There are so very many different types of tea available these days. However, purists say there are only 4 true teas. A true tea is made from the leaves of the tea bush or Camellia sinensis. Herbal teas are infusions of the leaves, roots or buds of other plants like peppermint, chamomile, ginger and rosehip. Stay tuned for more on those next week…
The four true teas are:
White tea, comes from the buds and youngest leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. The beverage itself is not white or colourless but pale yellow and light in taste. It derives its name from the fine silvery-white hairs on the unopened buds of the tea plant, which gives the plant a whitish appearance.
White tea is the most subtle, delicate and complex of the teas because it is the least processed. The tea leaves are simply steamed and then dried. White tea has very little caffeine, 1-2% as much caffeine content as one cup of coffee.
To make green tea, the Camellia sinensis leaves are picked, dried, and heat-treated to prevent fermentation of the loose leaves. After moisture is removed through the heat treatment, the tea leaves are typically rolled and dried again before they are ready for use.
The heat treatment of green tea varies. For Chinese green tea the leaves are roasted in a hot roasting pan. This gives Chinese green tea a toasted taste and a yellow-green colour. In Japan, green tea is made by steaming the leaves. Japanese green tea has a grassy taste and is dark green in colour.
Black tea is a fully fermented variety of tea from the Camellia sinensis plant. To make black tea, the leaves are withered and rolled. They then undergo a long period of fermentation. Once fermented,the black tea leaves are fired. This natural oxidation process gives the the black tea its characteristic complex flavour and colour.
Oolong tea is similar to green tea. However, after the tea leaves are picked, they are intentionally bruised by shaking. While the leaves are drying, the edges of the bruised leaves turn reddish in color and the surface becomes light yellow due to fermentation and oxidation. After some fermentation period the tea leaves are pan fired to create a semi-fermented tea.
The fermentation period can vary producing slightly different results. Chinese oolong tea is fermented only long enough to achieve 12-20% fermentation and results in a lighter oolong. Taiwanese oolong teas are fermented for longer, resulting in 60-70% fermentation. This gives Taiwanese oolong tea a stronger flavour.
There is a lot of choice when it comes to tea. Wherever your preferences lie, it seems that tea is a beverage we can happily enjoy, as each of the different types of tea offers some health benefit. But that is a subject for another day….
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