Drinking Tea plays a central part in our lives. It is a universal phenomenon with millions of people are enjoying it on a daily basis. But did you know that before our beloved tea became a beverage, it was a leaf? So there you go! With some basic knowledge of how tea is made under your belt– you will know more than most people.
However, from choosing between different flavors to executing conflicting brewing techniques, it’s easy to feel lost in the world of tea! Don’t worry, we’re here to shed some light on selecting and brewing the perfect cup of tea for your tastes.
In this guide, we will discuss everything you need to know about the different tea types, their origins, and their flavor profiles. This will simply guide you the next time you walk into a specialty tea shop and just stare blankly at all the tea along the wall. In the end, you will find your tea of choice, despite all the variety.
First Things First… What Is Tea?
Although known in different forms, shades, flavors, tea is a very simple evergreen plant. Most people don’t realize this, but all real tea comes from one single plant species called Camellia Sinensis. The differentiation between various types of teas is strictly based on the process of manufacturing.
This is what makes tea so fascinating! Although all the various types of tea come from the same plant, they have different characteristics due to differences in climate, soil, season, and care. The region in which the tea is grown and subsequently processed gives its own distinctive flavor.
The full flavor of the final product is developed from the freshly harvested tea leaves by oxidation (fermentation), heating, drying, and even combining the final product with various other substances to make blends and styles that vary by culture, geography, and personal preference.
Brief History Of Tea
According to legend, tea was first discovered in China over 4,000 years ago by Emperor Nun Shen. One day, while visiting the far regions of his realm, he and his servants stopped to boil some water over a fire. A breeze blew the topmost leaves of a nearby tea tree into the pot releasing an inviting aroma. The Emperor tasted the refreshing beverage and was beguiled.
The popularity of tea spread throughout Chinese and Japanese culture. The first book on tea, ‘Cha’a Ching’, was written in the 8th century by the Chinese author Lu Yu. This definitive manual described the cultivation and preparation of tea. While in Japan, tea was elevated to an art form with the creation of the Japanese Tea Ceremony.
Tea was first introduced to Europe in the 16th Century by Dutch traders. Tea became a globally traded commodity when the East India Company was established in England. This popular beverage soon became an English institution.
Today, thousands of tea estates around the world produce tea and each one masterfully crafts a unique tea. It remains one of the most popular beverages in the world.
How Is Tea Made?
If you wonder how is it possible for this simple plant to produce such a wide variety of flavors, colors, and even look of the leaves, here is the answer…
The main process that tea leaves need to undergo is called oxidation. This is the time when leaves are left in a room that has a controlled climate to oxidize and turn darker. This is also the moment when tea producers make decisions on the darkness of the leaves, the tea liquor and even the strength and nuances of the taste of the drink when it is steeped. A good rule of thumb is that the more the leaves are processed, the stronger the flavor is.
Then, the oxidation process is being stopped by steaming and drying and tea leaves are being shaped following different methods to form a variety of looks and allowing some of the essential oils to come through and enhance the flavors.
So now that we have a shared understanding of how tea is generally made, let’s now gain a thorough understanding of the main types of tea. Keep on reading…
6 Types Of Tea
Tea is generally broken up into six main categories. Read on to find out more about each of the different tea types, their characteristics, and what makes each one unique. Here they are:
1. Green Tea
The flavor of green tea can range from earthy and grassy to umami and floral. Steamed green teas tend to have more of a vegetable or herbaceous flavor while roasted or pan-fired green teas tend to be nuttier and more earthy. Green teas are also described as oceanic, buttery, and floral.
Green tea is not oxidized. It is roasted, rolled and dried with steam, oven heat or pan-fried preventing oxidation, or also known as fixing. This produces a refreshing tea with a sweet-smelling aroma. Green tea has a lighter flavor than black tea. It is most popular in eastern countries, but becoming more so in the west.
The best green teas include Japanese and Chinese varietals. On the Japanese side, sencha, gyokuro, genmaicha, and matcha are among the most popular. While longjing and gunpowder green tea are in China.
2. White Tea
White tea is barely oxidized– it has a subtle blend of sweetness and vegetal flowers and has the least caffeine. Depending on where and how it is produced, it usually has floral, nutty, or mildly fruity notes. This tea is typically pale yellow or lightly golden when brewed and emits a soft aroma.
In addition, this type of tea is made using only the youngest buds and leaves of the tea plant. The plant parts are harvested by hand and then dried in direct sunlight. As it probably makes sense to you, white teas are the least processed teas and among the rarest teas in the world.
3. Black Tea
Black tea is a great choice for coffee drinkers and tea lovers who enjoy bold flavors. It is fully oxidized producing a hearty deep rich flavor of the amber-colored tea. It is the most popular style of tea in most western countries and used in many blends such as Earl Grey, English Breakfast, and Chai.
The tea leaves are harvested and then withered using direct sunlight or air to speed up the process. Once the leaves are withered, they are processed using one of two methods: the CTC method or the orthodox method.
- The CTC (Crush, Tear, Curl) method is used mainly in the production of tea bags and uses lower quality leaves. The method uses machines to crush and grind the tea leaves into smaller pieces known as tea dust and tea fannings. These are then packaged into tea bags and shipped for sale.
- The orthodox method is used to produce higher quality teas and can be done using machines or by hand. This method typically produces loose leaf teas and tea balls. During the production process, tea leaves are fully oxidized. This develops the rich flavor and dark color of the dried loose tea.
4. Yellow Tea
Yellow tea is a lightly fermented tea unique to China. A rare and expensive variety of tea, yellow tea has gained increasing popularity in recent years because of its delicious, silky taste.
Yellow tea is not oxidized and produced in a similar way to green tea in that it is both withered and fixed. After fixing, yellow tea leaves are heaped or piled and then wrapped in a damp cloth to rest for a period. The heat and humidity give the leaves a yellow hue. As it’s a very rare tea produced only in China, very little is exported.
5. Oolong Tea
Oolong tea was developed later than green and black teas. A repeated rolling process brings the tea leaves to the desired level of oxidation allowing darker color and fuller but still light body. This tea is very fragrant and it has more caffeine than green tea.
Oolong teas are produced mainly in China and Taiwan and are partially oxidized, within a range of 12 to 80 percent. This means that enzymes in the tea leaves are allowed to interact with oxygen, creating a chemical process that darkens the tea leaves and alters the flavor of the tea.
On that note, oolongs are some of the most prized teas due to their intricate processing, which provides a complex flavor that evolves with each sip. The flavor all depends on the skills of the tea maker.
6. Pu-erh Tea (Fermented)
Pu-erh tea is an aromatic black tea originating in China. It features a woody and earthy flavor. The leaves undergo double fermentation and are compressed into bricks or cakes. Pu-erh tea undergoes an oxidation process that is more similar to aging. Generally, there are two types of pu-erh tea:
- Raw pu-erh tea – The leaves are harvested and withered to reduce moisture content. The leaves are then roasted to complete the drying process. The tea leaves then undergo an oxidation process that can take anywhere from 1 to 50 years. The longer the tea is aged, the more nuanced the flavors become.
- Ripe pu-erh tea – This is also an aged tea, but the process is sped up using micro bacteria. This enables the pu-erh leaves to develop rich flavor in less time. The leaves are harvested and dried then lumped into large piles. The piles are covered with wet linens that promote the growth of healthy microorganisms. These organisms work to ferment the tea leaves. A tea master decides when the leaves have reached the desired oxidation level and then the loose tea is packaged for sale.
What Is Herbal Tea?
The main difference between herbal and common types of tea (true teas) we mentioned above is the actual ingredients. Herbal tea is pretty much any tea that is not made from the Camellia sinensis. Herbal tea does use leaves, but also stems, twigs, peels, sometimes even fruits. There is no specific part of a plant that is used for herbal tea.
As long as it offers either a pleasant taste or has the desired health benefits, it doesn’t matter. It’s a very wide and varied palette of flavors and effects, and depending on where you’re from, herbal tea ends up as being common practice, or something you’ve maybe heard of.
For example, when making ginger tea you’d use the tuber itself, after peeling it. This is because the flavor and nutrients are found in the root of the plant. The leaves are pretty much useless for tea. As for mint tea, the whole plant (except the root) is used. With an emphasis on the leaves since those provide the most flavor and mint oil, but my family used the dried stems as well.
These teas offer a wide range of floral, fruity, and spicy notes to suit your preferences. To give you an idea, here are the most common herbal teas you’ll want to try:
1. Hibiscus Tea
Hibiscus tea is made by infusing the vibrantly colored flower petals of the hibiscus flower in hot water. This tea is popularly called roselle or sorrel in certain parts of the world including the Caribbean and Australia. Hibiscus tea is also commonly consumed as an iced tea because of its tart flavor.
Hibiscus tea offers a sharp flavor with a refreshing finish. This tea tastes similar to cranberries and is often consumed with a dash of honey or a spoonful of sugar. The tea is gorgeous pink or red in color when brewed.
2. Chamomile Tea
Chamomile tea is a classic favorite among herbal tea drinkers. This tea is revered for its calming properties and it is often classified as a bedtime tea. It is mildly floral and emits an herbal aroma. The taste of chamomile is often compared to crisp green apples. The tea is lightly yellow when brewed and can be sweetened with a dash of honey.
3. Ginger Tea
Ginger tea is made from the root of the ginger plant. It offers warming, spicy flavor that piques the interest of taste buds. The ginger root is harvested, sliced, and dried during the production process.
This tea is available in tea bags and loose tea forms. You can also make fresh ginger tea at home using ginger root and hot water. Simply slice a few pieces of ginger root and add them to boiling water. Steep for 3 to 5 minutes and enjoy. This tea is all-natural and vegan-friendly!
4. Peppermint Tea
Peppermint tea has a delightful cooling effect from the moment the tea touches your lips. This tea is often described as similar to a refreshing mist. Mint tea is also known as a natural remedy for digestive tract ailments.
Like ginger tea, it helps to relieve indigestion, stomach aches, and nausea. The anti-inflammatory properties of mint leaves help to soothe muscles in the stomach and intestines to prevent acid reflux and cramping.
5. Rooibos Tea
Rooibos is naturally caffeine-free, making it an ideal base tea instead of true teas when brewing flavored teas. It is beloved for its smooth flavor profile
There are two types of rooibos tea: The first one is red rooibos–it is an oxidized tea and considered the traditional variety. Red rooibos tea has floral notes and a slightly tart finish. Second is the green rooibos tea which is not oxidized and tends to have a malty flavor. It offers a light, crisp finish with grassy notes.
6. Rosehip Tea
Rosehip tea is one of the lesser-known herbal infusions, but its popularity is increasing. Rosehip tea is often overshadowed by the essential oil made from the same plant. This tea is made from the dried fruit of the rose plant.
Rosehip tea is flowery and piquant. This tea tastes similar to cranberries and offers a tangy edge that is slightly sour. Honey and lemon can be added to balance out the tart flavor if desired.
Here’s a fun fact: Herbal Teas are not actual teas although we call them this way. The proper term for them is tisanes.
What Is Flavored Tea?
Any tea drinker has seen a wide variety of tea types and flavors. Flavored teas are the ones that have additional flavors added externally to it. Tea leaves are quite receptive to flavors. Whether they are blended in forms of liquid or dry ingredients, black and green tea leaves are usually the ones that team up well with all types of flavors.
Further, there are some important distinctions to make when choosing your tea. Tea is grown in thousands of tea gardens or estates around the world, resulting in thousands of flavorful variations. The most common growing regions are in China and India and some of the most popular flavors are named after the places where they are grown.
Now that you’re aware of what flavored tea is, let’s talk about the common types of tea flavors:
1. Earl Grey
This is probably the most popular black tea in the world. It features a hint of citrus, having come from the bergamot – an orange-type of fruit. The taste is bold, refreshing, and bright.
The tea is made by infusing black tea leaves with bergamot orange rinds. Earl Grey features a slightly citrusy flavor that is contrasted by the bold, earthy notes of black tea leaves. You can also try Lavender Earl Grey, which takes the taste to the next level with the addition of floral and aromatic lavender petals.
2. Breakfast Tea
Breakfast tea is more strongly flavored than afternoon teas and is often enjoyed with milk and sugar similar to how coffee is consumed. The most commonly drank breakfast blends include English and Scottish with a heavily malty flavor, and Irish, slightly stronger with Kenyan and Assam (another region in India) leaves.
3. Lemon Tea
Lemon tea is nothing but a form of black tea or green tea liquor to which lemon juice has been added to impart a unique flavor. Lemon tea simply contains hot tea with lemon juice and sugar. The addition of lemon juice not only makes its color more pronounced but also improves its taste.
4. Jasmine Tea
Jasmine tea is the most popular Chinese flavored tea and is one of the most fragrant and flavorful tea blends. Jasmine tea is a special blend of high-quality loose tea leaves with jasmine petals. The jasmine petals impart a delicate aroma and slightly sweet flavor to the tea. Jasmine tea is most often made using green tea but it can also be made using oolong, black or white tea leaves.
5. Darjeeling Tea
Darjeeling tea is produced only in the Darjeeling region of India, a high altitude region where there is a mist in the air almost constantly providing a cool and moist environment for the tea trees. This unique terrain produces tea leaves that have a very distinct flavor. The flavor is often described as muscatel, leading Darjeeling to be known as the champagne of teas. Darjeeling is lighter than many black teas and has a fruity, nutty and floral palette. For this reason, the English have considered it to be one of the best afternoon teas.
6. Masala Chai
Masala chai tea is an Indian beverage that is enjoyed by people across the globe. The tea is a staple of life in India and can be found alongside street food stalls, at ceremonial celebrations, and in living rooms throughout the country. The tea is made by blending black tea leaves with spices.
The blend varies depending on region and preferences, but most blends include black pepper, ginger, cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon. Tea drinkers can add a splash of milk for a creamier texture.
What Is Kombucha Tea?
Kombucha tea is unquestionably uber-trendy, but what is it, really?
Kombucha tea is a lightly effervescent beverage that is made through the fermentation process. It is produced by fermenting tea, typically black or green, using a colony of bacteria and yeast called a “scoby.”
If you haven’t got a clue what SCOBY is, it’s an acronym that stands for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts — which looks like a flat beige mushroom and leaving it in the back of a cupboard for a week or two.
It sounds a little weird, right? Don’t let it turn you off! It tastes better than you think, particularly when brewed with flavor combinations like lemongrass and ginger or pomegranate and passion fruit. Plus sugar makes it more palatable.
The hype surrounding the beverage can be attributed to its oddly addicting taste that may just cure soda cravings. It is a drink that people can chug down one after another, free of guilt. It also contains a slight amount of alcohol which is clearly stated on most commercial products’ labels.
These beneficial compounds join forces to create a super drink! If you’re interested to discover its benefits and how this fizzy drink can change your health, check this out: 10 Surprising Health Benefits Of Kombucha
There You Have It!
By understanding the different types of tea, you can better select a tea that will cater to your preferences — whether you like sweet and light drinks or bold, strong ones.
With this handy guide, you can select the variety of tea that best suits your taste buds. You can choose from one of the most popular teas listed here or be bold and try something you’ve never heard of before.
But in the end, the best teas are always the ones you enjoy most. Use whatever tea you prefer! If you find a brand or a type that you like and works well with your culture, that’s really all that matters!
Also, make sure to share this article with anyone you think could use it!
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