All tea comes from the same tree; the Camellia Sinensis. Different styles of tea are produced by altering the chemical form of the leaf, known as processing or manufacturing. Tea processing consists of five basic steps. Not all teas use these processes, while others repeat many of them. Basic manufacturing processes are harvesting, withering, curling, oxidation, and drying.
Oxidation is the most important part that defines how tea is going to be classified. This is a natural process in which the enzymes in tea leaves are exposed to and interact with oxygen, once the cellular structure of the leaf has been broken down. This can happen quickly, through rolling, cutting and grinding, or more slowly, through a natural leafe decomposition.
There are five main types of tea: white, green, oolong, black, and “Dark Teas” (Puerh and other fermented). Within each one there are multiple varieties. Pu Erh, Designation of Origin of the Pu Erh region in Yunnan China, is also incorrectly called “red tea” 红茶. Technically it belongs to the black tea category in the West, but it presents reddish tones in a cup. Below we describe the five main types of tea, and include varieties such as blooming tea. We also include herbal teas and rooibos although they are not teas:
White teas are the most delicate and least processed of all types of tea. It is said to be the most sought after for its incomparable flavor and its high antioxidant content. Its name comes from the soft white hairs found on unopened buds. White tea is harvested and left to wither and dry, it is an unprocessed tea. If the weather is not favorable, the leaves are carefully placed in spinning containers with not too hot air to help in the drying process. But the leaves are neither rolled nor molded. A little oxidation occurs, naturally, as it can take a day or two for the tea leaves to air dry. They are mainly produced in China. White teas produce a pale green or yellow liquor and are most delicate in flavor and aroma, with a low caffeine content. The ideal temperature to prepare it is 175° F, and the recommended infusion time is 3 to 5 minutes.
Green tea is an unfermented one, whose process consists of drying collected leaves and then subjecting them to heat in order to stop fermentation and prevent their decomposition. Preserving in this way its natural oils and antioxidants. Green tea is harvested, withered and curled. It does not rust since during the curling process oxidation is prevented by applying heat. Fresh leaves are steamed or stir-fried in a wok at a temperature hot enough to stop the enzymes from browning the leaves. They are mainly produced in China, Japan and Vietnam. Green tea liquor is typically green or yellow in color. The flavor ranges from roasted, grassy and vegetable notes, but varies greatly according to its origin and the technique used in production. It has a slight astringency. It contains more caffeine than white tea, less than black and oolong tea. The ideal temperature to prepare it is 175°-185° F, and the recommended infusion time is 3-4 minutes.
Oolong tea is one that takes the longest to produce. It is a semi-fermented tea whose oxidation can vary between 30% to 70%. This tea uses five basic manufacturing steps, with repeated rolling and oxidation. Leaves are delicately rolled, and are allowed to rest and oxidize for a while. They will then be re-rolled and oxidized over and over and over again. Over the course of many hours and even days, a series of layers of aromas and flavors are created. They are mainly produced in China and Taiwan. The liquor of an oolong tea is usually a deep yellow-orange color. Oolongs tend to have much more complex flavors and aromas than green and white teas. They have a soft and delicate astringency, rich floral and fruit notes. It has properties similar to green teas, but in flavor it is more similar to black teas. The ideal temperature to prepare it is 195°- 212° F, and the recommended infusion time is 4 minutes.
Black tea goes through five basic steps, in which its oxidation process is prolonged for a longer time, or rather, it is completely oxidized. Basic steps are performed in a linear fashion, and are generally not repeated. Liquor obtained from blac tea infusion usually has shades ranging from dark brown to coppery red. This contains higher levels of caffeine than other teas, however it is equivalent to approximately half the caffeine of a cup of coffee. It is mainly produced in India, Kenya and Sri Lanka. Black teas have the strongest and most intense flavors and in some cases are the most astringent. The ideal temperature to prepare it is 212°F, and the recommended infusion time is 5 minutes.
Pu Erh is a Designation of Origin just like Champagne. Champagne can only be called what is produced in the Champagne region of France. Likewise, only what is produced in the Pu Erh region of China can be called Pu Erh. This tea is only produced in China, although similarly processed tea is currently being made in Laos. Pu Erh has a completely different process. Its production process is said to be one of the best kept secrets. Experts in the field indicate that this tea initially goes through a process similar to green tea, but before the leaves are dried, it is aged, either loose leaf or compressed into discs or other forms. Pu Erh is a fermented tea but, it depends on the prepared variety, it is the aging process, which can last from months to years. Those aged and well-preserved teas are considered “living teas” since they evolve over time, just like wine. They are highly prized for their earthy, woody, and moist notes. It has a special aroma and an unmistakable flavor. The ideal temperature to prepare it is 212°F, and the recommended infusion time is 3 minutes.
Flower tea (“blooming tea”), also called flower or rosette tea, is a combination of tea leaves and dried flowers. These are handcrafted in China. Tea leaves and dried flowers are carefully cooked by hand. When infused, they open up as if they were blooming, allowing the true Ar-Té to be seen. It is prepared in glass teapots for greater visual effect. These are ideal for a “date”, dinner, or a special moment, where it is recommended to use teapots with a glass heater and a candle. One piece serves approx 5 cups. The tea flavors and flower mix creating a flowery aroma and flavor. The ideal temperature to prepare it is 212°F, and the recommended infusion time is 3-5 minutes, until it opens or blooms.
Herabl tea is a drink resulting from the infusion of dried fruits, flowers, seeds, roots, spices, herbs or other plants. They usually do not contain caffeine. These are generally used in natural medicine to take advantage of their sedative, stimulating, relaxing, therapeutic or other effects. When infused they impregnate the water with beneficial health properties. Herbal Tea differs from tea in that they do not contain threads from the Camellia Sinensis tree, which is why it is incorrect to call them tea. The ideal temperature to prepare herbal tea is 180-212°F and the recommended infusion time is 5 to 7 minutes.
Rooibos is a drink from a plant native to South Africa whose name in the Afrikaans language means red bush and is pronounced “roibos”. It is a decaffeinated drink and with high levels of vitamins and minerals; magnesium, potassium and calcium. Like green tea, it contains a large amount of antioxidants which fight free radicals. It has a very pleasant flavor, slightly sweet with nutty notes, not astringent and reddish in color. The ideal temperature to prepare rooibos is 212°F and the recommended infusion time is 7 minutes.