oolong tea

Tea comes in many different varieties, which are broadly classified as green, black, white, and oolong. A few other outliers, such as Yellow Tea and Pu-erh, do not fit easily into this classification scheme. All of these different types of tea come from the same plant, the Camellia sinensis plant. They differ primarily in the method of processing by which they are produced. One simple way of understanding these varieties is by listing them in rough order of how much they are processed. Starting with the least-processed tea, we have: White, Green, Oolong, Black.

White Tea Varieties:

The least processed of teas, white teas are allowed to wither naturally after the leaves or buds are picked, and are then heated. White teas come in many varieties. Silver needle is made exclusively of tips or leaf buds, is delicate in flavor, and is highest in caffeine. Shou mei, meaning longevity eyebrowse, on the other hand, is made of large, mature leaves, and is darkest and most full-bodied, and lowest in caffeine. Bai mu dan or pai mu tan, meaning white peony, is intermediate between the two.

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Green Tea Varieties:

Green teas are typically bruised or rolled and then immediately heated so that they do not oxidize and become black tea. Chinese green teas such as Dragonwell, chun mee, and gunpowder, are pan-fired in a wok. In some cases, the smoke used to fire the wok imparts a smoky aroma to the dry leaf. Japanese green teas such as bancha, sencha, kukicha (twig tea), or gyokuro, on the other hand, are steamed, giving them a vegetal or seaweed-like aroma.

Oolong Tea Varieties:

Oolongs are seen as intermediate between greens and blacks, and thus have a broad range of both color and flavor due to varying levels of oxidation. Oolongs are roasted, and the degree of roast also varies considerably. Some famous varieties of oolong include Tie Guan Yin (Iron Goddess of Mercy), Dong Fang Mei Ren or Bai Hao (Oriental beauty), and Dong Ding (Frozen Summit).

Black Tea Varieties:

Black teas are completely oxidized and are the darkest of all teas, and constitute the overwhelming majority of tea consumed worldwide. Yet there are countless varieties of black tea, many of which are named after their region of production, such as Ceylon (named for Sri Lanka), Assam and Darjeeling (regions of India), Keemun (named for Qi men county in Anhui province of China), or Yunnan red or Yunnan gold (from Yunnan province of China). Black tea blends also come in many named styles, including English breakfast, Irish breakfast, and Russian Caravan.

Try these varieties for yourself!

This article is only a brief introduction; there are countless varieties of tea. By learning more about them, you can find teas that are best suited to your particular tastes. But the best way to learn about teas is to sample them yourself.

Alex Zorach is an avid tea drinker and the creator and editor-in-chief of RateTea, an interactive website where anyone can rate and review teas, with a wealth of information about different brands and styles of tea, and tea-producing regions. Learn more about varieties of tea on this site.

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