Types of Tea
All tea comes from the
leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant. The styles of tea are produced by
altering the shape and chemistry of the leaf. Once this alteration is
complete, all teas are finished by drying the leaves. A tea is defined
by the way it is processed.
White tea is minimally processed; it is generally only picked and air
dried. The highest-quality white teas are picked early in the spring
before the leaf buds have opened and while still covered with silky white
hair. The traditional varietals used for white tea have abundant downy
hair on the young leaf shoots. These delicate teas have clear flavors
that tend toward savory, nutty, and vegetal. Traditionally harvested in
China, they are the focus of many studies on health benefits for their
high levels of antioxidants.
Green tea is picked and quickly heated by steaming or pan firing. The
goodness of the leaf is sealed inside. Green tea has a short life span -
it doesn't stay fresh long. The most well-known greens come from China
and Japan. The flavors are grassy, vegetal, nutty, and sweet. Because
the leaf is so delicate, the tea should be brewed in water that is well
below boiling to prevent cooking the leaves and destroying the subtle
notes of the tea.
Oolong tea is oxidized and often rolled after picking, allowing the
essential oils to react with the air. This process turns the leaf darker
and produces distinctive fragrances before heat is added to set the
taste. The resulting tea can be anywhere between a green and a black
tea, depending on the processing method. Oolongs can be recognized by
their large leaves and a complexity of flavor that ranges from highly
floral and intensely fruity to mildly roasted with honey nuances. The
tea maker must carefully balance many elements in the critical few hours
after the leaf is picked including weather conditions, quality of the
leaf, and the time the leaf oxidizes.
Black tea, or red tea as it is known in China, is a result of the
complete oxidation of the leaf. First produced in China, the tea
increased in popularity when the British cultivated the plant in India,
Sri Lanka, and Africa. First the leaf is spread out and left to wither
(wilt), losing some moisture, stiffness and much of its weight. Then
it's rolled, exposing essential oils to the air and starting the
oxidization process. When this is complete the leaf is heated to stop
the process, graded for quality and packed. Black teas are known for
their robust, full-bodied flavors of cocoa, earth, molasses, and honey.
Pu-er tea is aged, post-fermented, and often compressed into bricks.
Its name comes from the town of Pu'er in Southwestern China. Pu'ers
have a strong earthy taste that gains complexity over time. Some prized
pu'er teas are more than 50 years old and are very rare. Drunk for
centuries by the Chinese, pu'er is said to lower cholesterol, aid
digestion, and cure hangovers. Visit
Pu'er for more information.
Blooming tea goes by many common
names outside of China. Blossoming teas, flowering teas, art-teas,
hand-tied teas etc. All of these names are used to describe what is
referred to in China as 'GongYi Hua Cha'; literally 'Art Flower
Tea'. The concept that such teas have suddenly jumped into existence
is very incorrect as this tea-making art form has existed in many of
the fine tea-rooms in China for a very long time. A specific date of
blossoming tea's beginning is not known but we can be certain that
it is at least several decades ago, and possibly several hundred
years during the Ming Dynasty.
Production of the blooming teas begins always in the
early spring in Fujian province. This is the same Fujian province that
is famous for amazing amounts of green tea and especially oolong tea
production. The tea buds are picked young and early before they open
usually in mid-march to the beginning of April. This allows each picked
bud to contain both the unopened bud and the small tea leaf, both
glistening green and covered with white downy hairs. The leaves are then
sorted, only the finest whole leaves and buds making the grade, while
the rest get moved to further processing for low grade export teas and
the tea dust and smaller particles reserved for tea bag production. The
tea leaves which pass are again sorted for purpose, some immediately
going to the blossom artists and most go to another part of the farm to
be scented with certain flowers like jasmine, osmanthus and
chrysanthemum by having the tea leaves and flower stacked onto multiple
layers for several days or more. Finally after this the leaves are moved
to be hand-tied into tea blossoms.
The flowers used
in the tea blossoms are also picked young and fresh so the
flavors are delicate and strong and the shape unbroken and
undamaged. The leaves and flowers are tied together by skilled
tea artists according set guidelines in order to achieve a
uniform flower and tea arrangement for each blossom and
especially to keep consistency.