Types of tea

There are only 6 types of tea in the world: white, green, yellow, Oolong , black and the dark teas or post-fermented teas. The differences between each have to do with the manufacturing methods to which their leaves are subjected, but they all come from the same plant: Camellia sinensis .

Although there is some confusion regarding the types of tea that exist, the reality is that only what comes from the Camellia sinensis plant can be called tea.

The rest of the drinks created from the infusion of leaves, flowers or fruits with hot water are, in reality, infusions.

See also Difference between tea and infusion.

1. White tea

It is made from young shoots of Camellia sinensis . These buds are covered by a thin layer of silvery whitish hairs, hence the name of this type of tea. It is the least processed type of tea, as the buds only go through a brief wilting and drying process.

Although white tea is grown in various parts of the world, the most appreciated varieties are from China, such as Silver Needles and Pai Mutan or Bai Mudan .

2. Green tea

Along with black tea, it is the best known type of tea in the world. China and Japan are the main producers.

Green tea goes through a process of wilting, setting, and drying. In this case, oxidation is prevented, allowing it to retain its characteristic green color.

However, it is normal for a slight browning to occur in some Chinese varieties, in which the oxidation is carried out in a special wok and lightly sautéed over the fire.

Dragonwell is one of the most popular Chinese varieties on the market and of the best quality.

When green tea is powdered, it is called matcha.

3. Yellow tea

Its manufacturing process is similar to that of green tea. After fixing, the tea is grouped in batches and stored in a humid environment to stimulate the oxidation of chlorophyll, which gives the leaves a yellowish hue. When the desired color is reached, the process is stopped with drying.

However, it is a little-known tea in the market, since the harvest and production process is artisanal, which makes it a high-priced product.

Some varieties of yellow tea are Huang Tang, made in China’s Zhejiang province, and Meng Ding Huangyan , from Sichuan province.

4. Oolong tea

This type of tea, whose name means “black dragon” in Chinese, has a complex production process that involves rolling the leaves and long days of withering.

After wilting, oxidation comes, which takes place in two phases: cold, leaving the leaves in bamboo baskets for 24 hours in a refrigerator, and then at room temperature. The fixation is done in a wok, with the method of Chinese green teas.

Oolong leaves are characterized by their curling. At the end of rolling the sheets, they are kneaded in machines to proceed to unwind them and start a new cycle of rolling, kneading and unwinding.

When it is determined that the ideal curling point has been reached for that variety of tea, the leaves are inspected and allowed to air dry.

This type of tea is also known as “blue tea”, however, the name is incorrect, since neither the strands nor the color of the infusion present shades of this type.

China and Taiwan are two of the most prestigious Oolong producers in the world. The most popular varieties are Da Hong Pao , Ti Kuan Ying (both from China) and Don Fang Mei Ren , a Taiwanese Oolong that is characterized because its leaves have been bitten by a kind of grasshopper that initiates a natural oxidation process in the tea.

5. Black tea

Along with green tea, it is the most popular type of tea in the world. Its manufacturing process involves withering, curling and oxidation. When the factory tea master decides that the leaves have reached the desired brown or dark shade, oxidation is stopped.

The most popular varieties of black tea are Darjeeling (India) and English Breakfast (a blend of black teas from Sri Lanka and India).

6. Dark teas

They are the teas that have gone through a fermentation process. Of all of them, the best known is Pu-erh , which is why it is very common for it to be associated with a category of tea in itself.

In this sense, it is important to know that Pu-erh is only called a type of tea that is grown and produced in the region of the same name, located in the Yunnan province of China.

The leaves go through a wilting and fixing process similar to green tea. Then comes the curling of the leaves and drying at room temperature to finish with a process that is unique to this type of tea: fermentation.

In this process, what is sought is the activation of certain bacteria that give this tea very characteristic notes. Fermentation can last a few days, which is usual for more commercial presentations ( cooked Pu-erh ), while other fermentations can last for months or years ( raw Pu-erh ).

Here, as in the world of wine, the longer Pu-erh ages , the higher its market value and the more marked its organoleptic characteristics.

See also Types of beer .

Processing of the types of tea

In general terms, tea goes through a series of processes that will depend on the type that you want to obtain. The main ones are:

  • Withered : a dehydration process is caused so that the leaf becomes more malleable, but also, internal changes are generated, such as an increase in the concentration of caffeine and a degradation of chlorophyll, which reduces the aroma of grass.
  • Primary curling : the leaves are rolled to break their internal structure and facilitate oxidation. This process can be manual or with a rolling machine.
  • Oxidation : the leaves are exposed to the action of oxygen to provoke the reaction of an enzyme called polyphenol oxidase and the antioxidants present in tea. This results in a process of browning or darkening of the leaves, which will stop depending on the type of tea you want to obtain.
  • Fixation : oxidation is stopped with heat, in some cases subjecting the sheets to hot air at 100 degrees.
  • Drying : the strands are exposed to room temperature. In black tea, drying is done with fixation.
  • Fermentation : a step that is only carried out with Pu-erh, and consists of an activation of yeasts and bacteria that, depending on the type of tea, can last from a couple of days to years.

Camellia sinensis

Camellia sinensis is the scientific name for the tea tree, a perennial shrub that can grow in tropical or subtropical regions and can reach 15 meters in height in the wild. However, for cultivation and harvest purposes, it is pruned to 1.5 meters.

The tea tree comes from China, where it has been cultivated for 5000 years and where it began to be considered a drink for the exclusive consumption of the emperors. Many centuries later, its consumption and cultivation not only spread to the rest of the world, but also permeated different strata of society.

See also Difference between cacao and cocoa

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