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Tea types: Green, Yellow, White, Black, Oolong, and Puerh...

by Brett P Holmes July 09, 2013

You have often heard that “ALL tea comes from the same plant”…  While this is strictly true, it can be slightly misleading.  Like coffee and wine, tea plants vary considerably from region to region, based on methods of cultivation and processing, and the terroirTerroir is often cited as the chief environmental factor affecting subtle variations of one wine to another.  This simply refers to the environment of a particular place: including climate, altitude, and soil.  Naturally, terroir plays a large role in determining the outcome of tea too!

Botanists identify the tea plant as Camellia sinensis.  The genus, Camellia, consists of hundreds of varieties.  The sinensis species, however, is the only one that we refer to as true ‘tea’.  Tea purists are quick to point this out when distinguishing between the real stuff and otherwise herbal infusions (or tisanes).  The word ‘tea’ is often used to describe various bushes, herbs, botanicals, and fruits, but we prefer to limit it to the Camellia sinensis plant.  ALL tea comes from some variety of this plant.

That said, there are hundreds of cultivated varieties used to produce tea.  These “cultivars” are unique to a specific hybrid that has adapted to a specific terroir.  So technically, tea from one region to another does not come from the “same” plant.  It comes from the same species though!

For the purpose of identifying types of tea, however, it’s more important to consider the processing method.  All teas undergo a similar process from plant to cup: plucking, sorting, cleaning, drying, manufacturing, firing, drying, sorting, and packing.  While there are a myriad of factors at play that determine a tea’s characteristics, the most important factor determining tea type is oxidation, which occurs during the manufacturing phase.  This usually determines whether a tea becomes a Green, White, Black, or Oolong tea. 

China's Leafy Legends...

Dragonwell, or Xihu Longjing (green), Scarlet Robe, or Da Hong Pao (oolong), and Silver Needle, or Baihao Yinzhen (white).


 


 




Simply put, Green tea is unoxidized, White tea is lightly processed and slightly oxidized, Oolong tea is partially oxidized (ranging from 15-85%), and Black tea is fully oxidized (or nearly so).  Oxidation occurs when enzymes in the leaves’ cells break down chlorophyll, releasing tannins, and causing the leaf to brown.  This changes the taste, appearance, and aroma of a tea leaf and master artisans know how to manage this part of the process.

The remaining categories of tea: Yellow, Puerh, and Scented, are not strictly determined by oxidation, but instead by processing method, geography, and natural additive.

Yellow tea shares a lot of the same processing as both White and Green teas and is often confused with them as a result.  The process of manufacturing yellow tea is long and time-consuming, so this tea is quite rare and infrequently seen on the market.

Puerh tea relies on both a geographic distinction confined to Pu’er County and a unique fermentation process in determining its unique classification.  Like Champagne in France, there are distinct boundaries determining authentic Puerh tea (often spelled ‘Puer’, ‘Pu-er’, or ‘Pu-erh’).  More on this later…

Finally, “Scented” tea refers to Camellia Sinensis that has been infused or blended with the aroma of a flower (traditionally using jasmine, chrysanthemum, osmanthus).  Scented teas can actually be any type of tea…  The most famous occurred when the Chinese tea artisans discovered Persian jasmine blossoms, which is usually infused with white or green tea.

All in all, the important step of the process in transforming freshly-plucked, raw leaves into a certain tea type relies mainly in the processing method.  The species of Camellia Sinensis is in fact the root of all true teas, but specific cultivars, regions, and traditional practices should be considered as well.

 




Brett P Holmes
Brett P Holmes

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Basics of Puerh tea...

by Brett P Holmes January 08, 2015

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Tea Infusion 101

by Brett P Holmes June 05, 2013

How do I infuse my tea and how does it affect the flavor? Does it matter which vessel I use? How about water temperature, amount of tea, and steeping time!?

First of all, do NOT be intimidated by tea preparation! Making tea is not complicated. At the root of it all, you combine leaves with hot water and the result is usually pure awesomeness. Naturally, there are some general guidelines to consider, so allow us to simplify the process for you, and we’ll get the most from your treasured leaves…

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Tea Infusion Quantities

So how many cups is 50g of tea? Or 1lb of tea leaves?

The appropriate amount to use depends on the size of the teapot, teacup, or gaiwan, and how much water is being applied.  Typically, an average serving of tea in a small-medium vessel is about 4-6 grams.  Experienced tea drinkers will often use 6-8 grams per serving - with shorter and more frequent infusions.

Therefore, a 50 gram pouch of tea should be good for 8-12 servings of tea.  Depending on the type of tea, however, the leaves can withstand several "steepings", so that 50 gram pouch should allow for 24-50 cups of tea!  And, since a pound (lb) is about 450 grams, a properly steeped pound of tea should produce several hundred cups of tea!

 

Quantity of Tea

50 grams

100 grams

1 pound

Servings

8-12 servings

16-24 servings

70-85 servings

Cups of Tea*

24-50 cups

50-100 cups

200-400 cups

*often depending on the technique of the tea master, time per infusion, and thirst of the drinkers