16 December 2008

Types of Tea

I love going to a nice hotel for afternoon tea. They offer you a tea menu and ask what type of tea you'd like. Hmmm. Who knew there were so many? Here's a basic summary of the most popular types of tea.

NOTE: Soil and climate conditions dramatically affect the taste of leaves from different parts of the world. The way the tea is processed also makes a dramatic different in the final taste. I find it fascinating that with all of these combinations, there are literally thousands of different teas produced from the single species, camellia sinensis.

Even though all teas come from only one species, there are three major varietals:

The China – Small leaves and generally thrives at higher altitudes.

The India (or Assam) – Larger leaves and generally thrives at lower altitudes.

The Hybrid – Kind of in-between the Chinese and Indian. From the beverage snob, Jason.

Black Tea
As with all the different types of tea this comes from the same tea plant whose Latin name is Camellia Sinensis. What makes the tea black and gives it the distinct tea taste is the longer fermentation time of the leaves which causes them to oxidize much more than with green tea.

This oxidation not only causes a stronger flavour but also increases the levels of caffeine in the tea.

Although known as black tea in the West, that’s not the case in the East - especially China. Where it is known as ‘Crimson Tea’ (hong-cha in Chinese and kocha in Japanese). Which as any regular drinker will note is a more apt description of the teas colour especially when first the water and tea meet.

Green Tea
This is most popular in the east and is often considered a healthier alternative to black tea (though not entirely true). It has undergone much less oxidisation than black tea. It was China where green tea as originally consumed and it’s often mixed with Jasmine to produce Jasmine tea. The varieties of green tea are just as numerous as for black tea.

Oolong Tea
This has similarities to both black and green tea which isn’t surprising as the tea leaves of this variety are semi-oxidised. The leaves are either rolled into long curls or into small balls (similar to Gunpowder Tea - one of my favourites). The name in Chinese means Black Dragon Tea and the origins of the name are oft disputed. This tea is traditionally brewed to be strong and bitter to taste which will often have a slightly sooty aroma and taste due to many varieties having been roasted on charcoal.

White Tea
This tea is a speciality tea in parts of China and is produced from the youngest and freshest buds and leaves of the tea plant. White tea is fast-dried and so doesn’t have any of the oxidation of the other teas. This results in a much lighter and fresher flavour. White tea as a result also has a much lower caffeine content than any other tea - including green tea.

White tea has been found to have many more of the good nutrients famed for their health benefits in the other teas. These include antioxidant catechins, theobromine and gallic acid.

Brewing white tea well can be difficult for the uninitiated and is very dependent on the quality and water temperature used. One serving of 1-2 tsp can be used for 3 brews with the first brew being steeped for 3-6 minutes. Later brews can take up to 10 minutes to allow the flavours to fully develop. From The Wonders of Tea

To brew tea properly, see Jason's guide on 2BASnob. or read George Orwell's essay.

What's your preference?

Irish Breakfast Tea English Breakfast Tea Earl Grey Tea
Sencha Green Tea Dragon Well Tea Silver Needle White Tea Wu-yi Tea


chero said...

I'm reading through your lovely article with the growing desire to click my jug and brew a hot cup.

So, I've pulled out a Twinings sampler box you've given me. I have Earl Grey, Prince of Wales, Darjeeling, and Ceylon still available. It's 9:04 and I'm thinking I should brew...Prince of Wales. What do you think?

Angela said...

Ahhhhhh, I jsut finsihed my cuppa of Tetley with a dash of milk. I had a headache and a funny tummy but Ron Weasley's mum was right....it does help one feel better!

Rachael said...

When I was a child, there was just tea (almost always served with milk and without sugar) - different brands, but advertising was clumsy at getting any genuine difference across (not actually sure there WAS any genuine difference at the time. I'm not a tea connoisseur, but I do clearly remember a friend serving a very pale tea that she had been given when at a conference in China - it was just exquisite and I would have stolen the box if I'd had the gumption! Apparently very expensive to buy - I'm now thinking maybe it was a White Tea, certainly very different from any Green Tea I've ever tasted.

Scott said...

I only drink tea when my wife prepares it... so whatever she does to make it taste good is what I like. To my knowledge this means adding a good amount of sugar and a dab of milk.

As for type, I know she loves Assam but can't find a decaf version, earl grey pops up from time to time too.

Nige said...

Hey, have you tried the tea from T2 shop in Botany. Fantastic selection.

Also online at www.t2tea.co.nz