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.