Black tea, white tea, green tea, oolong… there are so many teas to choose from! One thing we hear frequently from our customers is that they want to know more about different kinds of teas. How are different teas made? Where are they grown? What do they taste like? What are their unique health benefits or usages? This guide will help you to learn about different kinds of teas, so you can show off to your tea knowledge to your friends!
So, what exactly is tea, anyway?
Tea is the most popular beverage in the world, after water! Though many things are called tea, all true teas are made from the leaves of an evergreen shrub called Camellia sinensis. According to Chinese legend, tea originated over 4,700 years ago when the Emperor Shen Nong was boiling water in his garden. Just then, a wild tea leaf drifted into his pot, infusing the water with flavor. He was so impressed with the flavor that he continued to experiment with boiling tea leaves, and discovered many of its medicinal properties.
Tea only started to become widespread in China nearly 3,400 years later during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), and spread to Japan and the Middle East another 200 years after that. Tea was introduced to Europe beginning in the 1200’s, but only gained popularity in Europe- particularly Britain- during the 1600’s. In the centuries that followed, tea began to be cultivated widely in India, and has been traded around the world. Let’s take a look at the different varieties of tea.
When raw tea is exposed to air for long enough, it eventually oxidizes and turns black. Green tea retains its green color because the leaves are immediately steamed (Japanese teas) or pan-fired (Chinese teas) after harvesting, which halts the oxidation process. After they are exposed to heat, they are rolled into shapes varying from flat leaves to tight spheres, and are then dried. Here are some main green teas:
Sencha: This was the original type of steamed tea, which originated in Japan. It is shaped in long rolls and has a pleasant, vegetal taste.
Bancha: This tea is harvested from the same plant as sencha tea, but the leaves are plucked in the second season (flush), after the sencha leaves are harvested. It has a stronger smell and is considered a lower grade tea than sencha.
Genmaicha: This tea consists of high-grade sencha mixed with toasted rice.
Matcha: This type of powdered tea is created from leaves grown under shade, where sunlight is limited. Because of the limited light, the plants must produce more chlorophyll in order to photosynthesize. This results in tea that is packed with the highest concentration of antioxidants and chlorophyll of any kind of tea. The leaves are harvested young, then are steamed and dried in air, deveined, and stone ground.
Gunpowder: This Chinese tea is tightly rolled and has a bold, nutty flavor. The name “gunpowder” was coined by the British, who saw resemblance between the tightly rolled leaves and gunpowder pellets.
Dragonwell: This popular tea is a classic wok-fired, flat-leafed Chinese tea, and is revered for its light flavor and pleasant aroma.
Black tea is created from the same plant as green tea, but the leaves are allowed to oxidize. First, the tea is harvested and laid out to wither from water evaporation. Next, the cell walls are gently crushed by rolling to help release enzymes. The leaves are then left to oxidize in a humid location, and are finally dried with heat. Black teas are largely grown in South Asia, as well as China. Here are some main black teas:
Assam: This tea is an intensely-flavored, malty tea named after Assam, India, the tropical region in which it is grown.
Darjeeling: This is another popular tea from India that is also named after its area of origin. Its flavor is described as fruity and floral, though it grows in three seasons, and the later harvests are more intensely flavored.
Earl Grey: This tea is a blend of black tea with Bergamot oil. It is known for its uplifting fragrance.
English Breakfast: This tea is a blend of black teas from Assam, Sri Lanka, and Kenya.
Irish Breakfast: This tea is a strong-flavored tea that is made of small-sized Assam leaves.
Lapsang Souchong: This tea is dried by smoking it slowly over pine wood, giving it an intensely smoky flavor.
Translating to “black dragon tea”, Oolong tea is slightly oxidized tea that is thought of as halfway between green and black tea. Like black tea, oolong is produced by first withering leaves, but to a lesser extent than black tea. The leaves are then shaken in bamboo baskets so that they bruise and oxidize, and are then dried once they reach the desired level of oxidation. Perhaps the most popular variety of oolong tea is Ti Quan Yin.
This type of tea is a microbially fermented black tea from the Yunnan Province of China. They are rich in flavor, soothing to the stomach, and help the cardiac system. There are two types of puerh tea: Sheng puerh and Shou puerh. Both types of tea are initially withered, roasted, and rolled, and dried. Their differences come in their method of fermentation. Sheng, or “raw”, puerh is the traditional variety of puerh, which is left to ferment naturally with native microbes. This process can take up to several decades, and as you might expect, this tea is extremely expensive. Shou, or “young”, puerh is fermented by layering them in a controlled, moist environment at a warm temperature to encourage bacterial fermentation over the course of 50 to 60 days. Most of the puerh tea sold commercially is the latter variety. Puerh, especially the Sheng variety, can be re-brewed many times without loss of flavor.
White tea is produced from the same shrubs as green and black tea, but is the least processed variety of tea. The leaves are plucked young, early in the season. Oxidation is kept to a minimum by tightly controlling temperature, humidity, light, and air flow. Unlike black and green tea, white tea is neither rolled nor roasted, but instead allowed to wither naturally, with minimal oxidation. Once this is done, the leaves are dried. White tea is less dense and has larger leaves than green or black tea, and is known for its ability to aid in weight loss.
Rooibos, or red tea, is not a true tea, but rather an herb from South Africa that is brewed like tea. It is rich in antioxidants and is naturally caffeine-free. It has a fruity aroma and blends well with fruity, floral, and other sweet flavors. It is very high in vitamins and minerals, and can be enjoyed at any time of day. We carry many kinds of rooibos tea, which you can find here.
Herbal teas are not technically tea, but are brewed in the same manner as teas. They consist of combinations of herbs, spices, fruits, flowers, stems, and other plant matter that are blended for flavor or health benefits. We feature a large selection of healing herbal teas, which you can find here.
We hope that you have enjoyed learning about tea! If you want to try all the different teas for yourself, take advantage of our 5 for $25 deal on mini teas. Happy steeping!