All types of tea come from the same basic plant, the Camellia Sinensis plant. The differences between teas arise from processing, growing conditions, and geography.
The Camellia Sinensis plant is native to Asia, but is currently cultivated around the world in tropical and subtropical areas. With over 3,000 varieties, tea is the most consumed beverage in the world after water.
Tea can be classified into 5 basis
Green Tea is plucked, withered and rolled. It is not oxidized because during the rolling process, oxidation is prevented by applying heat. For green tea, the fresh leaves are either steamed or pan-fired (tossed in a hot, dry wok) to a temperature hot enough to stop the enzymes from browning the leaf. Simultaneously, the leaves are shaped by curling with the fingers, pressing into the sides of the wok. The leaves are then rolled and swirled-countless shapes have been created, each with a different taste. The leaves are then given their final firing to fully dry after them, which they are them,
Black Tea also utilizes all five basic steps, but is allowed to oxidize more completely. Also, the steps are followed in a very linear form; they are generally not repeated on a single batch. The tea is completely made within a day. The brewed liquor of a Black tea ranges between dark brown and deep red. Black teas offer the strongest flavors and, in some cases, the greatest astringency. Black teas are the only style of tea regularly consumed with milk and sugar and are the most popular bases for iced tea.
This tea starts with just the tightly rolled buds of the plant. White tea does not go through any oxidation at all. In order to prevent oxidation, white teas are immediately fired or steamed after letting them wither (air dry) for a period of time. There is no rolling, breaking, or bruising of any kind. White Tea is derived from the first flush* buds of the tea bush. The name refers to the silver-colored (white) hairs on the picked tea bud. White tea is the least processed of all teas. It isn’t rolled first but is immediately fired so there is no withering or fermentation/oxidation. Availability is limited and the cost high as a result of the limitations of the plucking standard. The liquor of White Tea is very pale yellow in color, mild-tasting in the cup and are the most delicate in flavor and aroma. White tea should be prepared using water that is just off the boil
Oolong teas utilizes all of the five basic steps, with rolling and oxidizing done repeatedly. Oolong leaves are processed immediately after they are plucked. Typically, the tea leaves are first laid out in the sun to dry and then placed into baskets and shaken, which “bruises” the leaves. The leaves are then spread out again under the sun to begin a partial oxidation process, however, the process is halted after two hours or so the leaves may be fired in hot woks. Ultimately, an Oolong will have crisp, dry leaves and a rich dark color. This is one of the most time-consuming teas to create. Oolongs typically have much more complex flavor than Green or White teas, with very smooth, soft astringency and rich in floral or fruity flavors. Because of their smooth yet rich flavor profiles, Oolongs are ideal for those new to tea drinking
Pu’erh Tea (pu-ARR or pu-ERR) is a completely different art. It first undergoes a process similar to Green tea, but before the leaf is dried, it’s aged either as loose-leaf tea or pressed into dense cakes and decorative shapes. Pu’erh is a fermented tea (and the use of ‘fermentation’ is correct here, although not the type which produces alcohol). Depending on the type of pu’erh being made (either dark “ripe” pu’erh or green “raw” pu’erh), the aging process lasts anywhere from a few months to several years. Very old, well-stored pu’erhs are considered “living teas”, just like wine. They are prized for their earthy, woodsy or musty aroma and rich, smooth taste.