a species of evergreen shrubs or small trees in the flowering plant family Theaceae whose leaves and leaf buds are used to produce tea.
The processing that it undergoes gives us a wide category of amazing teas, each with their own unique flavours and benefits for us to enjoy!
Tea types & blends
Around the globe, more than 10,000 different teas are made from different varietals of Camellia sinensis!
As with the production of wine, the character, colour, and flavour of each tea when it is brewed and served are determined by a long list of variable factors- location of the tea garden, altitude, climate, seasonal changes, the soil, the minerals in the soil, cultivation methods, processing methods and the way in which the tea is eventually brewed!
Teas are classified by the process used to make them and, although the names of the different categories- white, yellow, green, oolong, black and puerh, often tell us about the color and appearance of the dry leaf, it is the processing method that decides the category.
In China, these are defined as ‘red teas’ because of the coppery red colour of the liquor they yield.
The process for making black tea always involves four basic stages- withering, rolling, oxidation, and firing (drying).
The two major processing methods are ‘orthodox’ and ‘CTC’. The traditional orthodox method is still used in China, Taiwan, India and Sri Lanka and tends to treat the leaf with more respect and care than the modern CTC( cut, tear, curl) method.
The CTC method of manufacture is widely used in major tea producing countries to give a small-leafed tea that brews more quickly and gives a strong liquor- a characteristic that is desirable for the production of teabag blends.
The distinct black colour of the leaves and its recognizable aroma comes from the oxidation process and when brewed the liquor is reddish to golden red. The oxidation process also produces the tea chemicals known as theaflavins and thearubigins, which give black tea its beneficial properties.
Green teas are generally described as ‘unoxidized’ teas and like white tea, no chemical change occurs during their manufacture.
Processing of green tea involves a short period of withering to allow some of the water content in the leaf to evaporate, then steaming or pan firing, to de-enzyme the leaf.
Next comes a series of rollings and firings to shape and dry the leaf.
Green teas do not undergo ‘fermentation’ or oxidation as they are de-enzymed, the enzymes in tea leaves are what causes the leaf to oxidize with the oxygen in the air.
Famous green teas come from China and Japan and carry esoteric names such as gunpowder, Dragon Well, precious eyebrows, and Pearl Dew. The names are either attributable to classical myths surrounding the tea and the location from where it is picked or to sacred tea terminology handed down through the ages.
Oolong teas, known as partially or semi-oxidized are traditionally made in China and Taiwan.
Fresh tea leaves are allowed to wither until enough moisture evaporates for the leaf to become flaccid. To make black or Oolong tea, the withered leaf is rolled without firing. This turns it into a mass of bruised sticky leaves whose juices are now exposed to the air. When this green mass is spread out for the exposed juice to oxidize it turns brown.
In the case of black tea, the tea is oxidized completely before firing and arresting the oxidation process and in the case of oolong, the tea is partially oxidized before firing.
Obviously, the way to obtain the result desired is to control and stop the oxidation process at just the right moment.
White tea was originally named after the tiny white or silver hairs that cover the bud as it develops at the tip of each tea shoot. And, although some white teas are made from only the new leaf bud, other white teas are made from the new bud and one or two young open leaves. Once the new buds and baby leaves have been carefully gathered, they are dried in the sun or a warm drying room to remove moisture.
They are the least processed of all types of tea and when brewed they give a very pale, champagne coloured liquor that has a very light, soft, sweet, velvety flavour. The antioxidant content is said to be higher than in other types of tea.
Technically classified not as black but dark black tea, Pu-erh is China’s mystery tea.
Pu-erh tea is thought to have various positive health benefits and is consequently becoming more and more popular throughout the world. Named from the market town where the teas have been traded for hundreds of years, puerh teas have an earthy, moldy, mature character and are said to be excellent for the digestion, to ease stomach upsets, to help reduce cholesterol and help lose weight.
The hallmark of puerh tea is fermentation for long periods up to even 50 years!
After the tea is withered and pan-fired to kill the enzymes, it is rolled and kneaded and dried. The tea is then immediately steamed and compressed into round cakes or it may be kept loose and allowed to mature for a year or more. The maturation period allows a slow natural fermentation in naturally humid, well-ventilated conditions.
(This fermentation is different to the oxidation process that takes place in the manufacture of black and oolong teas)
The water content in the tea and the oxygen in the air slowly ferments the tea and turns the leaf from green to red and then to dark brown. The loose or compressed teas are then aged up to 50 years in controlled conditions to develop its mellow, smooth, sweet flavour.
Any type of tea- white, green, oolong, black or puerh- may be scented or flavoured with flowers, fruits, spices or herbs.
The additional flavourings, in the form of flower petals, pollen heads, dried herbs, dried fruit or spice are blended with the leaf at the end of the manufacturing process. Blenders also usually add flavouring oils, essences or granules to the mixture in order to ensure an even, enduring flavour and aroma.
One of the best-known flavoured teas is Earl Grey, which is made by blending black, green or white tea with the essential oil of begamot. Jasmine and mint are other popular and universally loved flavours. The possibilities are endless and today’s flavoured teas range from simple lemon tea to complex blends that include several different flowers and exotic spices. The ingredients that are added to the straight teas are commonly referred to as inclusions.
Some tea aficionados prefer to know that each time they buy a particular tea, for example, English Breakfast or Earl Grey, Ceylon Blend or Darjeeling, it will always taste the same and give the same strength and flavour.
It is for this reason that tea blendes and packers create blends to suit their customers. To do this they taste hundreds of teas every day in order to find the mix of up to 35 different teas that will give that standard flavour. The blenders taste teas from different estates, regions and seasons and then create a recipe using the selected teas. Once the right recipe for a particular blend has been decided the necessary teas are loaded into large funnel-shaped containers which feed a blending drum whee the teas are mixed thoroughly together.
Blends can easily be created to suit different tastes, different times of the day and different foods. Successful blending is usually the result of experimentation and tasting, trial and error.