Stories by Oge Okafor
Variety is the spice of life, goes a popular idiom. As it is in life so also it is with tea. Who would have thought that tea comes in variants? Only an avid tea lover would know that apart from black and herbal teas and the more recent green tea that made a grand entrance into the Nigerian market, there are also other types. But for globalization, we have become acquainted to the different varieties of tea.
All varieties of tea comes from the same basic plant, the Camellia Sinensis, a plant native to Asia but is currently cultivated around the world in tropical and subtropical areas.
Varying figures have been allotted to the different type of tea; one literature say there are approximately 1, 500 types of tea in the world, another say there are over 3, 000 varieties. But what we should know is that tea can be divided into six basic categories. Apart from that, tea is the most consumed beverage in the world after water.
The tea variants basically recognized are divided into black, oolong, green and white; anything else like herbal tea is an infusion of a different plant and it isn’t technically ‘tea’. While herbal teas are also referred to as tea, most of them do not contain leaves from the tea plant. These variants of tea were identified based on how it is produced.
The differences between teas arise from processing, growing conditions, and geography. The key to different types of teas lies in the level of the tea leaf’s oxidation (processing). The colour and flavour of tea will depend on how long the plant’s leaves are dried and how much contact they have with oxygen.
For example, Green Tea is produced by heating leaves shortly after harvesting to prevent oxidation, and then rolling the dry leaves. This results in a lighter colour tea. Black and Oolong Tea undergo full or partial oxidation respectively, which makes the leaves and subsequent brew darker in colour.
You may wonder if some tea varieties are healthier than others. In fact, all tea from the Camellia sinensis plant is equal in terms of how good it is for your health. Black, green, white, oolong come from the same plant, hence have the same health benefits.
Here is how these categories of tea are processed:
Black tea is allowed to wither, which precedes a process called oxidation (sometimes incorrectly referred to as fermentation) during which water evaporates out of the leaf and the leaf absorbs more oxygen from the air. Black teas usually undergo full oxidation, and the results are the characteristic dark brown and black leaf, the typically more robust and pronounced flavors of black teas, and when brewed appropriately, a higher caffeine content compared to other teas (50-65 percent of coffee, depending on the type and brewing technique).
Oolong tea (also known as wulong tea) is allowed to undergo partial oxidation. These teas have a caffeine content between that of green teas and black teas. The flavor of oolong (wulong) teas is typically not as robust as blacks or as subtle as greens, but has its own extremely fragrant and intriguing tones. Oolongs (wulongs) are often compared to the taste and aroma of fresh flowers or fresh fruit.
Green Tea is allowed to wither only slightly after being picked. Then the oxidation process is stopped very quickly by firing (rapidly heating) the leaves. Therefore, when brewed at lower temperatures and for less time, green teas tend to have less caffeine (10-30 percent of coffee). Greens also tend to produce more subtle flavors with many undertones and accents that connoisseurs treasure.
White teas are the most delicate of all teas. They are appreciated for their subtlety, complexity, and natural sweetness. They are hand-processed using the youngest shoots of the tea plant, with no oxidation. When brewed correctly, with a very low temperature and a short steeping time, white teas can produce low amounts of caffeine. Of course, steeping with hotter temperature and longer time will extract more caffeine. But by definition, white tea does not have less caffeine than other teas.
The not commonly consumed teas are:
Dark Tea is from Hunan and Sichuan provinces of China and is a flavorful aged probiotic tea that steeps up very smooth with a natural slightly sweet note. Puer is an aged black tea from China prized for its medicinal properties and earthy flavor. It is perhaps the most mysterious of all tea. Until 1995, it was illegal to import it into the U.S., and the process of its production is a closely guarded state secret in China. It is very strong with an incredibly deep and rich flavor, and no bitterness, and an element that could best be described as almost peaty in flavor.
► Additional material from www.teasource.com and Wikipedia.org