The PlantThe tea plant (Thea sinensis) is an evergreen plant of theCamellia genus and is also known as Camellia sinensis. Thatis sub-divided into two main subspecies known as Camelliasinensis sinensis, the variety that was originally foundgrowing in China and Camellia sinensis assamica, the plantthat grows as a native of India’s north-eastern province ofAssam.
The Chinese bush generally grows to a maximum height of15 ft. and has several closely clumped stems, but ancient teatrees exist in China that reach height of over 100 ft. Theleaves grow to roughly 2 in. in length and the bushes canproduce for up to 100 years.The Camellia sinensis sinensis does not mind cold climatesand grows well in China, Tibet, Japan and other high tea-growing regions of the world such as Taiwan and the upperslopes of the Darjeeling plantations in India.
The Camellia sinensis assamica is a tree rather than a bush,growing to 45-60 ft. The leaves can grow to 14 in. in length ifleft to grow freely.The Assam variety loves hot and humid conditions and goeson producing for approximately 40 years.There are 5 main types of Camellia sinensis assamica:Burma, Manipuri, Lushai, a tender-leafed variety, and adark-leafed variety. All give a darker, fuller-flavored tea thanthe Chinese bushes.
Tea Types and ManufactureAcross the globe their are more than 10,000 different teasmade from the varietals of Camellia sinensis.Like wine, the character, color, and flavor of tea isdetermined by its terroir.Teas are classified by the process used to make them and,although the names of the different categories (white,yellow, green, oolong, black, puerh and compressed) oftentell us about the color and appearance of the dry leaf, it isthe manufacturing method that decides the category.
White TeaWhite teas are made from new leaf buds (gathered before itstarts to unfurl) and young open leaves.Once the buds and baby leaves are gathered they are dried inthe sun or in a warm drying room.When brewed they give a very pale, champagne coloredliquor that has a very light, soft, sweet, velvety flavor.The antioxidant levels are said to be higher than in othertypes of tea.
Yellow TeaYellow teas are among China’s rarest.The leaves are gently heated and allowed to mellow by aprocess of non-enzymatic fermentation. Traditionally this isachieved by wrapping warm leaf in “cow skin paper”, an oldtype of paper that has a yellow appearance and allowed todry naturally inside the paper for a few hours. This isrepeated until the desired look, feel, and aroma occurs.Slightly more yellow-green than green teas with a delicate,honey-like sweetness and a fresh aftertaste.
Green TeaGreen teas are generally described as “unoxidized” teas andno chemical change occurs during their manufacture.Methods differ by region but the basic method involves ashort period of withering to allow some of the water contentto evaporate, then steaming or pan-firing, to de-enzyme theleaf. Next comes a series of rolling and firings to shape anddry the leaf.Artisanal shapes include: Gunpowder (tiny pellets), ChunMee (curved eyebrow), Biluochun (tightly wound spirals)
Oolong TeaOolong teas are known as partially or semi-oxidized andsometimes referred to as “blue” or “blue-green” teas.Two very different methods of production are used tomanufacture two different styles of oolong - dark, open-leafed oolongs and greener, balled oolongs.Dark oolongs are oxidized to about 70% before pan-fired tostop oxidation while greener “balled” oolongs reach 30%oxidation before pan fired to stop the oxidation.
Black TeaIn China, these are defined as “red teas” because of thecoppery-red color of the liquor that they yield. When theChinese talk about “black tea”, they mean “puerh tea”.Manufacture varies widely from region to region but theprocess always involves four basic stages: withering, rolling,oxidation, and firing.The two major processing methods are “orthodox” and“CTC”(cut, tear, curl). The orthodox method tends to treatthe leaf with more respect than the modern CTC method.
Puerh TeaPuerh tea was exclusive to China for centuries. Said to beexcellent for digestion, to ease stomach pains, and helpreduce cholesterol in the blood. Puerh tea has an earthy,mature character.Puerh teas are classified into two types - raw puerh, andcooked puerh.Raw puerh is the traditional method and are aged from 1 yr.to 50 yrs. Cooked puerh was developed in the 1970’s anduses bacteria to replicate raw puerh.
Caffeine in TeaThe levels of caffeine vary in different teas.This is thought to depend on the varietal of the bush, the ageof the leaf when it is picked, its location on the stem, thelength of oxidation time, the size of the leaves brewed, andthe length of the brewing time.Three methods are used to remove the caffeine fordecaffeinated tea: carbon dioxide, methylene chloride, andethyl acetate.
Storing TeaThe enemies of tea are humidity, air, and light.Store in an airtight container away from light.
Brewing TeaThe method of brewing tea differs according to theindividual tea and to the traditional tea culture of thecountry in question.Not all teas should be brewed with boiling water.Black tea and Puerh teas like boiling water while white,green, and oolongs like 122-190 degree water depending onthe individual teas.