All about Tea – Part 2
Last month was our first blog about tea. This month we add more information about the different types of tea and how tea leaves are processed. Since all tea is made from the same plant, the way the leaves are processed after picking plays an important role in determining the character of the final product.
ALL TEA is withered after picking. Withering is the process by which water evaporates from the leaf, making it more flexible and easier to shape. After withering, the tea is dried.
WHITE TEA is made from unopened buds that are withered and bake-dried immediately after harvest. There is minimal oxidation, as the leaves are not rolled or tossed to release the enzymes that initiate the process. White tea is very delicately flavored and nearly colorless in the cup.
GREEN TEA is steamed immediately after picking to neutralize the active enzymes that cause oxidation. The leaf is then withered and shaped to achieve the desired leaf finish (long needle shapes, rolled pellets, etc.), then steamed again or pan fired. Because there has been no oxidation, the tea remains green. Although produced in many countries, green tea is the variety most often associated with Japan.
OOLONG TEA is not steamed, as the enzymes must remain active. It is basket tossed after withering to bruise the edges and expose the leaf’s enzymes to oxygen, initiating partial oxidation. After 15% to 75% oxidation occurs, the leaf is pan fired to stop the process. Partial oxidation results in delicate, nutty flavors and floral aromas. There are many varieties of Oolong, most of which come from China and Taiwan.
BLACK TEA is the most popular style of tea in western countries. It is roll-broken after withering. Roll-breaking cracks the surface of the leaf exposing more of the leaf’s enzymes to air and initiating fuller oxidation. Complete oxidation results in a dark, richly colored drink. The leaf is then finished with forced hot air. The most famous and prestigious black teas are from India (Darjeeling and Assam), but China, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Thailand all produce fine examples.
SCENTED AND FLAVORED TEAS have the added aromas or flavors of fruits, flowers or herbs, and can be made with any of the above teas. Scented tea is packed with layers of flowers, such as jasmine or roses, to absorb their scent. Once this process is complete, the flowers are discarded, although dried flower petals are sometimes added later for appearance. Flavored tea is tossed with small amounts of fruit oil that imparts flavor to the leaves. Earl Grey tea, black tea flavored with oil of bergamot (a citrus fruit), is the most famous example. Some teas are flavored by the addition of dried herbs and spices such as mint, cinnamon or cloves. Chai is the best known example.
TISANES (Herbal Infusions) are herbal, fruit or spice “teas” that do not contain tea. Rooibos (South African “red tea”), chamomile and mint are popular examples. Most tisanes are naturally caffeine free. However, some herbs have stimulant properties. Yerba Mate, although a tisane, contains matteine, which can provide quite a jolt.