All types of tea begin with the leaf from a single plant, Camellia sinensis. Tea is the processed leaves of this plant. Camellia sinensis is an evergreen shrub indigenous to Southeast Asia that thrives in subtropical and highland tropic regions. The leaves and buds, and sometimes even the stems, of Camellia sinensis are harvested and processed in various fashions to produce the range of tea varieties available today. This includes black, oolong, green, white, and pu-erh.
With the popularity of herbal infusions in today’s marketplace (such as chamomile, magnolia, peppermint, etc.), a whole gamut of brews have come to be referred to as “tea.” Technically speaking, however, only those beverages derived from the plant Camellia sinensis should be referred to as such. To distinguish them from true teas, herbal teas are often referred to as herbal infusions or tisanes.
Americans consume more than 50 billion servings of tea annually – 85% of which is on ice!
Tea Catagories: The basic categories of tea, and their more common variations, are described below. Popular herbal infusions (or tisanes), have been included as well.
Black Tea: Fully oxidized during manufacture, black tea has dark brown/black leaves. Notable types of Indian black tea include: Darjeeling, Assam, and Nilgiri. Varieties such as Yunnan and Keemun come to us from China. Ceylon (Sri Lanka) is also known for excellent black teas.
Green Tea: Unoxidized, green tea maintains the leaves’ green color through processing. Brew made from these delicate leaves is often vegetative. Most green teas are produced in China and Japan, both of which are known for excellent, yet very distinct, green tea manufacture. Japan uses steam to halt oxidation of its green tea during manufacture, while China uses pan or kiln firing.
Oolong Tea: Oolong tea is only partially oxidized in the manufacturing process. Because of this, the color, flavor and aroma of oolongs range widely between that of green and black teas. Formosa (Taiwan) is renowned for the quality of its oolongs.
White Tea: After harvesting, white tea is simply withered and dried (similar to an herb). Occasional baking and firing is used for particular styles of white tea. As a result, white teas offer a wide range of flavors, but they are generally subtle tea drinking experiences. These teas originated in China’s Fujian province, and continue to be produced in limited quantities in only a few parts of the world to this day.
Pu-erh Tea: Pu-erh, a city located in the Yunnan Province of China, is the namesake of pu-erh tea, the most famous subset of Chinese heicha (dark tea). Produced only in China, pu-erh processing is a closely guarded secret. Properly cared for, pu-erh tea is actually alive as enzymes in the tea are allowed to ferment and age, greatly enhancing the tea’s flavor over time. Pu-erh is the only “aged” tea, and can be fully-oxidized like black tea or unoxidized like green tea. Qing Cha (sometimes referred to as “raw” or “green” pu-erh) is the oldest and most famous version of pu-erh processing. Shu Cha (“ripe” or “cooked” pu-erh) is an accelerated version of Qing Cha that was developed in 1972 to help meet consumer demand. Both methods can produce an excellent tea that improves in value and taste with time, and can be finished as loose leaf tea or pressed into shapes.
Herbal Tea (Tisanes): Tisanes, Herbal Tea, or Herbal Infusions are brews made using botanical ingredients other than Camellia sinensis, such as herbs, fruit, and flowers. Peppermint and chamomile are common examples of herbal teas.The South African herb rooibos is an herbal tea of particular note these days. Yerba Mate is also a well known herbal tea. From a small tree related to the holly plant, native to the subtropical highlands of Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina.
A state in northeastern India, known for its robust, high-quality black teas characterized by their strong, full, bright, red infusions and smooth, round, malty flavor. Tea is indigenous to the Assam region as well as to some parts of China. Also known as Irish breakfast tea.
Bancha is a type of Japanese green tea. It is harvested from the second flush of sencha between summer and autumn, giving it a lower market grade. Baancha is produced from the bottom part of tea leaves, large and thick leaves that produce a slightly less aromatic, more robust and somewhat more astringent brew than sencha. The tea renders a light-bodied golden infusion with a pleasant roasted note and creamy mouthfeel.
Commercial Examples: Yoda Green Tea Ale | Port Townsend Brewing Co.
Black tea is green tea that has been fully oxidized by fermentation. Black tea is the most common form of tea drunk worldwide. After plucking and gathering, the leaves are spread out in the air, and then hand-tossed until they become soft and flaccid, when they are roasted for a few minutes, and rolled. They are then exposed to the air for a few hours in a soft and moist state, finally withered or dried slowly over a low heat charcoal fire.
Ceylon, the colonial name for the island of Sri Lanka, which gives its name to blends of black teas grown on the island. The country converted to its original name in 1972 when it became a Sovereign Republic in the Commonwealth of England. The black tea from the mountainous interior of the country has smooth flavor, medium body and a slightly fruity-honey finish. It is a favorite among black tea drinkers as a breakfast or afternoon tea.
Commercial Examples: Ceylon Buddy | HopTop Brewery
Green tea is non-oxidized (unfermented) tea. Almost immediately after being picked, the leaves are heated or roasted to kill the enzymes that cause fermentation. They are heated to 100°C (Chinese) or steam-cooked (Japanese) for 30 seconds to 5 minutes in large, shallow pans over a wood fire. They are then hand-rolled or folded on a table into balls, sticks or coils. They are then dried on racks with circulating hot air for two or three minutes.
Hōjicha is a Japanese green tea that is produced by roasting bancha tea over high heat. It is distinctive from other Japanese green teas because it is roasted in a porcelain pot over charcoal at 150° C to prevent oxidation , as opposed to other Japanese teas which are steamed. The result is a robust, savory tea, reddish-brown in color, with a refreshing, smoky, roasted taste, a caramelized flavor profile and virtually no bitterness.
Commercial Examples: Green Tease | Caution Brewing Co.
The other red tea, honeybush (Cyclopia intermedia) is an herbal tea grown on the mountain slopes of the Longkloof District (Eastern Cape) of South Africa. Honeybush is similar in appearance and flavor to rooibos, but slightly sweeter. Honeybush’s yellow, orchid-like flowers emit a honey-like scent, and the leaves are harvested during flowering season. See rooibos below.
Brewed tea chilled with ice. Iced tea originated in 1904 at the World’s Fair in St. Louis. A visiting English tea merchant and plantation owner had intended to provide visitors with free hot tea samples. Due to the unusually hot weather, it was not of interest to most people. To promote sales, he asked a nearby ice cream vendor for some ice to cool off the hot tea, and the American iced tea tradition was born. Today, bottled iced tea sales make up about 80% of the U.S. tea market.
Commercial Examples: Sexy MotherPucker | Weyerbacher Brewing Co.
A strong black Indian tea infused with milk, sugar, and spices—commonly cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, peppercorn, clove and nutmeg (chocolate or licorice also can be used). In India the beverage is known as masala chai, or spiced tea: Masala is the Hindi word for spice, and chai is the Hindi word for tea. While chai is traditionally made from black tea, green tea chai and rooibos chai have become popular.
Commercial Examples: Bombay Berserker | Clown Shoes; Chai Tea Virginia Black Bear (2015) | Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery; (masala chai tea)Masala Milkshake | The Garden Brewery; Liu the Brave Chai Masala Stout 马萨啦乌啤| Great Leap Brewing (大跃啤酒)
A tea-growing area in the Darjeeling area of Northern India at the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, at altitudes up to 7,000 feet. The unique soil, microclimate and elevation and other factors produce a very high-quality black tea coveted by connoisseurs. Often called the Champagne of Indian teas, it is light in color and body with a delicate, muscatel flavor and flowery aroma and a crisp astringency reminiscent of semi-fermented oolong tea.
An aromatic, light-bodied black China tea treated with the oil of bergamot, a bitter Mediterranean orange, which gives the tea a distinctive citrus-scented aroma and taste. Earl Grey was the first scented tea to be drunk in the Western world: Some claim is the most popular black tea in the world. Earl Grey was blended for and named after Charles, the Second Earl Grey (1764-1845), by a Chinese mandarin when Earl Grey was prime minister of Britain.
A Japanese green tea mixed with toasted brown rice and popcorn. While widely popular today, it was originally drunk as an inexpensive option by poor Japanese peasants, since the rice and popcorn served as a filler and reduced the price of the tea. It has a toasty aroma and a complex, toasty flavor.
One of the best-known Chinese teas, jasmine can be a black, green, oolong or white tea scented with jasmine flowers. It is typically made with a base of pouchong tea. Jasmine tea is a specialty of Fu Zhou in Fujian Province, where it is scented five times between April and June with fresh jasmine blossoms—a fashion developed during the Ming Dynasty. This method instills the green leaves with attar of jasmine.
Labrador tea is a common name for three closely related plant species in the genus Rhododendron and the herbal tea made from their leaves. All three species are primarily wetland plants in the heath family, and used to make Labrador tea (Northern Labrador, bog Labrador, Western Labrador, and Trapper’s). The herbal tea has been a traditional favorite beverage among Athabaskan First Nations and Inuit people.
A black tea from the Wuyi Mountains of China’s Fujian province (it is also produced in Taiwan). The Fukienese term literally means “smoky little variety” or subvariety. People who love smoked foods and cigars will love this tea! today the tea is produced by withering the leaves over pine, cypress or cedar fires. The tea leaves are then placed in bamboo baskets and hung over smoky pine fires. This process provides the smoky taste and aroma.
Matcha is a powdered green tea used in the Japanese tea ceremony, or cha no yu. Matcha has a wonderful aroma, a creamy, silky froth and a rich, mellow taste. Matcha is made of ten-cha leaves, (gyokuro leaves) that have been not been rolled into needles but are steamed and dried. Unlike whole leaf tea, which is steeped, the leaves are then ground like flour—here, slowly and finely in a stone mill. The powder is whisked into water.
Commercial Examples: Kyoto Bakushu Matcha IPA (京都麦酒 抹茶) | Kizakura Co.
Mursalski tea (Sideritis scardica) also called Mountain tea, Ironwort, Shepherd’s Tea, and Bergtee, is an herb long used by the Rhodopean people, from the Rhodope Mountains, famous for their longevity and viability. Mursalski tea is made using the dried leaves and flowers of Sideritis plants (ironwort). Only two types of this plant are cultivated – Sideritis raeseri in Greece, and Sideritis scardica in Bulgaria; otherwise, these are gathered in the wild.
Commercial Examples: №7 Mursalski Red Ale | Ah! Brew Works (Balkan Beverage Corporation)
Oolong is semi-fermented tea that falls between green and black tea on the fermentation continuum. The flavor and caffeine content of oolong are also midway between black and green tea: While the tea looks similar to black tea, the taste is closer to the green tea, with a more rounded flavor and mouthfeel. Its taste and aroma range from fruity to floral. The long, blackish-green leaves inspired its name, which means “black dragon” in Chinese.
A special category of tea from Yunnan province, China and considered a medicinal tea in China. The base green tea for all forms of pu-erh is known as saiqing mao cha (sun-dried course tea). There are two types of pu-erh, shu pu-erh (ripened by pile-fermentation) and sheng pu-erh (raw, steamed and preserved without pile fermentation). The tea is usually compressed into shapes such as bricks, discs, birds’ nests or spinning tops.
Commercial Examples: Pu-Erh Tea Speedway Stout | AleSmith Brewing Co.
An herbal tea from Africa, pronounced roy-bus. Rooibos is an African slang word of Dutch origin meaning “red bush”. Rooibos leaves are harvested during the summer, then bruised and cut using tobacco cutting machines. At this stage, rooibos is still green tea. While some green rooibos is available, most is fermented in mounds of cut leaves, to enhance the flavor of the tea, then spread out to dry in the sunlight. Fermentation turns the tea red.
Rtanj tea comes from the Rtanj Mountain, situated in eastern Serbia, which grows on the Southeast slope of the mountain and is widely known for its healing properties, aroma and taste. Rtanj tea is actually from a rare plant Winter Savory (Satureja montana), Due to over harvesting, and harvesters pulling out the plants by their roots, The Institute for Nature Conservation of Serbia.
Commercial Example: Alien| Crow Brewery
A Japanese green tea noted for its delicate sweetness, mild astringency and flowery-green aroma, Sencha is what most people think of as “green tea.” The brew is typically golden yellow, with a grassy yet balanced flavor profile and a crisp finish. In Japan, Sencha means a quality green tea. Sen means to brew, steep, or boil, referring to a mixture of medicine or a healing drink. Cha is the Japanese and Chinese word for tea.
White tea is the most delicate tea, picked early in spring when the leaves are still in a bud and covered with fine, silvery white hair or down. The least processed tea, white teas contains only the buds and very young leaves of the tea plant. As the buds can be harvested for only a short period every spring, white tea the rarest and most costly of teas. Examples include Silver Needle, Snow Bud, White Peony, Drum Mountain White Cloud, Bai Mu Dan, and Pai Mu Tan.
Yerba Mate (Ilex paraguariensis) also known as mate chimarrão or cimarrón, is a traditional South American caffeine-rich infused drink. It is made by soaking the dried leaves and stems of the South American rainforest holly species Ilex paraguariensis in hot water. Ilex paraguariensis is a small tree native to the subtropical highlands of Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina. It Imparts a freshly cut grass like aroma with a bold mate character.