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Type of teas
 

The tea tree, Camellia sinensis, is an evergreen native of China . It takes a variety of forms, growing 15 to 20 meters tall, with leaves ranging from smooth and shiny to fuzzy and white-haired. Although there are hundreds of varieties of Chinese tea, they can mainly be classified into six categories: white, green, oolong, black, puer, and scented. The classifications are determined by the method of processing the tea. Some specialists would add another category, blends. And then there are countless herbal infusions, informally referred to as “tea” but entirely unrelated to “real” tea made from Camellia sinensis leaves.

The following lists the principal teas from the lightest, least processed to the darkest, most processed teas:

     

White Tea is made from the youngest, smallest leaf of all types of teas. The highest quality white tea is made only from hand-picked leaf-buds that have not yet opened into leaves. Since these leaf-buds are so small and delicate, they are simply picked and dried in the sun without any further processing.

   

Green Tea is made from slightly more mature, yet still young, new leaf. The leaves are picked and quickly exposed to high heat to prevent any oxidation, and dried.

 

 

Oolong Tea is often referred to as “the champagne of teas,” oolongs are considered to be among the finest – and therefore most expensive - teas in the world. The name literally translates as "Black Dragon" and refers to teas which have been "fermented" (or more accurately, "oxidized") more than green tea but less than black tea. The tea leaf ranges in size from young to fully mature, and is often baked or roasted after being fully dried to produce a more mellow, rich flavor.

   

Black Tea is made from leaves that are well-oxidized, and well roasted during processing. Due to the heavy processing that the leaves undergo, leaves of lesser quality are most often used to produce black tea. Although in India , which is perhaps the largest producer of Black Tea, there is an ornate grading and classification system to determine the relative quality of the tea.

   
What is so special about Oolong?
   
 

The distinctive family of teas known as Oolong is believed to have originated in the Wu Yi mountains along the western border of Fujian province in China . Oolong tea is divided into many sub-categories based on the tea plant variety, the growing region, and the degree of enzymatic oxidation. Additionally, subtle controls practiced during the stages of withering, leaf-cell disruption, fermentation, the timing of enzyme deactivation with heating, the method of rolling, shaping, baking and the various other stages of processing impact the categorization of a tea. Furthermore, the different Oolong tea plants, the harvesting season, and the region the plants are grown in are all major contributing factors to the quality of an Oolong. The production of authentic Oolong teas is restricted to a few geographic regions of China and Taiwan and recently Thailand , where the proper tea plants and artisan techniques can be found.

Oolong embraces a wide variety of leaf styles and flavors and ranges in color from bright green to nearly black. The rich flavor and fragrant aroma of oolong result from a process often referred to as "fermentation" but which is really an oxidizing action. This effect is produced after withering (which allows the leaves to soften) by tumbling or otherwise bruising the surface of the leaves in order to break down their cells and release enzymes which darken when exposed to the air. Once the tea has achieved the desired color and flavour development, the leaves are usually rolled or twisted and oxidation is halted by drying. This requires great skill and long experience on the part of the tea maker in order to control the cycles of fermentations, rollings, and roastings necessary to achieve perfection. No machine has yet been invented that can match the skills of experienced oolong tea makers in producing the delicate elegance of Oolong Teas.

Note: The term "oxidation" refers to a naturally occurring enzyme in the leaf that begins to breakdown its cellular integrity after being picked. Oxidation is observed by a reddish discoloration that begins at the center stem and along the edge of the leaf, as well as the fragrance that the wilting leaf begins to exude. This is closely monitored to determine the type of tea that will be produced.

  Oolong teas
 
Oolong teas
   

Chinese Oolong

Traditional Oolongs from China are more oxidized and roasted, producing a darker, strong tea.

   

Taiwan Oolong

Known as "High Mountain Oolong Tea" (gao shan oolung cha), the Taiwan varieties have become renowned among tea connoisseurs. Producers use fully mature, new-growth, hand-picked leaves which are only slightly oxidized before being tightly rolled and dried. This method produces a tea that is very close to Green as it is only between 5 and 20% oxidized, yet having a much more complex, rich flavor than Green Tea. Within the Oolong varieties produced in Taiwan , qualities and types vary greatly that suit a range of tastes. A special characteristic of fine Oolong is described in Chinese as 'gan'. This is a complex combination of bitter, sweet, and astringent qualities experienced in the aftertaste.

   

Thailand Oolong

The soil, altitude, and prevailing weather conditions all affect the flavour of a tea that is produced. Thailand has over the years developed quality High Mountain Oolong teas the same way places such as California, Chile and Australia have over the years developed high quality wines - by bringing the plant varieties and know-how from overseas and improving on it by amongst other things benefiting from ideal local conditions.

Using high-quality tea plant hybrids and processing techniques that were specifically developed in Taiwan to produce quality High Mountain Oolong teas, Thailand tea masters were able to develop their own version of High Mountain Oolongs. Their method also produces a tea that is very close to Green as it is only oxidized between 5 and 20%, yet having also a much more complex, rich flavor than Green Tea. Thailand High Mountain Oolongs have a unique floral aroma and complex flavors that make them distinctively different from their Taiwanese or Chinese counter parts. Thailand High Mountain Oolongs are becoming amongst the most sought after teas in the recent trend of New World tea connoisseurship.