The Tea Plant
Believe it or not, all six families of tea (white, green, yellow, oolong, black, and pu’erh) start their life from the same plant, Camellia Sinensis. There are two variations of this plant (var. sinensis and var. assamica) and countless cultivars. The cultivar, terroir, and time of harvest all play a roll in the flavor profile of the final product however, the six families of teas are mostly differentiated after the leaf has been harvested and the processing begins. Read on to learn about how each tea stands out from the rest.
White teas are the least processed and least oxidized of all teas, giving the leaf a light green color, the liquor a pale silver to golden hue, and the taste a delicate sweet floral mixed with warm grassy notes for a full, round mouth feel. Because of the minimal oxidation, white teas are very smooth to drink with little to no tanic aftertaste. White teas traditionally hail from the Fujian Province in China, however their growth in popularity has brought production to other parts of China, India, and Sri Lanka.
Green teas are as close to the fresh leaf as teas come. The leaf undergoes careful, delicate processing that preserves the green color and lends a strong vegetal taste to the liquor. Of all teas, green teas contain the highest level of L-Theanine, an amino acid that promotes relaxation without sedation. This category of teas is primarily produced throughout China and Japan, with a signature tea coming from each region. An entire subcategory of green tea that has exploded in popularity in the Western world recently is Matcha. Matcha is a Japanese green tea that is slowly stone ground into a very fine powder. There is an endless variety of green teas. We encourage you to find your favorites!
The tea master’s poem, Seven Cups, describes the steeping of a single serving of tea seven times and the different flavors, emotions, and thoughts that come with each infusion. The tea featured in this poem was an oolong tea. Oolong teas undergo a unique series of processing steps that give them deeply complex flavor profiles that develop with each infusion. These teas were originally produced in China, however Tiawan has since become known for its exquisite oolongs. Some oolongs are so prized they are sold directly into private reserves and never make it to market or leave the country. Oolong teas commonly exhibit flavor profiles of roasted chesnuts, carmel, and sweet plum.
Black teas are the most familiar teas to the western world. However typically what you find are “fannings”, the tiny bits of tea leaves left over from the processing of higher quality teas, packaged in small tea bags. These teas have given true black tea a bad reputation for being bitter, highly astrigent, and lacking flavor. A high quality black tea, brewed at the correct temperature and the correct time will give you a hearty brew with malty and spicy flavors. Black teas are the most oxidized of all the teas which gives the leaf a deep red to dark brown color and an amber to deep red liquor. Black teas are produced from the high Indian mountains of Darjeeling to the low lying forests of Sri Lanka and in the ancient tea gardens of Anhui and Yunnan Provinces of China.
Puer (poo-air), also spelled puerh, pu er, pu’er and pu-erh, are a class of teas unique to the Yunnan Province in China. These teas are traditionally aged teas that undergo a fermentation process while they age. Often times these teas are pressed into tea cakes for long-term storage. Puer tea that has not been oxidized or fermented prior to aging is referred to as sheng puer. You will also see the terms raw, unripe, or uncooked puer being used. The second type of puer is shou puer, also referred to as ripe or cooked puer. Shou puer undergoes a fermentation process prior to final pressing and storage. Low quality shou puer can often times have an unpleasant funk so it is important to seek out the high quality puer teas. Teas made in the style of puer teas but not originating from the Yunnan Province are referred to as Dark teas.
Herbal tea is a little bit of a misnomer given that the term “tea” strictly refers to the drink made by steeping the leaf of the Camellia Sinensis plant in water. In the Western world, the term “tea” has grown to refer to any herb, leaf, root, flower, or spice steeped in water. Because of the wide array of possible ingredients, herbal teas offer a breadth of flavor large enough to satisfy any palate. Herbal teas are often sited for their multitude of health benefits as well. Whether you simply desire pleasant flavor profiles or if you’re searching for a specific health benefit, there is an herbal tea out there for you!
Everyone's had a badly brewed cup of tea. It doesn't really make you want to go back for more! In hopes of extinguishing poorly brewed tea from this world we've put together a quick and dirty free brewing guide for the most common types of tea you can download, print, and tape on your fridge, take to the office, or keep in your wallet. Print one for yourself, one for your best friend, even one for that person that walks her dog in front of your house every morning. We're in this fight together!