Tea truly is a miracle plant, but if you are new to Cha, it is easy to get overwhelmed with different varieties, origins and flavors. The plant contains a natural caffeine but it is the only one which also contains components that soothes our system as wellas stimulates it. There are two main varieties of the tea plant, Camelia sinensiswhich provides the sweeter flavor of Chinese teas and the Indian Camelia assamica " It's liquor is like the sweetest dew of Heaven" is aBuddhist term. Only water is more consumed then tea around the world.
Teacovers about six million acres of earth, much less then wine grapes, however tea is harvested every week toten days through growing season. Earlier picked teas of the season hold higher esteem for better quality. They are referred to as first growth or first flush teas. Best teas in China for example are picked before the first rains which is typically before Qing Ming festival on April 5th.
High altitudes with slower and shorter growing season, produce more intense flavors. The finest teas grow n mountainsides that are difficult to harvest.
Just like in fermentation of the grapes, it is all about the process that tea leaves go through from the moment they are picked. As the matter of fact, many parallels can be drawn between wine and tea but on that some other time.
White Tea (Bai -Cha)
White tea is the least processed of all teas. The flowery pekoe leaf is picked just the day before it opens. The tips are then only steamed and dried and never rolled or flattened. White tea has the least amount of caffeine and polyphenols and it has a more pale appearance and mild and is usually a very smooth.
Green Tea ( Lu -Cha)
Green tea is unfermented and is most widely produced tea in China. It most resembles tea leaf in it's original state after it was plucked. Again, early season pickings are most prized. Traditionally, young shoots are hand picked, withered and then fired in hot woks while they roll leaves by hand. there is an art and precision in the process and timing has to be precise as well for the highest quality teas. Tea then goes through cooling and size grading process.
This is semi-fermentedtea where tea leafgo through an oxidation process after they are picked. They are allowed to "sit" and wither until enough water evaporates. Leaves are then rolled without firing in a wok which allows for oxidation to take place. Oxidation for Oolong tea is halted at about half way point before it is fired in a wok to stop the oxidation. Hence it is semi fermented tea. Just like a fine wine maker, a fine tea maker knows precise moment when to stop and oxidation process, how hot the woks are for firing and how many times the tea leaves go through fermentation and firing process until desired final product.
Black tea undergoes the same process of fermentation as Oolong where leaves are allowed full oxidation by withering and rolling/ bruising process before they are fired. Finer black teas are spread out in shade after plucking and are then rolled without splitting the surface of the leaf. Leaves give out fruity odor. When withered lief is rolled, it releases chemicals within the leaf which are essential to final flavor and color of the tea. Some factories still use hand rolling process, but most use machines. The rolled lumps of tea are then spread out in cool humid atmosphere for about 3-4 hours to absorb oxygen and they turn from green to coppery red color. After full oxidation process, leaf is fired either in woks but mostly now in hot ovens or hot air tunnels.
Scented teas should not be confused with Herbal teas or Tisanes and infusions which do not contain any of Camellia plant. Green, Oolong and black teas are all used to make scented teas. Variety of flavorings are added to teas before teas are packed.