Wednesday, January 28, 2009

So Many Teas To Choose From

With over 3000 different varieties of tea in the world, how do you choose?

Tea is known by the terms white, green, oolong and black. All four types come from the same plant species, the only major differences between them are a result of the different processing methods they undergo, mainly the amount of oxidation.

Oxidization is stopped at certain stages in the manufacture in order to produce the different types. Black teas undergo hours of oxidation in their preparation for market; oolongs receive less oxidation, and green and white teas are not oxidized at all.

So, based on the methods used in production, tea can be divided into the four different types: black, oolong, green and white tea. Of course there are many different varieties of tea within each of these four main types.

Black Tea Black tea is withered, fully fermented and dried. Black tea least resembles the natural tea leaf. The manufacturing processes and varieties of black tea differ considerably among the various growing regions. Black teas give a strong, hearty and bright, reddish or amber-colored brew.

Oolong Tea Oolong tea is withered, partially fermented and dried. Oolongs fall between black and green tea in color and taste, have low caffeine, and give an orangy-brown to dark brown brew. Oolong tea give a very mellow, delicate and "fruity" flavor. Some varieties give a deliciously "nutty" finish.

Green Tea Green tea totally skips the oxidation process. After it's been withered, if at all, it's immediately steamed or heated via firing or pan frying to prevent oxidation. It is then rolled and dried. Green tea most resembles the tea leaf in its natural state. Higher grades of green tea have a fuller, more complex flavor, and can usually be steeped more times than the lower grades. Green tea give a pale, yellowish-green brew, and the taste should be smooth and fresh -- very light and delicate.

White Tea White tea is unfermented -- it goes through the least amount of processing of all the teas. The young tea buds are plucked before they open and receive no oxidation or rolling; they are simply withered and then immediately dried by steaming. The curled up buds have a silvery, white appearance, thus the name. White tea is produced mainly in China (Fujian Province) and Sri Lanka. It produces subtle flavors in the cup -- fresh and mellow with a hint of sweetness and a slight "flowery" taste. The color of the brew is very pale. White teas are extremely rich in vitamins.

Whether choosing your tea by type or by taste, it totally depends on your own personal tastes and preferences. Those who prefer a very light tea that has little caffeine and a mild taste should lean towards purchasing white or oolong tea. Those who enjoy an aromatic, "herby," yet refreshing tea should purchase green tea, and those who prefer a darker more robust brew should look to purchase black tea.

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