dried and cured leaves of a white-flowered evergreen known
as Camellia sinensis are
used to produce tea. In China tea has been produced for
almost 3,000 years. There are hundreds of varieties of teas,
but most fall into three main categories: black and green
oolong. Tea is categorized by the method that is used in
processing the leaves.
Black tea requires the most processing of
the three main varieties. Traditionally, the fermentation
process begins by placing the leaves on drying or withering
shelves to remove the excess moisture. When they reach the
desired stage they are then rolled in special machines. Once
the leaves are rolled, they are moved to another room where
the temperature and humidity is carefully controlled and
they are left to ferment. Then the leaves are heated and
fermented or oxidized. Some processors use machines to chop
the leaves into small pieces before the drying stage in
order to speed up the process.
It is this stage that produces the distinctively rich
flavor and amber colored brew. Black tea varieties include
Darjeeling, Ceylon and Assam.
Green tea is withered and rolled but not
fermented during processing. Thus the original color of the
leaves is retained. The result is a fresh tasting tea that
produces a pale green-yellow liquid that has a grassy
flavor. All Japanese teas are green with names like gyokuro
or sencha. Chinese teas include jasmine and the most famous
and expensive green tea known as Dragon Well tea, grown in
the hillsides of Hanghou.
Oolong tea lies somewhere in the middle
between green and black tea. It is fermented like black tea,
but the process is stopped part way through. The crucial
stage in the process is to stop the fermentation process at
exactly the right time, and the best time to stop the
fermentation is when the leaves are 30% red and 70% green.
They are then 'rubbed' repeatedly to release the enzymes and
juices necessary to produce good flavor, aroma, and texture.
The next step is to heat the leaves. This method produces a
unique balance between green tea's delicacy and black tea's
depth. The tea master then grades the tea flavor and
characteristics of each batch. Formosa
oolong from Taiwan is considered one of the finest oolong
White tea is the rarest and least
processed tea variety. It is steamed and dried and does not
go through the withering or fermentation process. This rare
(and very expensive) tea is picked as dawn breaks in four
northeastern Chinese provinces. It contains buds that are
covered with fine silvery hairs. They impart a whitish/gray
color to the liquid, hence the name 'white tea'. It is
sometimes called silvertip pekoe or white needle. When you
brew white tea it is a pale yellow straw color. It has a
slightly sweet flavor with none of the 'grassy' undertones
often characteristic of green tea.
Scented and Spiced Teas
There is another category known as scented
and spiced teas. Scented teas can be made naturally by
mixing various flowers and petals with green or oolong teas.
Jasmine tea is one of the best known of the scented types.
But, some scented or spiced teas can be flavored with
just about anything--peach, vanilla, cherry, etc.
Essentially these natural and artificial flavors are sprayed
on the leaves.
spiced teas usually contain a mix of tea leaves and pieces
of spices like cinnamon or nutmeg, and some include dried
orange or lemon peel.