Types of Teas
All tea comes from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. The five basic styles of tea are White, Green, Oolong, Black and Pu Erh. The styles of tea are derived from the way the tea leaves are processed.
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. That's it, really. If the weather isn't cooperating, the leaves may be put into a gentle tumble dryer on very, very low heat to assist. But the leaves are not rolled, shaped, etc.
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 colors (white, green and brown). White teas produce very pale green or yellow liquor and are the most delicate in flavor and aroma.
Green Tea is plucked, withered and rolled. It is not oxidized because during the rolling process, oxidation is prevented by applying heat. For green tea, the fresh leaves are either steamed or pan-fired (tossed in a hot, dry wok) to a temperature hot enough to stop the enzymes from browning the leaf. Just like blanching vegetables, really. Simultaneously, the leaves are shaped by curling with the fingers, pressing into the sides of the wok, rolling and swirling - countless shapes have been created, all of them tasting different.
The liquor of a green tea is typically a green or yellow color, and flavors range from toasty, grassy (pan fired teas) to fresh steamed greens (steamed teas) with mild, vegetable-like astringency.
Matcha is green tea manufactured and preparaed in a different way. Read more about matcha here!
Oolong Tea is one of the most time-consuming teas to create. It utilizes all of the five basic steps, with rolling and oxidizing done repeatedly. These teas are anywhere from 8% oxidized to 80% (that's measured roughly by looking at the amount of brown or red on the leaf while the tea is being made). The leaves are gently rolled, then allowed to rest and oxidize for a while. Then they'll be rolled again, then oxidized, over and over. Over the course of many hours (sometimes days), what is created is a beautiful layering or "painting" of aroma and flavor.
Oolongs typically have much more complex flavor than Green or White teas, with very smooth, soft astringency and rich in floral or fruity flavors. Because of their smooth yet rich flavor profiles, Oolongs are ideal for those new to tea drinking.
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 flavors and, in some cases, greatest astringency.
Black teas, particularly those from India and Sri Lanka, are regularly drunk with milk and sugar and are the most popular bases for iced tea.
Pu-erh Tea is a completely different art. It 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.
Herbal teas are not officially a tea, as it does not derive from the Camellia sinensis plant, but is instead an infusion or blend of leaves, fruits, bark, roots, or flowers of almost any edible, non-tea plant. The most common herbal teas are chamomile tea, hibiscus tea, peppermint tea, yerba maté, and red rooibos tea. In Europe, herb teas or blends are commonly known as tisanes.
The rooibos bush (pronounced: 'roy-bus') grows only in the Cederberg Mountain range of South Africa. It was first noted by botanist Carl Humberg in 1772. A century later, Benjamin Ginsberg, a Russian immigrant, realized its marketing potential, and in 1904 began offering it as an herbal substitute to tea. The difficulty of shipping tea during World War II boosted demand for Rooibos, which began to be referred to as 'Red Bush Tea', or simply 'Red Tea.' In Japan, Rooibos is believed to aid longevity, and is known as Long Life Tea.