Bold black teas, delicious green teas, flavourful oolong, and sweet white and yellow teas; did you know that all tea comes from the same plant, Camellia sinensis? If this is true, how do the many types of tea get their unique taste, aroma, and colour? Let’s take a closer look at how different styles of tea are created.
No other beverage in the world is more popular than tea. From ancient times up until today, people have been enjoying invigorating cups of green tea, oolong tea, yellow, white, and black tea—as well as their healthful benefits—for centuries. In fact, we love tea so much that there are more than 3,000 different varieties of it.
But did you know that all tea, no matter what kind, is made from the same plant? Tea comes from the tea plant, Camellia sinensis, which is cultivated all over the world. But if all tea comes from the same plant, what is it that endows the many types of tea with their unique characteristics? To find out, let us take a look at the different types of tea and how they are made.
It is thought that the tea plant originally comes from the Yunnan region of China.
Camellia sinensis grows into a bushy, tree-like evergreen shrub with shiny green leaves that have jagged edges. The tea leaves look somewhat similar to bay leaf.
Although the tea plant originated in China, tea is now cultivated all over the world where the climate allows. Although the tea plant grows best in tropical climates, there are some varieties that also do well in cooler areas. Each region produces tea with its own distinct character and flavour.
White tea originated in China, but is now mainly cultivated in Sri Lanka. It got its name because of the silvery-white hairs that cover the buds on the tip of each branch (shoot) of the plant.
White tea is made by steaming, drying, and then shaping the buds and sometimes the young leaves after they have been picked. It has a light champagne colour, and a subtle yet pleasantly sweet and smooth flavour. Of all types of tea, it contains the lowest amount of caffeine.
Yellow tea, which comes from China, is similar to white tea, but is even rarer. After the harvest of the leaves, they are left to oxidise. This process will also dry the leaves, which prevents further decomposition.
Just like white tea, yellow tea has a delicate and sweet flavour. When you brew it, the tea in your cup will have a yellowish to green colour. Compared to some other tea types, yellow tea is quite rich in caffeine and contains more caffeine than most green tea.
The leaves of green tea are not oxidised nor fermented after they’ve been picked, which allows them to retain their natural green colour. Not all types of green tea are produced in the same way though, depending on where the tea comes from. Normally, the leaves are left to dry after harvest and then heat-treated. The traditional Chinese method is to dry the leaves outdoors in the sun for a short time. Afterwards, the still somewhat moist leaves are roasted in a pan. Once all the moisture from the tea leaves is gone—which usually only takes a few minutes of roasting—they are placed onto bamboo tables where they are rolled.
The rolled green tea leaves are then roasted and rolled a second time. After some hours, the previously bright green tea leaves turn a dull green colour. This is the sign that the drying and rolling process has finished. As a final step, the green tea leaves are sieved and separated by size.
If you want to enjoy the benefits of green tea, try our Uzuma Mangata tea. This delicious natural tonic is made with green tea, lemongrass, ginger, and aromas.
Oolong tea is the traditional, semi-oxidised Chinese tea that is produced by withering the leaves before oxidising them. This tea is particularly flavourful because the leaves—usually three leaves and a bud—are picked when they are at their peak, then immediately processed. The leaves are then placed in the sun or in warm air to cause some slight wilting. Afterwards, they are put in bamboo baskets where the leaves are shaken to lightly bruise the edges.
The leaves then undergo fermentation or oxidation, which normally takes 1.5 hours. When the surface of the tea leaves turns yellow and the edges have a red colour, they are quickly dried with fire or hot air, which stops the fermentation process. Compared to other types of tea, oolong teas are never broken and are always whole leaf teas.
The leaves of black tea get their dark to black colour because they undergo an extensive oxidation (fermentation) process. Just as with some other types of tea, making black tea involves wilting the leaves, followed by rolling, oxidation, and then a final drying (firing) of the leaves. There are two distinct ways black tea is produced. One method is called “orthodox” and the other is “CTC” which stands for cut, tear, and curl.
Using the traditional orthodox method, the leaves are first spread out in warm air so that they wilt yet remain soft enough to be rolled without breaking. When the tea leaves are rolled afterwards, this releases the required chemicals to begin oxidation. After the tea leaves have been rolled, they are left for some hours in humid conditions so that they can soak up oxygen. During this process, the green leaves turn a dark red colour.
In the next step, the leaves are oxidised or fermented. This is when the red-coloured leaves get the familiar deep black hue.
Under the CTC method, the leaves are withered as before, but they are not rolled by hand. Instead, the leaves are passed through a CTC machine, which tears up and breaks the leaves into tiny particles. Afterwards, the final oxidation and drying process for CTC tea is the same as with orthodox tea making.
Because the CTC leaf particles are smaller than the whole leaves, they make for a stronger and quicker brew. This is also why the CTC method is often used for making black tea for tea bags. Black tea is the type with the highest caffeine content.
Uzuma Meraki tea contains mainly black tea (94%) together with rose petals and natural vanilla aroma. This makes Uzuma Meraki a delicious beverage for anyone who loves black tea!