Tea is produced from the camellia sinensis plant. Tea is made by steeping camellia sinensis leaves with hot water. Teas can be categorized based on their processing techniques. There are at least five different types of tea: white, green, oolong, black, and post-fermented tea.
The Fantastic Five
- Black Tea
This tea undergoes maximum processing. Once the leaves are plucked, they are left out in the sun to become slightly wilted or exposed to hot air for several hours. This process aids to reduce the water content by 50% to 60%. The leaves are then rolled, either by hand or mechanically, to break open their tissue. The leaves are then passed through a screen and the smallest leaves go on to the next stage whereas the bigger leaves are rolled again. It is then left in a warm damp environment to promote oxidization. These are then dried in an oven to stop the oxidation process. The final result is a full-bodied tea.
- Green tea
These tea leaves undergo very little processing. The leaves are plucked and sorted, post which they are either steamed or panned. The leaves are often rolled into different shapes before drying. It does not undergo any oxidation process. Heat is applied to the leaves only to neutralize the oxidative enzymes before oxidization can take effect. The resulting liquor is light and pale in color, often with a green tinge. It is also known to be the most powerful antioxidant.
- Oolong Tea
Oolong tea is a partially oxidized tea. The leaves are picked, laid out to dry, then rolled, oxidized, and finally roasted—to halt the oxidation process at just the right time. Oxidization falls somewhere in between green (not oxidized) and black tea (fully oxidized). Oxidation usually is in the range of 8% to 85% depending on the style of tea being made. The flavor of oolong tea depends upon the level of oxidation. Less oxidized oolong tea gives a more fresh green tea taste, while heavily oxidized oolong tea offers a more malty tea taste.
- White Tea
It is the least processed tea but has slight natural oxidation. The leaves and buds used to make white tea are handpicked at the beginning of the season while the tiny white hairs or fine silver doves are still visible on the leaves and the bud is still closed. The leaves are dried, but not steamed or panned like green tea. If mechanical drying is required for white tea, they are baked. The resulting tea liquor is also light or whitish and offers a lightly sweet taste. White tea is treated very gently and undergoes the least processing of all the teas. Hence, it is known to have higher levels of antioxidants.
- Puerh tea
It is primarily known as post-fermented tea. This slightly moist tea is piled and aged in underground rooms, giving it an exceptional flavor. After aging, the tea may be packed into cakes or pressed into decorative shapes. It is a full-bodied tea with a dark rich liquor and distinctively earthy flavor. It is said to be the most complex tea in the world. It is robust and earthy yet mellow and smooth. The tea connoisseurs love the rich and multilayered flavors in it. Puerh tea gets better with time just like fine wine and good cheese.