Learn the 6 Types Tea
Besides water, tea is the most consumed beverage in the world. So what is it? All true tea comes from the same plant - Camellia Sinensis. The difference in the processing of the leaves is what determines the type of tea. Here we will briefly cover the main tea types.
White tea is the least processed of all the types of teas. The tea leaves are picked then immediately dried on bamboo trays, usually outside in the sun. This withering and drying process stops the tea leaves from oxidizing. The result is tea leaves that resemble the state they were in when they were picked from the tea plant. White tea in general has a honey-like flavor and thick texture and is loaded with health benefits. For some white teas just the buds of the plant are picked. The buds contain lots of polyphenols and usually are covered in very fine white hairs. The four main types of white tea are:
Bai Hao Yin Zhen (Silver Needle) - highest quality - only buds
Bai Mu Dan / Pai Mu Tan (White Peony) - 2nd highest quality - buds and 1 or 2 leaves
Gong Mei (Tribute Eyebrow) - lower grade - mostly leaves
Shou Mei (Longevity Eyebrow) - mostly leaves
Green tea is an unoxidized tea. When tea (or any plant, fruit, or vegetable) is picked enzymes in the leaf begin to react with the oxygen in the air and cause it to brown. Think of a banana ripening. Once the tea leaves are picked and withered on bamboo trays, they are heated to denature, or deactivate, the enzymes responsible for causing oxidation. This process called "fixing" can be done by pan-firing, baking, or steaming the leaves. Since green teas usually consist of a combination of buds and young leaves, they contain a high amount of polyphenols such as catechins including EGCG, which have anti-cancer properties and numerous other health benefits. Since there are many kinds of green tea, the taste varies dramatically from being bright and grassy to more earthy and roasted.
Black tea is fully oxidized. Once the tea leaves are picked and withered, they are either rolled or put through a process called "crush, tear, curl" (CTC) to encourage the natural oxidation process. The latter process is usually done for lower quality commodity teas. Oxidation is when the enzymes in the leaves react with the oxygen in the air and cause the leaves to brown. The leaves are never heated and "fixed" to stop oxidation, so they are fully oxidized. Black teas offer similar health benefits to green and white teas. During oxidation some of the catechins are converted to other polyphenols called catechol tannins, specifically theaflavins and thearubigins that also have health boosting properties. Black tea is typically thought of as having the most caffeine, however green and white teas have a high amount of caffeine in the buds. Caffeine content depends on the brewing method. Since black tea is traditionally brewed at a higher temperature for more time, this would lead to more caffeine content in the tea liquor.
Oolong tea is partially oxidized. The tea leaves are picked, withered, then rolled and/or bruised to encourage partial oxidation. This process varies by the type of oolong tea and the individual tea craftsman. There is a lot of ability to alter the flavor of the tea in the processing methods which may include rolling, shaking, drying, wrapping and squeezing the leaves in cloth, and repeating these processes multiple times. Once the leaves are oxidized as desired, the leaves are then heated in the same way green tea leaves are to "fix" the leaves and stop further oxidation. Oolong teas range from being slightly oxidized and resembling green teas to being very dark brown and almost fully oxidized like black teas. The picking of oolong tea leaves usually consists of larger more mature leaves rather than the buds and young leaves used for green and white teas.
Yellow tea is very similar to green tea. It is picked, withered, and fixed like green tea, however it then goes through a labor intensive wrapping process. The leaves are wrapped in either thick paper or cloth and left to sit for hours. It's then unwrapped and pan fired again before it gets wrapped again. This process continues for up to three days. The wrapping process removes most of the grassy flavor of some green teas while maintaining green tea's health benefits.
Pu'erh (pronounced poo-air) tea is a fermented tea. It is also known as post-fermented tea and dark tea. There are two types of pu'erh teas: raw (un-cooked, Sheng) and ripe (cooked, Shou). Both pu'erhs are processed like green teas, but the difference is that ripe pu'erhs are heaped into piles in special warehouses. Bacteria in the environment then causes the leaves to start to ferment. The temperature and humidity is carefully monitored during this time, and the tea heaps are flipped and stirred as necessary. For both raw and ripe pu'erhs the leaves can be left loose or shaped into cakes, bricks, or bird's nests "Tou Cha". The tea is then placed in a warm moist environment where the fermentation and aging process continues. Pu'erh teas need to ferment for at least 3 month, and after 5 years they start to develop their unique taste. Most experts agree that longer aging of pu'erhs yields a better tea with more complexity.