Varieties of Tea
All tea comes from the same species of plant, Camellia sinensis. The different varieties of tea—green, oolong, black, etc—result from how the leaves are processed once they are picked. Tea processing involves several steps including: 1) different ways and degrees of oxidizing the leaves, 2) stopping this oxidation process, 3) forming the tea, and 4) drying it.
The amount of oxidation affects the color of the tea when it is brewed. Greener, lighter colored teas are less oxidized, and redder, darker teas are more oxidized. The level of oxidation is how the tea world distinguishes different varieties of teas. The oxidation affects not only the color of the tea, but the range of flavors found in that variety.
White teas are the least processed variety of tea with virtually no oxidation. They have a higher portion of buds, and the downy white hairs on the buds give this tea its name. White teas tend to be very delicate in flavor.
Green teas are minimally processed and have a fresh flavor. The newly picked leaves are steamed or pan-fired early in the process to stop oxidation giving the brewed tea its bright green color. Green teas tend to have grassy, vegetal, and sometime sweet flavors, or they can be slightly roasted for a more nutty taste.
Oolong teas vary considerably from a light golden green to deep amber to reddish brown, depending on how much the tea leaves were oxidized and roasted during processing. Oolongs are known for their complex flavors and aromas which range from the lightly floral to deeply roasted without the use of any additional or artificial flavorings. The Zu Chang oolongs reflect this rich array of tastes. Our list of teas.
Black tea is by far the most consumed variety of tea in the world. In Asia these teas are called red teas because of the reddish brown color when brewed. The leaves are often bruised, cut or broken and then fully oxidized. This brings out a stronger, full bodied, 'brisk' flavor initially as the tea releases most of the taste in the first and second steepings.
While most teas taste better the fresher they are, pu'er teas are purposely aged for months to years in order to enhance their flavor profile. In processing they are formed into a disc and then stored such that they ferment and darken. Called black tea in Chinese, their flavor is earthy, complex, and full bodied with qualities such as wood, leather, and mushrooms. Pu'er teas may be brewed over many steepings.
Flavored teas have other plants, flavors, and spices added to the tea. For example, Jasmine tea adds jasmine fragrance and blossoms, and chai combines tea with ginger, cinnamon, pepper and other spices. Today green, oolong, black, and pu'er teas are all blended with other flavors to create a wide range of taste experiences. While these may be enjoyable, they are in a separate category from teas which are valued for their intrinsic qualities and quality processing.
Technically herbal teas are not tea, as they do not use the tea plant. They are made with flowers, seeds, fruit, leaves, bark, or roots from any number of plants which are combined for their flavor and their health benefits.