Think back to your earliest childhood memories and chances are there’s a teapot lurking in the background somewhere. When you visit your grandmother’s house up until this very day, what’s the first thing she offers to do? Pop the kettle on of course!
But we’re not just talking about a pot of traditional breakfast tea anymore. Nowadays, there’s a huge selection of different types of tea on the market. From fruity blends,to pyramid bags, to loose leaf. The options are endless – which is a pretty lucky situation to be in.
But, if you’ve become a little perplexed by all your choices, we get it! What on earth is a matcha latte anyway? That’s the kind of talk we expect when greeted by our local caffeine-fuelled barista. Not that we’re knocking them. We love your enthusiasm guys – keep up the good work!
But let’s just simplify all the tea talk here for a second, with our guide to the different types of tea.
The sciencey bit…
The thing that most teas have in common, is that they’re made from the leaves of the tea plant, known as Camellia sinensis. What makes them different is what happens to the leaves during processing.
Generally speaking, processing tea leaves involves picking, wilting / oxidation and drying out. When the leaves are picked, they naturally begin to wilt and oxidise. The more a tea leaf oxidises, the more the flavour changes and the darker it becomes. Adding heat stops this oxidation. So by manipulating how long we allow oxidation to occur for, we can end up with a whole spectrum of tea flavours and colours.
Types of tea …
Green tea leaves aren’t given any time to oxidise and brown. Soon after they’ve been picked, the leaves are heated to stop the oxidation process. Hence why green tea tends to have a light, crisp and earthy flavour close to the original plant. This means that the levels of antioxidants in green tea are higher than those in black teas because less oxidation has occurred.
White teas are produced by picking only the young buds and leaves of the tea plant. These young buds and leaves are less commonly found. So because of this, white teas have a bit of reputation for being more valuable. Think of them as the diamonds of the tea world. These rarer young buds and leaves are left to wilt for just a few hours before being dried, meaning they’re unoxidised with a light and delicate flavour.
Oolong teas are the middle child of teas. They sit in between white and black teas and are partially oxidised. Once picked, the leaves are left for a couple of hours before heat is applied to stop the oxidation process. So the colour and flavour of your oolong tea could range from light and delicate to dark and malty, or anywhere in between.
Black tea is probably the tea you’re more familiar with. That’s right – the beloved breakfast tea in every westerners cupboard is in fact a black tea. The leaves of the tea plant are left to wilt and fully oxidise, giving it it’s dark colour and allowing a rich, malty flavour to develop. A far cry from the taste of the original plant.
Pu-erh teas are a unique type of fermented tea which originate only from the Yunnan province of China. Dried tea leaves undergo fermentation and oxidation and are left to mature – sometimes for years. Because of this, pu-erh tea has a strong earthy flavour and is most likely an acquired taste.
Herbal teas however are different. These are actually made using infusions of herbs, spices and fruit, and are sometimes referred to as tisanes. So contrary to what the name suggests, herbal teas aren’t actually made using the tea plant. They’re often used for medicinal purposes and the flavours, colours and brewing recommendations for herbal tea will depend on the infusion itself.
As the name suggests, fruit teas are made with, well – fruit! And so often have a light, refreshing, sweet flavour. The thing to note here, is that although some fruit teas will contain just fruit, others are actually a blend of black tea and fruit flavourings.
So whether you like a strong mug of builder’s brew, or a delicate floral blend in your favourite china cup, this universal beverage means so much more to us than just a drink. And now that you know a little about the different types of tea, why not try a new blend every once in awhile? After all – variety is the spice of life!