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The Categories of Tea

BY: Camila Loew

Although you may not believe it at first, teas as different as white, green, and black do not come from different plants. They all stem from the Camellia Sinensis plant, and what makes them different is, in addition to terroir (the soil they are grown in), the ways in which they are processed to achieve their final, ready for consumption state.

The most important difference among tea families is their level of oxidation, i.e. a process that occurs when enzymes called oxydase, which react when the cells of tea leaves are broken, altering their color and flavor. 

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Hundreds of years of knowledge of tea making have perfected this process, and we now know more about the scientific reasons behind each step along the way. Each category or family of tea responds to a particular processing method, and each one has more or less steps involved in their specific processing. There are six main categories of tea, which can be summed up as follows (without forgetting that each category itself can be broken down into many different types of tea):

  1. White tea is the least processed of all teas. The leaves are merely dried after harvesting. White teas tend to be lower in caffeine, and with delicate flavors.
  2. Green tea is dehydrated (either in a wok or by steaming) to stop oxidation, increasing the ?green? content. There are over a thousand different varieties of green teas, with lots of different flavor profiles.
  3. Yellow tea is a more rare category; the leaves are steamed under a damp cloth while still warm from dehydration, producing a very slight oxidation.
  4. Oolong tea is another category with many varieties, and they are partially oxidized, ranging from light oxidation (10-30%) to very dark(40-70%), covering the entire scope between green and black. This allows for a very broad range of flavors: the less oxidized oolongs are floral, whereas the more oxidized ones are fruity, woody, and even caramelized. Oolong tea is characteristically rolled or twisted in shape, and most of it is produced in Taiwan and China.
  5. Black tea is processed with heavy oxidation, and in fact in the East it?s known as red tea (which has led to some confusion in the West since the introduction of the Rooibos plant, which isn?t really a tea but an herbal infusion, and sometimes called red tea).
  6. Pu-ehr is a fermented tea that comes from the Yunnan region in southern China, where the most ancient tea trees grow. It remains exclusive to this region, and has been used by traditional Chinese practitioners for centuries for its digestive properties.

Though tea is currently grown and harvested all over the world, China is the true cradle of tea, where it all began. If you are new to the world of tea, please don't feel daunted by the enormous complexity of the tea universe, it's actually just as simple as hot water, a bowl or cup, and some leaves. At Cokare, we are regular tea drinkers, and we do hold quality in high regard. Steeping loose-leaf tea is a very different experience from sticking a tea bag into a cup. Not necessarily complicated, but so much more rewarding for the taste buds and senses in general. If you are unsure how to prepare loose leaf tea, please let Cokare help.

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