Explaining the Tea Types and their Unique Characteristics
With massive amounts of popularity throughout a number of cultures in our world, tea is not only great for your health, but it provides a ritualistic and grounding experience that can only be derived from an act as down to earth and as rejuvenating as crafting your next cup of aromatic tea. In this article, we are going to go over the different types of tea leaves used to make the hot, tasty, and healing drink of which Americans consume more than any other liquid second only to water.
But before we get into the different kinds of tea leaves, and the tea leaves that are most commonly consumed, it is important to first understand exactly what tea is, and the difference between ‘true’ tea and herbal tea; two concoctions that at first glance appear the same, but in reality are entirely different.
What is true tea?
True tea comprises the five main categories of tea that are all derived from the SAME plant, known as “Camellia sinensis”. In order to be defined a true tea, the leaves must be from this plant and this plant alone, and the five subsets of true tea from said plant include:
- Black Tea
- Green Tea
- Oolong Tea
- White Tea
- Pu’erh Tea
Herbal tea is crafted using the same techniques as true tea, by boiling the plant in water so that the flavors and healing benefits are then extracted for us to consume through drinking, but the difference between the two is that herbal tea is derived from plants that are not Camellia sinensis.
Instead, herbal tea is made by utilizing the leaves, flowers, roots, and stems of any other botanical, especially herbs and fruits.
To put it simply, if your tea is not one of the five true teas, then it is actually an herbal tea. If you would like more information regarding herbal tea, including how to make herbal tea, the differences between a concoction and a decoction, as well as some immune boosting tea recipes, then enjoy this article here to gain a new found understanding of exactly what herbal tea is.
And now for the good stuff!
What are the differences between the five types of true teas?
Although all five true teas are derived from the same exact plant and that plant only, they are actually very different in nature. Of course, the most noticeable difference between them is foremost taste, but there are also unique traits in regards to caffeine levels, health benefits, and much more.
There can be a wide variety of tea types from the same Camellia sinensis plant because of the different areas and climates of the world from which the leaves are harvested, as well as the two main processes that differentiate the true teas of which is known as
Tea leaf oxidation refers to the ways in which oxygen interacts with the enzymes of the leaves as the plant ferments and dries, which results in the compounds, colors, and characteristics of the dried tea leaves. By processing the leaves with unique methods of oxidation and fermentation, this results in the final product that is one of one of the five types of true teas!
Black tea is one of the most popular true teas to exist worldwide, and it is especially popular among the European and American cultures, whereas green tea is still the star of the show in China.
Oxidation of Black Tea
The main difference between black tea and other types of true tea is the fact that the leaves are allowed to oxidize to their absolute entirety when crafting black tea.
The leaves are withered as soon as they are harvested so that all of the moisture is dried out of the plant. Once withered, the leaves are then rolled so that the body of the leaf is opened up and bruised to allow oxygen to interact with the enzymes.
Once the oxidation process has begun, in order to be deemed black tea, the leaves must sit until they are completely oxidized into a brown color. Once fully oxidized, the final step of crafting black tea is ‘firing’ the now brown leaves with heat so that no more oxidation can occur, and the final product is then created.
Black Tea Taste and Color
Generally, the color of a brewed black tea is described as a deep red, a light amber, a subtle brown, or of course almost black.
Black Tea tends to be very rich in taste, with a strong profile that stands out from the other true tea counterparts by being more nutty, malty, and bold when compared to the lighter and more ‘fresh’ tasting leaves of green tea.
Although always typically rich, the specific flavor of black tea can be unique, as although all black teas are crafted with the same general techniques, not all black teas are entirely the same! They can vary in flavor and consistency because of where the Camellia sinensis plant was harvested, the specific type of Camellia sinensis plant, and exactly how long the oxidation process is allowed to go on.
The difference of such will mean that some black teas are going to be a lot more dark and strong while others will be just a bit sweeter, embodying more flavors of fruit.
Some tastes have been compared to the flavors of chocolates and dates, while others have been compared to fruits like cherry and raisins.
Health Benefits of Black tea:
- Promotes Cardiovascular health
- Is known to have cancer-reducing properties
- Full of antioxidants
- Enhances Digestion
- Promotes Healthy Skin & Hair
- Increases Energy Levels
And much more, so enjoy your next cup of black tea with the knowledge that not only is it incredibly tasteful, but it is also extremely healing for your mind, body, and soul.
Oolong Tea can be described as somewhat of a ‘middle man’ between green and black tea, as it is partially fermented and oxidized. Considered to be one of the highest quality types of true teas, Oolong tea is crafted in a process that requires a careful tea master and a practiced eye to create this highly sought after delicacy.
Oxidation of Oolong Tea
Oolong teas are partially oxidized to an extent that is more than green tea but less than black tea. It is essential that the leaves are harvested only when they are at their peak, and then they are allowed to wither from the rays of the sun.
Once dry, these leaves are then placed in a bamboo basket where the tea master will very lightly and delicately shake and scratch the leaves. This will open up their surface ever so slightly so that oxygen can interact with the enzymes while the center of the leaf remains green and intact.
The Oxidation process is carefully monitored and halted once the leaves reach a light brown color. This takes more time than green tea but much less time than black tea. Once oxidized to the desired extent, the Oolong tea is then roasted at high temperatures to prevent any further oxidation.
Oolong Tea Color and Taste
The colors of Oolong tea vary more than any other type of true tea. This is because there is a lot of room within the time frame of oxidation, and because the leaves can oxidize anywhere from 8%-80%, the color range of Oolong teas can be anything from light brown, slightly green, orange, and golden.
As well as color variations, Oolong teas provide a multitude of flavors depending on the specific Oolong tea. The flavors can essentially be the same of those that are used when describing green or black tea, but oftentimes they are a lot more intricate because of the careful and dedicated process of which is required to craft Oolong.
And by intricate, I mean that the tea will showcase a flavor that is so in depth it can be hard to pinpoint exactly where it is arising from or what it can be compared to, such as the skill sets required to define the flavors of wine.
From lightly creamy and sweet to slightly earthy and bold, Oolong teas will provide you with a flavor pallet that will always spark a fire of interest when your taste buds begin delving into this lovely liquid.Health Benefits of Oolong Tea:
- Similar to those of green tea
- Promotes a healthy heart
- Enhances brain function
- Great for dental health
- Combats heart disease/obesity
And much more goodness all packed into just one tasty tea!
Of all the five true teas, white tea is the least processed kind of tea! It is as close as you can get to being defined as unoxidized. Made from the young tea leaves that often exhibit white hairs that give this tea its name, white tea provides a unique taste experience for both new and aged tea consumers.
Oxidation of White Tea
When the leaves of Camellia sinensis are young and fresh, usually in springtime, they are harvested to craft white tea. These young leaves are then dried naturally in carefully monitored environments using no artificial heat, giving white tea the characteristic of being unprocessed; and because of such, it is often defined as being one of the healthiest tea options compared to all others.
By drying the leaves as early as possible, this inhibits oxidation immediately, and results in extremely delicate and flavorful tea leaves that have not been altered due to oxygen interference. So yes, although the air will oxidize to a very slight extent when compared to all others, white tea is essentially protected from this as much as possible immediately upon harvest of the young tea buds.
White Tea Color and Taste
As mentioned earlier, the young buds of the Camellia sinensis plant maintain little white hairs that give the tea leaves their usually pale, yellow appearance. The liquid itself is also usually very light and watery, often just a subtle shade of yellow or white; a color as delicate as the tea itself.
The taste of white teas are some of the most intricate and beloved tastes in the entire world of tea. White tea is rare, and the taste from it are also considered to be rare and delicate. They are extremely aromatic, and the bright big smells pass straight into the flavor pallet.
White tea is often sweet and compared to the delicate flavors of flowers, honey, vanilla, melon, and other carefully savory yet delicious comparisons. Think of a vanilla dessert decorated in edible flowers, and that is what you can expect when you enjoy your next cup of white tea.
Health Benefits of white tea
- The same benefits of black and green tea, and also:
- Combats skin aging
- Protects against osteoporosis
Pu’erh tea, although sometimes considered a type of green tea (there are debates on whether there are four or five main types of true teas), undergoes a process that is unique enough to define itself as a standalone tea that deserves the attention of all others.
Oxidation of Pu’erh Tea
Pu’erh tea is minimally oxidized, just like green tea, which is why it is often considered a type of green tea. This means that the tea leaves are dried very quickly after harvest so that very little oxygen interaction occurs. And although this is very similar to green tea, there is a type of ‘aged pu’erh tea’ that stands completely alone.
Aged pu’erh tea is like wine, and the term aged refers to the amount of time that the leaves sit before they are consumed. This can be anywhere from one to fifteen years, and the more time results in higher quality and increased rarity of the tea.
While the leaves age, they undergo a very natural form of oxidation from the air. This natural oxidation is what sets pu’erh tea apart from green tea, and attributes to the fact that tea lovers have defined it as its own type of true tea.
Color and Taste of Pu’erh Tea
The colors of pu’erh mimic those of green teas when they are not aged, and the colors of black teas when they are aged. The longer the tea leaves sit, the darker and more oxidized they become, resulting in darker brown and red leaf and tea colors.
The taste as well does the same thing, and the longer the tea has aged, the more earthy and bold it will become. Sometimes a really dark and healing pu’erh tea will be described as tasting like a mushroom.
High quality teas will use these interesting tastes to their advantage, resulting in a flavor experience that is unique only to pu’erh tea. Distinctive, rich, and full bodied.
Low quality ones, however, can taste too earthy, sometimes like mud or dirt, and because of such people sometimes steer away from drinking this type of tea.
Health Benefits of Pu’erh Tea
- Similar to all other teas
- Is especially helpful in aiding digestion- often consumed after a large meal
- Great for enhancing weight loss
Places to Source High Quality Tea
When drinking tea, in order to get the best experience possible for both your taste buds and your health, it is imperative to locate the highest quality suppliers so that your tea is fair trade and all organic, free from man made pesticides and entirely natural.
If you are looking for a great place to browse tea online, try checking out these excellent resources:
1. Mountain Rose Herbs offers a wide variety of herbs to craft herbal tea, and is also a retailer of some extremely tasteful true teas.
2. Adagio Teas provides you with a fun and engaging shopping experience that has all things tea, including tea ware and a wide range of loose leaf teas that combine herbal tea with the true teas within their specialty curated selection.
3. Camellia Sinensis is simple and straightforward, a purveyor of high quality tea making goods and trinkets as well as a carefully selected tea collection.