Tea is traditionally classified based on the degree or period of fermentation (oxidation) the leaves have undergone.
There are four types of true tea:
The term Herbal Tea or Herbal Tisane usually refers to infusions of fruit or herbs such as rosehip tea, chamomile tea and Jiaogulan that contain no tea leaves. (Alternative terms for herbal tea that avoid the word ""tea"" are tisane and herbal infusion.)
Tea is a natural source of caffeine, theophylline, and antioxidants, but it has almost no fat, carbohydrates, or protein. It has a cooling, slightly bitter and astringent taste.
More About Tea
The tea plant is a species of tree related to the camelia. Its flowers are yellowy-white and its fruits small and hard-shelled, similar to a hazelnut. The evergreen leaves are leathery, dark and slightly serrated. Given minimum annual temperatures of 18° C, moderate and infrequent frosts, a uniform annual precipitation of 1600 l and a good balance of sunshine, a tea plant can easily grow to become 100 years old. Wild tea plants are indeed reputed to reach an age of up to 1,700 years.
Two original tea plants are known today:
Thea sinensis (or Chinese tea) is a shrub-like plant which reaches a maximum height of 3-4 m and can even survive frosts.
The assamica (or Assam tea) is a substantial tree reaching a height of 15-20 m which grows exclusively in the tropics.
The constant crossing of these two original plants forms the basis of all the tea cultures in the world today.
Tea is propagated vegetatively, i.e. by taking cuttings from parent plants. The tea plant is kept in the vegetative phase by regular pruning to prevent flowering and fruit formation. This also makes it easier for the tea pickers to gather the 2 uppermost leaves and the newest bud (only these are relevant for the tea harvest). Most picking is still done by hand in order to preserve the quality of the harvest. Some countries have developed mechanical picking methods, however, which greatly simplify production processes.
Tea is cultivated in large plantations such as those of the Indian district of Darjeeling, e.g. on the 2,000m high slopes of the Himalayas . Much lower lying is the Assam region of Northern India, the biggest continuous tea cultivation area of the world, siutated on either side of the Brahmaputra.
On the island of Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), a bitter, aromatic tea is produced in the three cultivation areas of Dimbula, Nuwara Eliya and Uva which has become famous throughout the world. The Chinese produce a distinctly smoky, mild tea in various provinces such as Yunnan and Zhejiang. The Chinese are known for their tea specialities, such as tea bricks or tea roses.
Japan produces exclusively green tea, most of which is consumed by the Japanese themselves. Other tea-producing countries are Africa, Indonesia, Taiwan and Argentina as well as Thailand, Russia and Turkey, though these are relatively insignificant in terms of production volume. See also statistics.
Pu-erh: (also known as Póu léi (Polee) in Cantonese), Two forms of pu-erh teas are available, ""raw"" and ""cooked"". ""Raw"" or ""green"" pu-erh may be consumed young or aged to further mature. During the aging process, the tea undergoes a second, microbial fermentation. ""Cooked"" pu-erh is made from green pu-erh leaf that has been artificially oxidized to approximate the flavour of the natural aging process. This is done through a controlled process similar to composting, where both the moisture and temperature of the tea are carefully monitored. Both types of pu-erh tea are usually compressed into various shapes including bricks, discs, bowls, or mushrooms. Compression occurs to start the second oxidation/fermentation process, as only compressed forms of pu-erh will age. While most teas are consumed within a year of production, pu-erh can be aged for many years to improve its flavour, up to 30 to 50 years for raw pu-erh and 10 to 15 years for cooked pu-erh, although experts and afficionados disagree about what the optimal age is to stop the aging process. Most often, pu-erh is steeped for up to five minutes in boiling water. Additionally, Some Tibetans use pu-erh as a caloric food, boiled with yak butter, sugar and salt to make yak butter tea. Teas that undergo a second oxidation, such as pu-erh and liu bao, are collectively referred to as black tea in Chinese. This is not to be confused with the English term Black tea, which is known in Chinese as ""red Tea"".
Yellow tea: Either used as a name of high-quality tea served at the Imperial court, or of special tea processed similarly to green tea, but with a slower drying phase.
Kukicha: Also called winter tea, kukicha is made from twigs and old leaves pruned from the tea plant during its dormant season and dry-roasted over a fire. It is popular as a health food in Japan and in macrobiotic diets.
Genmaicha: literally ""brown rice tea"" in Japanese, a green tea blended with dry-roasted brown rice (sometimes including popped rice), very popular in Japan but also drunk in China.
Flower Tea: Teas processed or brewed with flowers; typically, each flower goes with a specific category of tea, such as green or red tea. The most famous flower tea is jasmine tea ( H¬eung Pín in Cantonese, Hua Chá, simply flower tea, in Mandarin), a green or oolong tea scented (or brewed) with jasmine flowers. Rose, lotus, luchee, and chrysanthemum are also popular flowers.
Tea is sometimes classified by its health-related properties. For instance, teas good for weight loss include all green teas in the broadest sense, including white and yellow teas, and even pu-erh teas (which can look brown). Different types of teas in China are associated with different balances of yin and yang. Green teas tend to be yin, black and red teas tend to be yang, and Oolong teas tends to be balanced. Brown Pu-erh tea is usually yang, and is sometimes mixed with yin-energy chrysanthemum flowers to balance it. Chinese people will often choose which tea to drink based on the yin-yang nature of a season, or based on a recommendation from a Chinese doctor.
Blending and additives
Almost all teas in tea-bags and most other teas sold are blends. Blending may occur at the level of tea-planting area (e.g., Assam), or teas from many areas may be blended. The aim of blending is a stable taste over different years, and a better price. More expensive, better tasting tea may cover the inferior taste of cheaper tea.
There are various teas which have additives and/or different processing than ""pure"" varieties. Tea is able to easily receive any aroma, which may cause problems in processing, transportation or storage of tea, but can be also advantageously used to prepare scented teas. Pure tea is known to have cool effects in summer whereas has soothing and hot effects in winters.
Tea contains catechins, a type of antioxidant. In fresh tea leaf, catechins can be up to 30% of the dry weight. Catechins are highest in concentration in white and green teas while black tea has substantially less due to its oxidative preparation. Tea also contains the stimulants caffeine (about 3% of the dry weight and typically 40 mg per cup of prepared tea), theophylline and theobromine, the latter two being present in very small amounts.
Tea bags: Tea leaves are packed into a small (usually paper) tea bag. It is easy and convenient, making tea bags popular for many people nowadays. However, because fannings and dust from modern tea processing are also included in most tea bags, it is commonly held among tea aficionados that this method provides an inferior taste and experience. The paper used for the bag can also be tasted by many which can detract from the tea's flavor.
Additional reasons why bag tea is considered less well-flavored include:
Dried tea loses its flavor quickly on exposure to air. Most bag teas (although not all) contain leaves broken into small pieces; the great surface-area-to-volume ratio of the leaves in tea bags exposes them to more air, and therefore causes them to go stale faster. Loose tea leaves are likely to be in larger pieces, or to be entirely intact.
Breaking up the leaves for bags extracts flavored oils.
Good loose-leaf teas tend to be vacuum-packed.
Loose tea : The tea leaves are packaged loosely in a canister or other container. The portions must be individually measured by the consumer for use in a cup, mug or teapot. This allows greater flexibility, letting the consumer brew weaker or stronger tea as desired, but convenience is sacrificed. Strainers, ""tea presses"", filtered teapots and infusion bags are available commercially to avoid having to drink the floating loose leaves. A more traditional, yet perhaps more effective way around this problem is to use a three-piece lidded teacup, called a gaiwan. The lid of the gaiwan can be tilted to decant the leaves while pouring the tea into a different cup for consumption.
Compressed tea : A lot of tea is still compressed for storage and aging convenience. Commonly Pu-er tea is compressed and then drunk by loosening leaves off using a small knife. Most of the time compressed tea can be stored longer than loose leaf tea.
Tea Infusers : One of the more modern forms of tea consumption, an alternative to the tea bag, is tea infusers. Tea Infusers are perforated metal or extruded film tubes that contain tea leaves (often of a superior quality). Unlike a tea bag that compresses under its own weight when steeped in water, a tea infuser allows the tea leaves enough space to uncurl and impart its full flavor to the water they steep in. Placed in a cup, hot water is directly poured over the tea infuser and allowed to steep for a few minutes. The stick also acts as a strainer and a stirrer.
There are two kinds of tea infusers: Disposable and Reusable.
Disposable lifestyle Tea Infusers from Petit Tea combine the pleasure of world class loose leaf teas with convenience of tea bags. Yet unlike teabags our elegantly crafted square Tea Infusers provide space that all fine loose leaf teas need to uncurl to impart their delicate flavor and aroma to the water they steep in. These tea infusers are exclusively available from Petit Tea.