plucking. With so many teas to choose from there is a lifetime of enjoyable exploration ahead.
Our teas come from all over the world and many of our Chinese and Japanese teas fit into one of these main categories of tea: white, green, oolong, and black tea. We also carry herbal infusions or tisanes, sometimes called herbal tea, which do not actually contain the Camellia sinensis plant.
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 be roughly classified into six basic categories: white, green, oolong, black (the Chinese call these red teas), pu-erh, and flavoured. Some specialists would add another category, blends. And then there are countless herbal infusions, informally referred to as “tea” but entirely unrelated to “real” tea made from Camellia sinensis leaves.
White tea is the purest and least processed of all teas. This loose leaf tea brews a light colour and flavour.
White tea is the rarest of all tea types. A specialty of Fujian province on China’s east coast, it was relatively hard to come by outside of China until recently. The name comes from the almost colourless liquor, and from the silvery hairs found on the buds of the plant. Delicate in flavour as well as colour, the tea has a subtle, slightly sweet flavour and a mellow creamy or nutty quality. White tea consists of the whitish buds of the tea plant; lower quality varieties contain some leaves as well. The buds (and leaves) are naturally dried using either sun drying or steaming methods. This is the final step in the production process, as white tea is unfermented.
Green tea is the most popular type of tea, mainly because it is the beverage of choice in Asia. Some loose green teas are scented with flowers or mixed with fruits to create scented or flavoured teas.
Green tea makes up approximately ten percent of the world’s tea. The production process, like that of white tea, starts with withering, followed by pan-frying or steaming to prevent fermentation. (The two types differ in that white tea has a higher proportion of buds to leaves.) After steaming and before drying, green tea leaves are rolled to give them the desired shape. In China, this consists of eyebrow-shaped or twisted pieces, tight balls, flat needles, or curled whole leaves. Japanese green tea leaves are shiny green blades with reddish stalks and stems. Green tea is greenish-yellow in colour, with a grassy, astringent quality reminiscent of the fresh leaves. Scientific studies have shown that both green and black teas prevent cavities and gum disease, and increase the body’s antioxidant activity.
Oolong tea, also known as wu long tea, is full-bodied with a flavourful fragrance and sweet aroma. Most people commonly recognize oolong tea as the Chinese tea served in Chinese restaurants.
Often referred to as “the champagne of teas,” oolongs are considered to be among the finest – and therefore most expensive – teas in the world. Most oolongs hail from Taiwan; in China they are also referred to as pouchongs. Oolong tea is “semi-fermented,” meaning that it goes through a short period of oxidation (fermentation) that turns the leaves from green to red-brown. The liquor is pale yellow, with a floral, fruity quality – reminiscent of peaches – and a hint of smoke. Due to the delicacy of the flavour, connoisseurs generally prefer drinking it without milk, sugar or lemon.
Black tea is the tea most people know since you likely grew up dipping tea bags of black tea in your cup (or enjoyed this tea from an iced tea pitcher in the South).
Though known to most of the world as “black tea,” the Chinese call it “red tea” due to its characteristic reddish-brown colour. Black tea is the most common type of tea worldwide. It has a broad range of flavours, but is typically heartier and more assertive than green or oolong teas. It is made by fully fermenting the harvested leaves (for several hours) before the heating or drying processes occur. This oxidation imparts a dark colouring and triples the caffeine.
Pu-erh (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 flavour 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.
Rooibos tea, or red tea, is made from a South African red bush. Rooibos teas can be delicious hot or iced.
Blends are the mutts of the tea world, possessing mixed heritages, so to speak, rather than a single lineage. Tea producers make blends by combining different types of teas, often in order to achieve flavour consistency from one season to the next. Common blends include English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Irish Breakfast, and Caravan.
Herbal tea does not contain any leaves from the Camellia plant family, so it is sometimes referred to as a tisane. Herbal teas can be broken into three categories: rooibos teas, mate teas, and herbal infusions. Herbal infusions consist of pure herbs, flowers, and fruits. They can be delicious hot or iced.
The word “tea” is often loosely used to describe any beverage made with the leaves of a plant. But technically speaking, true “tea” is made from the Camellia sinensis – and everything else isn’t “tea” at all. Connoisseurs and tea professionals will tell you that all leaf-derived drinks other than true “tea” should be referred to as tisanes or herbal infusions.
Tisane (tee-ZAHN) is what many people think of as “herbal tea,” that is, a drink made by steeping various herbs, spices, flowers, etc. in boiling water. The term “herbal infusion” is pretty much the same thing: a drink made by steeping an herb in hot water. These herbal drinks are commonly associated with physical and mental health, and are consumed for their soothing or rejuvenating qualities. They also suit the needs of those who wish to avoid caffeine. Common herbal beverages are chamomile, peppermint, fennel, rose hip, and lemon verbena.
Mate tea is considered the coffee lover’s favorite tea. Made from the leaves and twigs of the yerba mate plant, our My Morning Mate is a particular favorite of coffee drinkers because it tastes like coffee.
Tea easily absorbs other aromas and tastes. Thus tea drinkers the world over have long enhanced their tea with additional flavours, from flowers and oils to herbs and spices. Flavouring tea is a well-established tradition in China, where, for centuries, people have brewed tea with onions, orange peel, peach leaves, and berries. The Chinese are also known for their flower teas – popular varieties include jasmine, orchid, rose, and magnolia.
In many Arabic nations, mint (plus a generous amount of sugar) is the flavouring of choice. In India, the spicy “masala tea” is a popular beverage. It is made by boiling black tea with spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and black or white pepper; milk and sugar are usually added as well. Beyond herbs and spices, the flavour craze has more recently spurred manufacturers to produce tea with just about every flavour imaginable, from banana to toffee pudding.
Also called artisan or flowering teas, these teas actually ‘bloom’ as they steep. They are hand tied by tea artists and often include some type of flavour or scent along with the beautiful design. These romantic teas make a great gift for your significant other!