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Types Of Tea

Updated on October 22, 2011

Tea ranks as the most popular drink in many countries. It has a yellowish-brown colour and a slightly bitter taste. In many countries it is drunk with milk and sugar whilst in others it's drunk plain.

The tea plant grows in tropical and subtropical climates. The plant, an evergreen, grows quickly at low altitudes where the air is warm. It grows more slowly in cool air, adding to its flavour.

Tea plants have small, white, sweet smelling flowers. Each flower has three seeds that look like hazel nuts. These seeds are planted in tea estates or tea gardens. About a year later, they are transplanted into a field.

Some of the producers of tea are Kenya, India, China, Ireland, Great Britain, New Zealand, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Japan, Indonesia, Malawi and Turkey.

There are three main types of tea:

(1) Black tea

(2) Green tea

(3) Oolong tea.

They differ in the method used to process the leaves.

Black tea

Black tea is produced by allowing harvested leaf to wither and oxidize for several hours before the process is halted by firing (i.e. heating and drying out) the leaf.

Oolong tea

Oolong is oxidized, but not for as long as black tea. It is in a sense "intermediate" between green and black, but good oolong should be judged on its own terms, and need not be compared to other kinds of tea. Most good oolongs have an intense floral aroma and a remarkable peachy flavour. Others have a vegetative quality like that of green tea. Liquor colour ranges all over the spectrum, from a pale jade green to pink to deep gold.

Green tea

There are many varieties of green tea,

Green tea is not oxidized at all; the freshly harvested leaves are rolled and fired immediately. As a result, green tea usually has more of a vegetative or herbaceous quality than black or oolong. Most green teas produce greenish-gold liquor. People who were raised on black tea often find green tea an acquired taste, but it is worth acquiring.

The various sub-varieties of tea are:

Ceylon (Sri Lanka)

There are several varieties of Ceylon tea, but most of the Sri Lankan harvest goes into blends. Commercial blends advertised as "Orange Pekoe" are usually blends of India and Ceylon. This is probably closest to what most Westerners think of when they think of tea: reddish-brown liquor; brisk, full flavour.

Darjeeling (India)

This is the most expensive, sought-after black tea in the world. Unlike most other teas, many Darjeeling's are sold under the name of the plantation where they were grown.

Unfortunately, a great deal of tea labelled ‘Darjeeling' consists of blends containing only 50% Darjeeling. Worse, most of the Darjeeling contained in these blends is harvested during the rainy season and so has less flavour. Fine Darjeeling usually has lighter liquor than other black teas, from a light reddish colour to a bright gold. Astringency is usually quite pronounced, and the aroma and flavour hint of almonds and wildflowers.

Keemun (China)

This is the foundation of many English breakfast blends. Keemuns come in a remarkably large number of varieties. Most produce a red liquor with a subtle combination of flavours; the aroma is often rich and fruity, sometimes with suggestions of plum and apple. Some Keemuns have a delicate smoky flavour (though not as smoky as Lapsang Souchong).

Lapsang Souchong (China)

This tea is fired over smoking pine needles, which produces a striking smoky odour and flavour. The best varieties are not overwhelmed by the smoke, but retain subtlety and a mix of other flavours. Lapsang Souchong is found in many Russian Caravan blends.

Nilgiri (India)

Nilgiri, Darjeeling, and Assam are the three Indian teas that are promoted as "self-drinkers," i.e. teas worth drinking unblended. Unfortunately, Nilgiri is not as distinctive or interesting as the other two. It is very much like Ceylon tea. Like Ceylon, much of the Nilgiri harvest ends up in blends.

Sikkim (India)

This variety comes from a tea-growing area very near Darjeeling. It combines Darjeeling's delicate flavour and light body with Assam's maltiness. Although it is an excellent tea, it is not very well known (yet) and is not quite as expensive as Darjeeling.

Yunnan (China)

Yunnan's brown liquor has a subtle, earthy, peppery flavour. Inexpensive Yunnan is not very exciting, but the higher quality harvests are wonderful. Some Yunnan is used in Russian Caravan blends.


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