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Immortal Musings

The Different Kinds of Teas

by Ralph Kenney

August 20, 2014

Everywhere I turn lately it seems someone is talking about how great tea is for you, and they're right. The different kinds of teas become confusing for a lot of people. Especially when they start talking about green tea vs. black tea vs. white etc. Today, let's just focus on some definitions and we'll jump into the, "which tea is better for you" debate in a future post.

White Tea: White tea is made from only the new shoots or leaf buds of the tea plant. Because the leaves are new, they have not yet had time to absorb as much flavor from the surrounding soil and the actual cells of the leaf are less dense. White tea will have a very pale yellow color and the flavor will be subtle usually a sort of nutty after-taste and not much more. This delicacy of aroma and flavor is what makes it a favorite of many connoisseurs.

Green Tea: Green tea is tea that has been picked and dried immediately. There are hundreds of varieties with devoted fans for every kind. Usually the most sought after are teas grown on high mountain slopes where the pure soil and air and daily temperature variations seem to produce higher quality brew. Some of the most expensive teas grow on mountain slopes too precarious for even hand picking. Monkeys are trained to pick the delicate leaves, hence the name "monkey tea." But beware, the mystique around this and many other rare teas has spawned many pretenders who take ordinary teas and market them as these rare teas. Green teas will have a pale green color and delicate aroma.

Oolong Tea: Oolong tea is tea that has been allowed to partially oxidize before drying. That may sound technical but it's really pretty simple. After the tea is picked, it is shaken to bruise the leaves a bit. The pickers then spread the leaves out on cloth or plastic sheets and let them air for a while, usually 2 or 3 hours. Specialists then dry the tea via a variety of methods. Since air has oxygen, the process of oxidation begins. Oxidation changes and intensifies the taste and aroma of the tea. Small factors like air temperature and drying times can make a big difference, giving tea aficionados lots to enjoy (and argue about :-)). Oolong tea will be darker in color, either gold or green, and have a much stronger, usually floral, aroma. This is what we sell.

Black Tea: Black tea is tea that has been allowed to nearly fully oxidize before drying. The fully oxidized tea has a much stronger flavor and aroma. This is the tea that was first introduced to the West in the 1700's because the fully oxidized tea would weather the long sea voyages better than other varieties. Black tea remains the most popular tea in most of the world outside of the Far East. Again caution is called for. Most tea in tea bags is black tea. However, it is still common practice to use what are called "fannings" in tea bag tea. Fannings are the tiny scraps of tea that naturally break off while tea is being dried. Waste not want not is the philosophy at work here but these scraps are often mixed with lot of other contaminates, so be careful. Black teas will brew up light to dark brown and have a strong flavor and aroma.

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts about this so feel free to comment this post.


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