Britain is certainly a tea drinking nation, with approximately 100 million cups enjoyed daily.
Did you know that all tea, apart from herbal teas, originates from the same plant, the camellia sinensis. The plant originated in southern China and was discovered nearly 5000 thousand years ago and has been consumed for just as long. Today, tea is grown all over the world with China, India, and Kenya the biggest producers.
Tea contains polyphenols, flavonoids, and antioxidants. All tea contains caffeine, but not as much as coffee.
Each teas unique characteristic develops depending on the terroir it is grown in, when it was harvested, and the way the leaves are processed. There is a vast array of teas available, most of which fall under a few categories – and knowing about the categories will help you understand how the tea may taste when brewed.
Hopefully this guide will help you get to know your teas a little better and which you may like to explore.
All teas start with the harvested green leaves. It is their subsequent processing that will determine if they will be a black, green, white or oolong tea.
Perhaps the most familiar tea variety.
Black tea is created by taking the freshly harvested leaves and laying them out to wither, the partially dried leaves are then rolled to release their enzymes and oils. These enzymes react with oxygen and so the leaves are then left to oxidise, producing the character and colour of black tea. The final stage in the process is the firing of the leaves with heat to destroy halt oxidation.
Black teas tend to be higher in caffeine. When brewed their liquor is darker and more copper in colour, with a more robust flavour.
Chinese black teas tend to be lighter and mellower and are usually consumed on their own without the addition of milk or sweetener.
In general, Indian black teas tend to be stronger and more robust and are often used in hearty breakfast blends that stand up well to the addition of milk and sweetener. Many types of Indian black tea are categorized using a special system of tea grading to denote their quality.
Green tea originated in China but was introduced in Japan back in the 9th century. Today it is an integral part of Japanese culture and cuisine. Historically China and Japan are the biggest consumers of green tea and it is primarily made there.
Green teas are not oxidised. After picking the leaves they are then steamed or pan-fired to destroy the enzymes and halt the oxidation process. They are then rolled to release their flavours and shaped by hand or machine to give the desired shape. The leaves are then dried and sorted.
Green teas when brewed create a liquor that is light green or pale gold in colour. They tend to have a lighter body with delicate flavours and more vegetal notes. Green teas still also contain many of the vitamins and other beneficial properties of the leaves which is why green teas are often regarded as a healthier drink.
Green teas contain caffeine but much less than a black tea.
White Tea is primarily produced in China, from the Fujian province.
White tea is a very minimally processed, delicate tea. The very first tips and buds of the tea plant are harvested, before they have fully unfurled to form a full leaf and are still covered in their siler down and then dried.
White teas create a very light infusion with clean and subtle flavours.
The Pai Mu Tan is made using new unfurled buds and a few very young leaves, and Ying Zhen (Silver Needles) is made from just the new leaf buds.
Oolong is a partially oxidised tea, placing it somewhere in between black and green teas. Once harvested the leaves are withered and then undergo partial oxidisation depending on the type of Oolong. Traditional darker Oolongs are oxidised for longer anywhere between 40-80%, greener Oolongs are oxidised for only a short period of time, to between 10-30%. The leaves are then shaped and dried.
When brewed Oolongs can brew a liquor ranging from rich amber in colour to pale yellow. Oolongs can also be steeped many times.
Oolong teas are primarily produced in China and Taiwan. In China, oolong-producing regions include the Wuyi Mountains and Anxi, both in Fujian province, and Guangdong province. Taiwan, a small island off mainland China, is famed for its specialty oolongs, including the highly sought after Milk Oolong.
Pu Erh tea
Pu Erh tea is an aged, fermented tea that is like black tea in character, from the Yunnan province of China, and only teas produced in this region can be officially called Pu Erh.
Pu Erh teas are aged for up to 50 years. There are two types, those which are naturally fermented and those which are artificially fermented.
Pu Erh is processing begins similarly to a green tea. The leaves are harvested, steamed or pan-fired to halt oxidation, and then shaped and dried. It is after the leaves dry that they then undergo their unique fermentation process. The traditional method takes the dried leaves and either leaves them loose or as is often with Pu-erh, compresses the leaves in to cakes or various shapes.
The artificially fermented process takes the dried leaves and uses modern methods to accelerate the fermentation process.
The teas are stored in controlled humid and cool conditions to age. Naturally fermented Pu Erh teas are left for between 15 to 50 years, and artificially fermented Pu Erh teas can be aged from anything between months to several years.
Pu-erh teas brew a deep coloured liquor with a full body and earthy, mature, smooth flavour.
Matcha is the renowned Japanese powdered green tea, produced from the fine Gyokuro tea. These special tea plants are shaded for a time prior to harvest causing the leaves to produce extra chlorophyll, resulting in them being a beautiful rich emerald, green colour. The leaves are steamed immediately after harvest to halt the oxidation process. To make matcha, these leaves are stone-ground into a very fine powder.
The powdered tea is whisked with water into a frothy green tea that is enjoyed in the Japanese tea ceremony. It has a fresh, sweet, herbaceous flavour. Nowadays the tea is also added to smoothies, lattes and used in baking.
Powdered green tea was brought to Japan in the 12th century by Chinese monks. Over the centuries, an intricate tea ceremony surrounding matcha has developed, the tea has a rich history and is of cultural significance in Japan.
You may see some letters after the names of the teas, this is the leaf grading. It does not reflect the quality of the tea but informs you about the size of the leaf and when it was harvested, and perhaps how it was processed. The terms are not used for every type of tea, bur primarily associated with black teas from Indian, Sri Lankan and African teas.
There are many tea grades out there, to help here are the grades of the teas we have in stock and what they denote:
OP - Orange Pekoe - Rarely contains tips but has large, long leaves, tightly rolled.
TGFOP - Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe - A lovely long leaf with lots of golden tips, not so tightly rolled.
GFOP - Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe - Long leaf with some golden tips.
BOP - Broken Orange Pekoe - OP leaves that are cut.
CTC - Cut Tear Curl - In the processing rollers are used to roll the leaves in to small tea pellets.
Fannings - These are teas made up of very fine siftings and are mainly used in blends for tea bags requiring a quick brew.
Within these grades, a number ‘1' written after the letters may denote a higher quality leaf.