An Understanding Of Tea
After water, Tea is the most consumed beverage in the world. The tea plant, Camellia Sinensis, is an evergreen plant (shrub) that is primarily cultivated in tropical and subtropical climates. Although the plant may grow to upwards of fifty feet in height if left untouched, it is usually pruned to a manageable waist-high, three to five feet in height for easier picking. When the tea shrub is pruned, it encourages leaf production. Just like wine, the quality and characteristics of the tea is determined by the influence of the weather, elevation and soil. And just like coffee, teas grown at higher elevations grow more slowly and are generally more flavorful. What is picked is only the top two inches of the tea plants which is the new growth or “flush” which consists of the two end leaves and the bud. There are two varieties or subspecies of tea plants, the Sinensis or China plant that can be found in China and Japan and the Assamica that is indigenous to India and Sri Lanka. Typically, the assamica tea leaves are smaller and milder than the larger, stronger tasting Sinensis. Depending on how these plants are processed, determines the type of tea that you get.
Types of Tea
(By the Camellia Sinensis Plant)
Black Tea – Black tea is the most consumed tea type in North America. After picking, the leaves are spread out on racks in the processing factory to wither. The leaves decrease in moisture content through evaporation, soften and become more pliable. The leaves are then put into special machines that roll the leaves and release the leaves’ juices and natural enzymes. After the leaves are rolled, the released juices react with the air and the oxidation process takes place. This chemical reaction causes the green tea leaves to turn black and give the black tea its distinctive flavor. The last step is the drying process. The teas are then fired in large drying ovens which stop the oxidation process and you get your final product. Black teas spend the most time in the oxidation phase than any other tea type.
(Black Tea Process >Withering >Rolling > Oxidation > Drying)
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Oolong Tea – Most Chinese restaurants serve Oolong tea to their patrons. Oolong tea is a semi-fermented (oxidized) tea that is primarily manufactured in China and Taiwan and falls between green and black tea. After the leaves and buds are picked, (plucked) they are allowed to whither in direct sunlight. They are then are put into bamboo baskets where the leaves are shaken and bruised and oxidation occurs producing a reddish leaf color. To stop the oxidation process at the right time, it is steam or pan fired. Depending upon the length of oxidation, the tea may exhibit green or black tea characteristics.
(Oolong Tea Process >Withering >Shaking & Bruising > Oxidation > Drying)
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Green Tea – Green tea is the most popular tea type in Asia. It is also fashionable in the West due to its health benefits. After the leaves are plucked, they are placed on large bamboo trays to dry in the sun for a short time. The leaves then go through a steaming or pan firing process which prevents oxidation occurring. This preserves the green color of the leaves. The leaves are then rolled to various shapes and sizes. It is then dried and depending upon many factors, the green tea may taste vegetal, smoky or even nutty.
(Green Tea Process > Slight Withering > Steaming or Pan Firing > Rolling & Drying)
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White Tea – White tea has its origins in the Fujian province of China. After it is harvested, the buds and leaves are allowed to wither and then dry. Today, you can find this tea type in India,Taiwan, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
(White Tea > Withering > Drying)
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Herbal Tea - Herbal teas or tisanes are not really teas at all but herbal infusions. They do not contain any leaves the Camellia Sinensis tea plant. Instead, they are a combination of dried herbs, roots, nuts and spices that is naturally caffeine-free.
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Let Good As Gold be your source for all types of fine teas!