Thursday, November 02, 2006

Types of Tea

Earl Grey.
Irish Afternoon. English Breakfast.
Lapsong souchong. Darjeeling. Oolong.
Green Tea. Black Tea. Orange pekoe. White Tea.
Loose leaf. Tea bags.

So many names! So many types, but all come back to the same beginning: a humble little plant known as Camellia sinensis.

All these different types of teas from the same plant occur based on how the leaves are processed, as well as what is added to the teas. Tea is like fine wine in that its quality, flavor and aroma are all influenced by where it is grown. Tea plants grow in about 50 countries, including America, but most tea is grown in plantations in China, Taiwan, Japan, and especially in India and Ceylon. Some types are even grown in parts of Africa.

Most is still harvested as it always has been, by hand. White Teas are the least processed and most select teas containing only the bud of the plant. White tea is quite rare and is known to cost more than $120 a pound. Traditionally, it was reserved for the emperor only. Green Teas are made from unfermented, or unoxidized tea leaves. Green teas contain the least amount of caffeine and have a wonderful light flavor. Most teas drunk in Asia are green teas. In fact, the only black teas I could find when I lived in China were Twinings!

Black teas are made from oxidized tea leaves. The leaves are picked, then spread onto screens to dry, or wither for up to 24 hours. Then the leaves are rolled, usually by hand, to release the essential oils. The leaves are then placed in a humid room on tile floors and tables to ferment, or oxidize, for several hours. Then, the leaves are carefully dried, or fired to stop the oxidation process. Additional flavors or oils may be added as well at this processing time. Lastly, the leaves are boxed and shipped to the various tea companies.

It is black tea that most Americans and English drink. Teas like our Liptons and English Breakfasts are black teas. Flavored teas like Earl Grey and Vanilla teas, are also black teas that may have oils and different flavorings added to them as they are processed. In fact, black teas like Lapsang souchong are smoked over pine fires giving it its distinct smoky flavor. Black teas hold up well with the addition of milk, or lemon. However, Winston Churchill is known for taking his Lapsang Souchong with Scotch. I do not know if he added sugar!

It is proper to add sugar, milk, or lemon to black teas when drinking them. Cream however, is not recommended. Regular milk is preferred, even if it is referred to as cream. Also, it is important to never add both milk and lemon, as the lemon will cause the milk to curdle and ruin your tea. Some people add their sugar and milk before the tea is poured, some add it after. There is no right or wrong way.

If caffeine is a deterrent for you when drinking teas, remember that many black teas are available in decaffeinated forms. Also, most caffeine is released in the first thirty seconds of steeping the tea. Therefore, you can pour a small amount of boiling water onto the leaves, let it sit for thirty seconds, then drain the water off, and finally refill the entire pot and let it steep for the usual three to five minutes needed. It should not adversely affect the taste of the tea.

Oolongs are in between the green and black teas as they are partially fermented. They also have more caffeine than greens and less than blacks. Herbals & tisanes are not really teas. Here in Colorado we get a lot of what we call teas from places like Celestial Seasonings. However, if they are not from the Camellia sinensis plant, they are not really tea. Herbals and tisanes, the French word for infusions, are usually caffeine-free, and may be used for medicinal purposes as well. They can also be nice in the evenings when you want a nice drink without the caffeine. The types and flavors of herbals abound.

Tea is the perfect health drink. Unless, you add milk and sugar, tea contains no calories, no sugar, and no fat. It is also inexpensive. Tea can help relieve headaches, and calm upset stomachs. It also contains phytochemicals, which are antioxidants. They help to maintain and protect your body’s healthy cells and tissues and are thought to help protect the body from heart disease and cancer.

Tea also contains fluoride, which is important for healthy teeth and gums. Tea has also been shown to help with high blood pressure and cholesterol. Black and green tea also contains many vitamins like carotene, riboflavin, Vitamin B, Manganese, and more. The more you research tea, the more benefits you will discover. So go brew yourself a pot of tea and enjoy!

Painting: Mary Cassat, "Five O'Clock Tea", courtesy of

*Reposted for editing.


Sandra said...

I just found your blog via Kelli's blog (There's No Place Like Home)and it's just wonderful!

I love tea and reading so I feel very at home here. :o) I'll definitely be back to enjoy more of your posts.

Kimberly said...

Welcome! I popped over your way after I got your comment. It was fun to read. Have a lovely day!

Jodi said...

Kimberly - I just read this post last night. (I printed it and saved it to read in a bubble bath :oD!) Very information post; I enjoyed it! Quick question -

You said: . . .you can pour a small amount of boiling water onto the leaves, let it sit for thirty seconds, then drain the water off . .

Is this how you decaffeinate your tea? (I had noticed you mentioned before that you do that.)

Kimberly said...

Yes, that is how we decaffeinate our tea. It's not very clear, is it? I'll have to reword it later. We buy the regular Earl Grey in giant 2 pound bags and then just decaffeinate each pot. The already decaffeinated tea costs considerably more, plus some days I need the caffeine!


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