Tea Talk – Types of Teas
Tea can generally be divided into categories depending on how they are processed.
While all Teas come from Camellia Sinensis , leaf tea plant which is a species of evergreen shrubs or small trees in the flowering plant family, commonly known as “tea shrub” or “tea tree”, the specific variety of the tea plant and the way the leaves are processed after harvesting, determine the type of tea that is produced.
Various processing in tea include processing primarily is five basic steps, though all teas do not utilize all these steps;
Plucking, Withering, Rolling, Oxidation and Firing.
Oxidation is the most crucial part, which determines the Tea category. Oxidation occurs when the enzymes in the tea leaves interact with oxygen, after the cell walls are broken.
This can happen quickly, through rolling, cutting or crushing, or more slowly through natural decomposition of the leaf.
This gives us the four main varieties of Teas:
White Tea – is known to be one of the most delicate tea varieties because it is the least processed of all teas. The leaves and buds are allowed to wither in natural sunlight before they are lightly processed to prevent oxidation. The name “White Tea” is derived from the fine silvery-white hairs on the unopened buds of the tea plant, which gives the plant a whitish appearance, and produces a very light coloured infusion with mild flavours. The caffeine content is even lower than that of green tea and is considered to have very high levels of antioxidants.
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Green Tea – is unoxidized because during the rolling process, oxidation is prevented by applying heat. The leaves are hand-rolled and finally fired to dry them of all moisture. The liquor of green tea is typically light green to yellow in colour, and flavour ranges from toasty, grassy to fresh with mild astringency. The health benefits og Green Tea is not unknown , yet constant research is being done , to ensure and study the true benefits complementing with a healthy lifestyle.
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Oolong Tea – utilizes all the five steps of tea processing, with rolling and oxidizing done repeatedly. It may be simply described as half-way between black tea and green tea; the oxidation level can vary somewhere between 8% and 80% depending on the production style of the tea master. This is why the flavour profile of some oolongs may lean towards a fresh green tea and others towards a malty black tea.
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Black Tea – also utilizes all five basic steps, but is allowed to oxidize completely before they are heat-processed and dried. The tea leaves turn rich dark brown to black colour;
Black Teas are typically produced one of two methods:
1. Orthodox: also known as the traditional tea-making or method of production, wherein the tea leaves remain whole or partially broken during the process. Tea leaves are plucked from the garden and withered for about 12 to 18 hours to reduce moisture.
The leaves are left limp by the end of this process and further rolled to rupture the tea cells to release enzymes and to twist or curl the leaf. This is made possible by rolling the leaf in a machine for one to two hours.
Fresh or brittle leaves would not ensure a well-distributed rupturing of the cells while rolling; moreover, limpness enables the leaf to assume the desirable twist or curl.
By rupturing the leaf cells, rolling sets off, though it does not complete the process of fermentation. To complete the process, the leaves are preserved in a cool humid atmosphere. The total time taken between the commencement of rolling and achieving optimum fermentation is two to three hours, after which the enzymes must be destroyed to arrest further fermentation.
Hot air is passed through a chamber where the air temperature is maintained between 200 – 250-degree Fahrenheit. This process is known as “firing” which goes on for half an hour, by which time the colour of the leaf turns to black. Finally, the leaves are graded for quality.
Non-Orthodox or CTC (Crush-Tear-Curl): in this sped up version of the production process, tea leaves are run through a series of cylindrical rollers which have hundreds of sharp teeth that crush, tear and curl the leaves.
The smaller pieces of leaves are more quickly oxidized, producing a one-dimensional, consistent, strong and bold black tea. CTC Tea is well suited for tea bags as the product quickly gives a rich red-brown colour.
It is a fast method of producing large quantities of tea and meets the market demand. Since the brew is processed in bulk, it is priced in a pocket-friendly manner, and is extremely accessible and popular, especially in India.
DIFFERENT TEA VARIETIES IN INDIA
Darjeeling has been growing the Chinese variety of the tea plant since 1841. But unlike other regions that grow this variety, the environment of Darjeeling has a unique and magical effect on the tea bush.
Darjeeling tea is sold at very high premiums in the international market due to its Muscatel flavour (or a musky spiciness). This flavour cannot be replicated in any other market because Darjeeling tea has a geographical indication (GI) status that is protected worldwide. The region gets adequate rainfall and the location of the plantations at these altitudes across steep slopes ensures excellent drainage. The soil, the intermittent clouds hovering above the mountains and the bright sunshine – all contribute to the magic of Darjeeling tea. A lot of research has been done , and constant on the health benefits of the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant.
Darjeeling tea can neither be grown nor manufactured anywhere else in the world. Just like champagne is native to the Champagne district of France, Darjeeling Tea is indigenous to Darjeeling. A novel innovation is blending of Darjeeling and mesmerizing concoctions for herbal teas, iced teas.
The state of Assam is home to the single largest contiguous tea growing region in the world. The region goes through extremely humid summers and heavy rainfall from March to September. Tea plantations in Assam grow the Camellia Sinensis or Assamica variety of the tea plant. Assam is the only region globally where tea is grown in plains, and also the only other region apart from Southern China, which grows its own native tea plant.
Tea from Assam has a rich, full bodied, deep-amber liquor with a brisk, strong and malty taste, making it ideal for the early morning cup. Masala Chai has been an evergreen favourite Indian household tea. Earl Grey Tea Blends are also a favorite outcome of Assam Teas.
Orthodox Assam teas have been registered as a geographical indication (GI) in India.
Nilgiri Tea grows in the Blue Mountains of South India and is known to be highly aromatic, medium-bodied with a smooth and mellow taste with a subtle natural sweetness. They are some of the highest grown teas in the world, upto 8000’ elevation and are known to be one of the greatest undiscovered gems of the tea world.
Tea from Nilgiri has a medium-bodied, well-balanced flavor with a golden yellow colour, with a smooth, mellow taste and subtle natural sweetness.
Orthodox Nilgiri teas have been registered as a geographical indication (GI) in India.