It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of all things tea – my blog was named in homage to what is known as the Champagne of Teas, after all. Tea has been my choice of an afternoon pick-me-up for a couple of years, now; and though I’m no expert, I feel that I’ve come to better understand the nuances of different tea types.
There are five basic tea types: White, Green, Black, Oolong and Pu’erh. All tea types come from Camellia sinensis and its cultivars, though variations in growing conditions and processing methods yield different flavours. The process is composed by five steps: plucking, withering, rolling, oxidizing (the step which most crucially affects flavour profile and caffeine content) and firing. Generally speaking, the less oxidized a tea is, the lighter it will be in flavour and colour. More heavily oxidized teas tend to be darker and more robust.
The most delicate of teas is made by plucking and drying young leaves. When brewed correctly, at a low temperature (temperatures around 170F/75°C are advisable) with a short steeping time, it will yield a light, clean and floral beverage with low amounts of caffeine.
The tea leaves are kept from oxidizing by either steaming or pan-firing, which works similarly to blanching leafy greens. The low withering and oxidation means the vibrant colour and flavour will be retained, and they are better extracted by water temperatures between 140F and 185F (60°C-85°C), depending on the green tea variety. Though it can result in a range of flavours, all of them are smooth, subtle, grassy and springy.
Perhaps the most common tea type. All five steps of the process are followed, typically with full oxidation and high firing. Known for their strong, bold and robust flavours, they are also high in caffeine. Darjeeling, Ceylon, Assam, Earl Grey and Lapsang Souchong are among its varieties.
Being partially oxidized, this type of tea develops complexity and richness in flavour whilst not becoming robust and brisk like black tea. It is a broad category of tea, being described as halfway between green and black – both in flavour, and in caffeine content. This tea type is smooth and fragrant, with a hint of floral and fruity complexity.
A fermented and aged black tea from China, it is prized for its smooth, deep flavour and its medicinal benefits. Like wine, it develops better flavour and more value with age – the aging process can take from months to many years. Its rich, woodsy and slightly sweet flavour are only part of what makes this tea so special – it has been shown, among other health benefits, to lower cholesterol and triglyceride amounts in the body.
Since these are not derived from the Camellia sinensis plant, they are not considered true teas and are also known as infusions or tisanes. Herbs, flowers, nuts, fruits and spices are among the ingredients that can be infused to achieve a typically caffeine free beverage.
Rooibos is grown exclusively in South Africa and its brewing results in a sweet, floral and mellow beverage filled with health benefits such as being nutritious, an iron absorption aid and powerfully antioxidant. It also has soothing properties, which coupled with it being caffeine-free, make it a lovely option of a drink before bedtime.
This beverage’s flavour is as vibrant as its deep magenta colour – tart and reminiscent of cranberry juice. It has antioxidant and diuretic properties, is rich in vitamin C and contains polyphenols, which stimulate the digestive system.
The steeping of chrysanthemum flowers yields a softly flavoured beverage very popular in East Asia, where it is used as an aid in the recovery of fever and influenza, as well as a natural stimulant to awaken the drinker.
Mint or Peppermint
Peppermint tea is widely used as a home remedy for an upset stomach, but that’s far from the only health benefit the infusion offers. Its relaxant and antispasmodic properties contribute to helping relieve stress, and coupled with the menthol present in the plant, will loosen up congestion and relieve coughs. Peppermint also has an antibacterial quality which can not only boost your immune system, but also help treat bad breath.