There are so many types of tea flavors and varieties out there, we thought it might be a good idea to put some facts out there about tea. If you are new to tea, these will help you understand the differences in tea.
Tea is processed from the leaves of a bush call the Camellia sinensis plant. This plant (we'll just call it the tea bush) is a tropical plant native to Asia and grows best in altitudes ranging from sea level to 7,000 feet. The tea bush prefers a warm humid climate, plenty of rainfall and long sunlit days. Virtually all tea is grown on estates or "tea gardens" that range in size from a few acres to hundreds of acres. It can take as long as 5-7 years before a tea bush reaches the age of maturity before the leaves are plucked. They are constantly pruned and clipped throughout it's life to stimulate growth and inhibit flower blossoming. Tea bushes can be cultivated for more then 100 years! The quality of the leaf will be determined by the right soil conditions, elevation and maturity of the tea bush at time of harvest.
There are five basic types of tea, however all types of tea start out as a green leaf on the tea bush. It is how the leaf is processed the determines what type of tea it will ultimately become. In the tea processing, the degree of oxidation will really determine the type and this is done by different degrees of rolling, crushing and heating that releases different enzymes in the leaf which initiate oxidation process. The five basic types of tea are;
White tea: Is full withered-dried and essentially unprocessed and non-oxidized.
Green tea: Is typically pan-fired, non-oxidized OR Steamed, but non-oxidized.
Oolong tea: Partially oxidized
Black tea: Fully oxidized
Pu'erh tea: may be non-oxidized or oxidized and then fermented and aged.
Here are the basic stages of processing that determines what type of tea will be proceduced:
Withering - this process reduces the moisture in the leaf before breaking the leaf in the manufacturing process.
Curshing or Rolling - Breaking the leaf to start oxidation process
Oxidation - The is a natural occuring process, that alters the flavor of tea and develops the tea color. The degree and length of oxidation determines in large part what type of tea is being produced.
Firing - Is the process that stops the oxidation and stabilizes the chemical processes naturally being done. This heating process can be done in multiple ways depending on the manufacturer.
Sorting - It's the end of the process in which leaves are sorted by size and color and it's the preliminary part of the grading system.
The quality and type of tea is determined by each tea manufacture. They each have their own ways using the processing above to produce their own style and quality of tea. Knowing these basic tools will help you understand a bit more of the differences in tea.