Although, tea is a name given to a lot of brews, traditionalists only consider processed leaves that come from the Camellia sinensis plant, an evergreen (depending upon regions) shrub that may grow up to sixty feet in length. When tended for harvest, tea plants are pruned to a height of about three feet for ease of plucking.
There are over 1500 types of tea plants, each with their own specific characteristics. The naming process of these teas or Jat as they are called is relatively comparable to the wine industry. Just as Bordeaux wine is named after the Bordeaux region in France and Champagne from the province of Champagne, many teas are also named after the area they are grown in. For example, Ilam tea is named after the Ilam region in Nepal and Assam tea is named after the state in India. While the names of tea as you see it comes from the processing techniques; on a larger scale, the region where the tea is grown, the elevation, the climate, soil conditions, the plucking and its processing collectively shape the flavor and characteristics of tea and hence its name.
Whilst, there are factually numerous varieties of teas in the world, as a subject of classification, tea is usually broken down into 5 major types (the kind we make, in varied quantities) -
Blacktea is the most common variety and accounts for about 75 percent of global tea consumption. The process of making loose black tea involves withering then rolling of the tealeaves followed by a long period of fermentation. Then the black tea leaves are dried and crushed, resulting in a hearty, amber-colored brew with a complex yet recognizable aroma and a full-bodied, strong flavor. Black tea has approximately one third the caffeine content as a cup of coffee, making it a good pick-me-up tea. Full-bodied and strong, they taste great alone or with milk and sugar. And they make great iced tea. The minimal caffeine makes them a good morning tea without the regular jitters.
CTC is a type of black tea that is manufactured using a relatively different process called the “crush, tear and curl” (CTC) method. Although most of the manufacturing is done through the orthodox fashion albeit more rapidly and in smaller time gaps, the leaves are not rolled, but are placed within cylindrical rollers with small teeth. The rollers crush, tear and curl the tea leaves, hence the name of the method. Thus, tea processed using CTC tend to brew faster and yields more cups of tea per kilogram. CTC is exceedingly popular in South Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, the UK, Ireland and the USA. With just the right caffeine content– about the same as a bar of plain chocolate, CTC tea is the ultimate feel good health drink that reduces mental and physical stress while relaxing you in a way that actually improves your mood.
Green tea is a traditional type of tea that is gaining a newfound popularity in the modern world. Green tea is usually prepared using 2 varied techniques – roasted or steamed. Roasted green tea is withered and then heat-treated in a hot roasting pan or a hot tea drier while Steamed green tea is steamed through a boiler. After this treatment, the leaves are basically rolled and dried again to remove any residual moisture. Roasted green tea yields a full bodied, toasted taste in a yellowish green liquor whereas steamed green teas produce a grassy, open meadow aroma and flavor in light green liquor. By minimally processing the leaves, the tea’s nutrients remain unchanged and the high levels of antioxidants are preserved. Green teas typically contain very minimal measures of caffeine.
White tea is an exclusive variety of tea, appreciated by tea connoisseurs from around the world, for their unmatched subtlety, complexity, and pureness of flavor. Limited by its production due to manual selection of only the best buds and young leaves, it is one of the most valuable types of tea and also the least processed variety. Unlike the 0% fermented green tea, white tea is withered, slightly fermented and then dried. The dry leaves of white tea have a silky texture from the fine white hairs that cover each shoot. Although, white tea is similar in flavor to green tea, it is milder and usually more creamy and soft with a delicate sweetness. Containing more anti-oxidants than green tea and very small amounts of caffeine, White tea is one of the healthiest teas available and has seen a significant increase in popularity.
Oolong tea is a semi-fermented tea, combining the best qualities of both green
and black tea. Although oolong teas are process through the orthodox technique, they are shaken to produce light yellow appearance with a reddish tinge. After a short fermentation period, they are typically roasted and dried. Oolong tea is not only as clear and fragrant as green tea, but also as refreshing and strong as black tea. It can range from tasting very much like a green tea, to having a robust body that is more characteristic of a black tea. It is an already popular natural health drink with a low mix of caffeine.
An important Note:
Herbal teas should not be confused with Real tea. Although, herbal teas are packaged like tea, infused like tea and enjoyed like tea, they are usually some combination of dried spices, flowers, and herbs and do not contain any actual tealeaves or their health benefits. The medicinal benefits of specific herbs are often anecdotal or controversial, and in many countries including the U.S., makers of herbal teas are not allowed to make unsubstantiated claims about the medicinal effects of their products. While some herbal teas are safe for regular consumption, care should be taken to note that many herbs on their own or in a combined form have toxic or allergenic effects. The greatest causes of concern are damages to the liver, brain, heart, kidney and digestion tract.
Storage of Your Teas
Tea in both its loose and tea bag form should be kept properly in order for it to retain its freshness and flavor. If exposed to the moisture in the air, the quality of tea will slowly deteriorate. To keep it fresh for a long time, the first thing to start with is right storing conditions.
Keep away from light, heat, moisture and odors
If exposed to these elements, it will eventually cause tea to alter or lose its flavor and aroma. Keeping tea in an airtight glass, steel or aluminum container will prevent this from happening. Store in cool, dry places, and avoid placing it near high temperatures. Do not store tea in the refrigerator as condensation can ruin the leaves. Finally, all teas will leave some remaining odor in whatever they are stored in; so make sure to wash the container well before putting other teas.
How long will tea stay fresh?
Many teas can stay fresh for up to 2 years if only stored properly. It must be kept in mind that every tea is differently processed, so the less oxidized the leaf, the more delicate that tea is, which means it will lose flavor more quickly when exposed to above mentioned elements i.e. light, heat, moisture and odors. That is why white and green teas are delicate, while black and darker oolongs tend to retain flavor longer.