Clearly, it is extremely misleading to say “Every tea comes from the same plant the camellia sinensis, and depending on how one processes the leaves will determine if it will be green, oolong, black or white tea.” This overly simplified definition of tea is the biggest myth in the Western tea industry. It takes more than processing methods to determine the different types of tea. Some tea varietals are destined to become green and some destined to be white regardless of the processing method used.
Two principal varieties are used, the small-leaved China plant (C. sinensis sinensis) which all sub varieties of Chinese teas are based and the large-leaved Assam plant (C. sinensis assamica ) which all Indian, Sri Lanka and Assam black teas are based.
White, green, oolong and black teas are actually varietals of teas. The different processing methods together with the specific varietals will determine its final style of tea—being black, oolong, green and white.
Different versions of herbal teas have been drunk nearly as long as written history. It is also known as a tisane or herbal infusion. In its simplest form an herbal tea is basically the combination of boiling water and dried fruit, flower or herb. It does not contain any leaves from the tea bush, Camellia sinensis.
Tea is a gift from nature. Its treasure is comparable to wine in its diversity, its cultivation, its flavours and its legendary origin. Tea was born from the amusement of wind with nature. Its history begins in China in 2737 B.C. during the reign of Emperor Chen Nung. He was a health conscientious man. Emperor Chen always boiled his water before drinking it. Legend tells the story of one day how he fell asleep in the shade of a small tree after a long enduring walk. As he dozed, a soft breeze clipped several leaves and glided into his pot. When he awoke, the Emperor tasted the tinted water and found it refreshing. In the centuries since then, the preparation of tea has truly evolved into a way of life.
Green Tea comes from the green tea varietals of the camellia sinensis family. Young tender budding leaves are traditionally hand-plucked and quickly processed with very little processing to produce a wonderfully fresh tasting tea. Green tea is often unfermented and or fan-fried to stop the oxidation process.
Oolong Tea comes from the oolong tea varietals and is comprised of semi-fermented tea leaves ranging from 15% to 65%. Although the word fermented is often loosely used by the tea community, it refers to a process involving enzyme and oxidation action that occurs within the leaf. To stimulate this action, the leaves are bruised in various methods, the most common of which is rolling. Oolong leaves that are rolled by hand or in a rotating drum usually exhibit a distinctive red fermented edge, while the inner portion of the leaf remains green in color. Oolong teas offer the greatest range of flavor from a light sweet floral green style to the full-body richness of the dark Iron Buddha.
Black Tea comes from the black tea varietals and is fully fermented. In China, black tea is commonly referred to as red tea. This is not to be confused with Rooibos, an increasingly popular South African tisane. The Chinese call Black Tea “Red Tea” because the actual tea liquid is red. Westerners call it black tea because the tea leaves used to brew it are usually black. However, red tea may also refer to Rooibos, an increasingly popular South African tisane..
White tea comes from the white tea varietals. The leaves are steamed or pan-fried to neutral oxidation, and then dried. White tea therefore retains a high concentration of catechins which are present in fresh tea leaves. As white teas contain buds and leaves, whereas other teas are mainly leaves. The dried tea doesn’t look green and has a pale appearance. White tea contains the highest level of antioxidant among all other tea varietals. The finest white tea comes from Fujian China.
Tea is a work of art and needs a master hand to bring out its noblest qualities. We have good and bad tea, as we have good and bad paintings—generally the latter. There is no single recipe for making the perfect tea, as there is no single rule for producing a Titian or an Olympic gold medalist. Each preparation of the leaves has its individuality, its special affinity with water and heat, its own method of telling a story. Here is a guideline. Water Temperature
The following chart is a simplified guide to water temperature for steeping. Be sure to experiment between the limits:
Type of Tea
If you don’t have a thermometer, you can use Lu Yu’s (wrote the first book on tea) method monitoring water temperature:
160-180F - Fish Eyes: when tiny bubbles begin to float on the surface of the water. 180-190F - String of Pearls: when strings of bubbles connect the bottom of the kettle to the surface. 190-210F- Turbulent Waters: a rolling boil.
For an even simpler method of temperature control, the Food Network’s Alton Brown recommends that for black teas, walk the tea to the kettle (this gives us straight boiling water). For teas that require temperatures below boiling, walk the kettle to the tea (this gives the water a chance to cool down a bit). Steeping time