Did you know the name of the tea plant is Camellia Sinensis?
So how does one plant produce so many tea types?
The main styles of tea are produced by altering or processing the shape and chemistry of the leaf.
Tea processing is basically five steps:
- Withering (allowing the leaves to wilt and soften);
- Rolling (to shape the leaves and wring out the juices);
- Oxidizing; and
- Firing or Drying
Oxidizing is the step that defines the categories of tea. It occurs when the enzymes in the tea leaf interact with oxygen, after the cell walls are broken apart. This can happen quickly, through rolling, cutting, or crushing, or more slowly through the natural decomposition of the leaf.
There are five main styles of tea
White tea is essentially unprocessed tea. The name is derived from the fuzzy white “down” that appears on the unopened or recently opened buds, the newest growth on the tea bush. White tea is simply plucked and allowed to wither dry. Some minimal oxidation does happen naturally, as it can take a full day or two to air dry the tea leaves. This is why some white teas, like the classic White Peony, show leaves of differing colours – white, green, and brown. White teas produce very pale green or yellow liquor and are the most delicate in flavour and aroma.
Green tea is plucked and withered and goes through kill green (steamed, roasted or pan fired). Green tea produces a green or yellow colour, and flavours range from toasty, grassy to fresh steamed greens with mild, vegetable-like astringency.
Oolong tea utilizes all of the five basic steps, with rolling and oxidizing done repeatedly. Oolong is a complex category because it’s so broad: it’s most simply described as half-way between green and black, and that’s quite accurate. These teas are anywhere from 8% oxidized to 80% (measured roughly by looking at the amount of brown or red on the leaf while the tea is being made). The leaves are rolled, then allowed to rest and oxidize for a while. Then they’ll be rolled again, then oxidized, over and over. Often, gentle heat is applied to slow the enzymes down a bit. Over the course of many hours (sometimes days), what is created is a beautiful layering or “painting” of aroma and flavour. Oolongs typically have much more complex flavour than Green or White teas, with very smooth, soft astringency and rich in floral or fruity flavours.
Black tea also utilizes all five basic steps, but is allowed to oxidize more completely. Also, the steps are followed in a very linear form; they are generally not repeated on a single batch. The tea is completely made within a day. The brewed liquor of a Black tea ranges between dark brown and deep red. Black teas offer the strongest flavours and, in some cases, the greatest astringency. Black teas are the only style of tea regularly consumed with milk.
Pu’erh tea first undergoes a process similar to Green tea, but before the leaf is dried, it’s aged either as loose-leaf tea or pressed into dense cakes and decorative shapes. Pu’erh is a fermented tea (and the use of ‘fermentation’ is correct here, although not the type which produces alcohol). Depending on the type of pu’erh being made (either dark “ripe” pu’erh or green “raw” pu’erh), the aging process lasts anywhere from a few months to several years. Very old, well-stored pu’erhs are considered “living teas”, just like wine. They are prized for their earthy, woodsy or musty aroma and rich, smooth taste.
THE OVVIO WAY
Our ‘flavoured tea blends’ include flowers, pieces of dried fruit, herbs or spices that are added to the tea leaves, to create a naturally flavoured caffeinated green or black tea. An example includes our No: 82 Autumn Apple Organic Tea, a blend of Orange pekoe black tea leaf, Cinnamon bark, Apple pieces and Clove bud. Extracts are derived by extracting the essential oils from the leaves, fruits, flowers or other parts of a plant. They act as natural flavouring agents. An example is our No: 2 Earl grey Organic Tea which is blended with pure bergamot essential oil, derived from the rind of the Calabrian citrus fruit called bergamot. Note: many Earl grey teas are made with artificial or nature identical flavours. Scented teas are created by exposing the tea to an aroma. This is the case with natural, non flavoured Jasmine Tea and Lapsang Souchong Tea. Jasmine flowers are layered between green tea leaves and Lapsang Souchong is scented by being exposed to the smoke of burning pine root.
What we don’t use – Nature identical flavouring agents also known as:
Natural flavours: These are obtained from natural ingredients with the aid of chemical processing. They are created to taste natural, they are less expensive to produce and they offer a consistent flavour. The problem is that they are a highly processed ingredient.
Artificial flavours: These are created synthetically and do not exist in nature. These include tea blends that smell like a food or experience or surroundings.
Note: Teas, tisanes, infusions and herbal teas can all be created with a blend of inclusions as well as extracts or processed flavours so it is best to read the ingredients and educate our customers to do the same.