A plant called Camellia sinensis produces the leaves and buds that are commonly known as tea – the most common beverage consumed in the world, second only to water.
Camellia sinensis, which grows in tropical and subtropical climates, is a flowering evergreen shrub that produces small white flowers; the leaves and buds are ready to be harvested three years after the shrub is planted. Although Camellia sinensis bushes can live for more than a hundred years,
harvesting leaves and buds from smaller, younger bushes is easier. Once harvested, the leaves are dried and rolled in preparation for distribution.
The traditional tea-growing countries are China, Japan, India and Sri Lanka. However, in recent years, new tea-producing countries have emerged, most notably Bangladesh, Vietnam and Kenya. Origin impacts the flavor characteristics while altitude, soil type, plant type and age of the tea plant are other influencing factors.
The differences between the five types of tea
come from how they are processed
Processing to create a black tea involves full oxidation (or fermentation) of the tea leaves. After the leaves are plucked, they are then laid out to wither for about 8 to 24 hours. This lets most of the water evaporate. Then the leaves are rolled in order to crack up the surface so that oxygen will react with the enzymes and begin the oxidation process.
Dark tea is one of the six major Chinese tea. It is a type of post-fermentate tea, which has been processed and fermented in a humid environment to promote the growth of certain fungi, which have been called “jin hua” literally “golden flowers”. It’s scientific name is “coronoid process of eurotium fungi”.
Oolong leaves are processed immediately after they are plucked. Typically, the tea leaves are first laid out in the sun to dry and then placed into baskets and shaken, which “bruises” the leaves. The leaves are then spread out again under the sun to begin a partial oxidation process, however the process is halted after two hours or so the leaves may be fired in hot woks. Ultimately, an Oolong will have crisp, dry leaves and a rich dark color.
What sets the processing of green tea apart from the rest is that it does not involve oxidation. In order to neutralize enzymes and prevent oxidation, the Camellia sinensis tea leaves are typically steamed or pan fried. Next the leaves are rolled up in various ways and tightness. After that, a final drying takes place. Since no oxidation takes place, the tea keeps more of its original green leafy appearance.
This tea starts with just the tightly rolled buds of the plant. White tea does not go through any oxidation at all. In order to prevent oxidation, white teas are immediately fired or steamed after letting them wither (air dry) for a period of time. There is no rolling, breaking, or bruising of any kind. White Tea is derived from the first flush* buds of the tea bush. The name refers to the silver-colored (white) hairs on the picked tea bud. White tea is the least processed of all teas. It isn’t rolled first but is immediately fired so there is no withering or fermentation/oxidation.
Puer is an aged black tea from China prized for its medicinal properties and earthy flavor. It is perhaps the most mysterious of all tea. Until 1995 it was illegal to import it into the U.S., and the process of its production is a closely guarded state secret in China. It is very strong with an incredibly deep and rich flavor, and no bitterness, and an element that could best be described as almost peaty in flavor.