All tea is made from the same plant. Yes, you’ve heard it right. How amazing is it that a single type of plant can produce such wide variations of taste and aroma? That plant is called Camellia Sinensis. The final product depends on many combinations of factors such as geography, environment, and different sets of oxidation processing methods.
Let’s begin by classifying the different types of tea and what give them their distinct flavor. There are 4 main types of tea: White Tea, Green Tea, Black Tea and Oolong.
- White tea is usually made from young leaves and new buds. They go through the most minimal oxidation process. The leaves are let slightly withered in the optimal condition of 30 C degree with about 65% humidity in approximately 26 hours and then they are baked dry. The leaves are usually processed within 1-3 days of harvesting depending on the temperature and environment. In most cases, the leaves are shielded from the sunlight to avoid the unnecessary chemical reactions. However, in Chinese traditional methods, they are let dry completely in natural sunlight. White teas are usually expensive because the process requires a lot of dedications to keep the leaves undamaged. Different combinations during the process will result in different unique flavors.
- Green tea often undergoes the least amount of oxidation. Tea leaves are heated quickly after picking either by steaming or roasting in a hot pan. Leaves are dried separately or rolled into little balls. The process is time consuming and it’s typically done with high quality leaves. The leaves are processed within 1 or 2 days of harvesting. When done correctly, most natural chemical composition of the fresh leaves would be reserved. Variations in steaming or roasting process can produce different tastes.
- Black tea is the final product when the leaves are completely oxidized. The leaves are first withered to reduce most of their water body which is approximately 68-66%. Then they will go through the industry processes which are called “disruption” and “leaf maceration” in order to break down the leaf cell structure. Juice and enzymes released during these processes would help oxidize the leaves to create the aroma and flavor. It could take anywhere from 45 minutes to 3 hours in high humidity at 20-30 C.
- Oolong tea is a term specifically used for certain semi-processed teas, which gives it a taste in between green and black tea. The leaves are withered for 2-3 days before drying. The oxidation process can be as short as several hours. Variations in processing time are intended for specific tastes.
Remarkably enough, these differences in process are what give each of these groups of tea their distinct personalities! All are great steeped alone or as bubble teas, but White and Green Teas are particularly good as refreshing light iced teas, while Black and Oolong shine while being complimented by some creamer.