What exactly is tea? What makes white tea different from pu-erh? What does the word pu-erh even mean? Let’s find out with a deeper dive into the fascinating world of tea.
Tea is made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. The origin of tea is shrouded in mystery; China is believed to be its birthplace. There are 6 types of tea made from Camellia sinensis: white, yellow, green, oolong, black and pu-erh.
If they all come from the same plant, why do they look, smell and taste so different from each other?
The way the Camellia sinensis leaves are processed determines what type of tea they become. A series of stages will encourage or stop oxidation. You might be wondering, what exactly is oxidation? Think of an apple. When cut and peeled, it turns brown. The same happens to tea leaves as soon as they are plucked. To make a green tea, the tea master will want to stop oxidation as soon as possible, so that the leaves keep their bright green color, whereas for a black tea oxidation is encouraged and the leaves turn completely dark.
You might have noticed that a black tea from China is completely different from a black tea from India. This happens because in the geographical area where the tea plants grow, the soil and climate have a big impact on taste. In addition, teas can be scented or unscented. One of the most traditional Chinese scenting techniques uses jasmine blossoms. Have you tried the deliciously floral Jasmine Green?
Let’s take a look at each category in detail.
Green tea is the least oxidized tea category. The top leaf and bud are plucked and briefly withered, so they become softer and easier to work with. To prevent oxidation, Chinese green teas are roasted in a pan, whereas Japanese green teas are steamed. Compare Gunpowder Green (roasted and full-bodied) from China and Matcha Toasted Rice (nutty and savory) from Japan for two very different flavor profiles. Medium Caffeine.
Oolong comes from the Chinese word “wulong” which means “black dragon”. After withering, a bud and up to three leaves are rolled, bruised and oxidized repeatedly, then heated to stop oxidation and dried. Flavor profiles range from fresh and floral to roasty and full-bodied. Try Iron Goddess of Mercy (Ti Kuan Yin), one of China’s most famous teas. Low caffeine.
In China, black tea is known as red tea (hong cha) because of the color of the steeped tea. Black teas are fully oxidized. The top two leaves and bud are withered, rolled, oxidized and finally dried. Flavor profile in black teas can be hearty and full-bodied with notes of stone fruits, malt and cacao. Try Chinese Breakfast™ or Aged Earl Grey for a full-bodied cup. High caffeine.
A prized tea sourced from ancient, 500-year-old pu-erh trees, named after the town of Pu-erh in Yunnan, China. Initially, pu-erh leaves are processed like a green tea, then they are piled, dampened, regularly turned and fermented for 60 days. They can be compacted into bricks or cakes for aging. Its flavor profile is deep and earthy and the Chinese drink it after a rich meal to aid digestion. Try Emperor's Pu-erh for a bold cup with hints of malt. Medium to high caffeine.
Matcha is a shade-grown green tea that has been part of Japanese culture for nearly 800 years. An antioxidant powerhouse, matcha drinkers benefit from ingesting the whole leaf rather than the brewed leaves. Sourced directly from a family grower located in Shizuoka, Japan, Numi’s Ceremonial Match is of the highest quality and has a bright savory taste, followed by a lingering sweetness. The prized Samidori tea leaves are covered prior to harvest to increase the chlorophyll content, which develops a classic bright green color and full, vibrant flavor.High caffeine.
Did you know that, despite their name, herbal “teas” are not technically tea? Also known as “teasans” (or tisanes) these blends do not contain Camellia sinensis leaves; they are herbs, roots, fruits and flowers like rooibos, mint, chamomile, honeybush and turmeric, which are brewed like tea. Moroccan Mint or Rooibos Chai are some of my favorites. No caffeine.
Read our Herbal Intel series to learn more about the ingredients and herbs in your teas.