Major Varieties of Tea
While all tea comes from the same plant, the Camellia sinensis, there exist hundreds of kinds of teas, with their own individual appearance, taste, and aroma. Like wine or coffee, every harvest of tea will vary year to year due to changes in climate, rainfall, and other seasonal conditions. Thus, tea from the same plantation or garden may taste very different from one year to the next. Moreover, a particular tea gains much of its individual character from how the leaves are cultivated and processed. Please download our PDF to learn more.
White tea undergoes the least processing of all teas. Traditionally cultivated in China, white tea was picked only a few days out of the year, when a white down, known as bai hao, appeared on the tender shoots. The tea shoots are allowed to wither then dry to prevent oxidization. This process is a delicate one, requiring strict attention from the tea makers. Nowadays, other tea growing regions as Darjeeling and Sri Lanka have begun to cultivate white tea, in an effort to capitalize off white tea's growing popularity. Please download our PDF to learn more.
Because they are unoxidized, green teas keep their vital color. To prevent oxidization, the leaves are heat processed to eliminate the enzyme responsible for oxidization. In China, this is generally done by roasting or pan-firing the leaves, while the Japanese generally accomplish this by steaming the leaves at a high temperature. Each process tends to bring out a more particular flavor from the tea leaves. The Chinese style of processing tends to bring out a mouthwatering range of flavors from citrus-like to smoky with a lighter body. The color of the liquor is usually not a true “green”, but a pale yellow or straw color. The steaming process yields a deep vegetal or herbaceous quality-a characteristic prized in Japanese teas. Japanese green teas range in color of liqour from the pale green of a light sencha, to the deep grassy green of a gyokuro. Green teas that have been steamed contain more moisture and are therefore more delicate. Such teas should be stored at cooler temperatures and consumed sooner after picking than pan-fired teas. At ITO EN, we recommend keeping Japanese green tea in a low-temperature environment, as in a refrigerator, in a sealed container that keeps out moisture and light. Please download our PDF to learn more.
Oolong, also spelled Wu Long, teas are semi-oxidized. The term in Chinese actually means "Black Dragon". Oolong teas have long been cultivated in both mainland China and Taiwan. In general, larger, mature leaves are picked, withered, rolled, oxidized, and then fired. The leaves can be allowed to oxidize between 10% to 80%. Often, different tea estates have their preferred ways of making oolong tea. It is because of the intricacy of this process that oolong teas can have the widest array of flavors and aromas. Furthermore, oolongs can be steeped several time, with each successive infusion having its own distinctive taste and fragrance. Please download our PDF to learn more.
Black tea is the most well-known variety of tea in the West. Known as "red tea" in China, black tea leaves are fully oxidized. In the case of most black teas, younger leaves are picked before being withered, rolled, fully oxidized, and fired. While created originally in China, black teas are now cultivated worldwide. Some of the most famous black teas come from the Indian regions of Assam, Darjeeling, and Nilgiri as well as Sri Lanka. The use of machines is becoming more common, but the best black teas are those entirely done by hand. Machine-processed teas tend to be of lower quality and are generally used in tea bags. Please download our PDF to learn more.
From a town in China's Yunnan province, Pu'er teas consist of larger leaves that can be aged for several years. Often, the most highly prized Pu'er teas will actually have a light dusting of mold. Pu’Er leaves are usually compressed into various shapes before being aged. During the aging process, Pu’er teas are exposed to microflora and bacteria that ferment the tea, in a way similar to wine or yogurt. The process takes longer though, and the tea’s flavor profile can change drastically and increase in depth over many years. Like fine wines, many connoisseurs become collectors of very old and well-aged Pu’ers. Some of the most highly regarded and expensive teas of this type are well over 30 years old. Please download our PDF to learn more.
Technically, a tea comes only from the Camellia sinensis plant. However, the term tea commonly refers to a whole range of plant and floral infusions that offer an enticing tastes and aromas. At ITO EN, we prefer the term "tisane" in order to properly distinguish tea from other infusions. The advantage of tisanes is that they are generally caffeine-free and gentle on the body, making them an excellent choice for children in particular. Often, tisanes have their own particular benefits, as is the case South African Rooibos, which is naturally high in vitamin C and antioxidants. Please download our PDF to learn more.