Tea Categories: Tea 101
Tea is the world's most popular beverage next to water, and is consumed in about 80% of US households. True tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant. In fine teas, only the top two leaves and bud are hand-picked to be processed. The production of tea is truly a labor intensive process: up to 80,000 hand-picked shoots are needed to produce a pound of top quality tea. There are literally thousands of varieties of teas, but the way a tea is processed determines its classification.
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Black teas are the most processed among the varieties. Freshly plucked leaves are withered, and are then rolled in order to lightly bruise the leaves, encouraging them to release their juices. The leaves are then laid out in a cool, humid room to absorb oxygen. The leaf color changes from green to a coppery red, giving black tea its distinctive liquor. The fermentation is then stopped, and the leaves are heat fired and dried.
Oolong teas are semi-oxidized before being rolled and dried. Oolongs can be deeply or lightly oxidized, resulting in some oolongs that are either very green or closer to a black tea. Oolongs are prized for their complex, floral and fruity characteristics.
Green teas are usually minimally oxidized, if at all, being pan fired or steamed and dried after shaping the leaves. Fresh green tea might taste slightly sweet, vegetal, nutty, and/or grassy, but shouldn't be bitter if prepared properly.
White teas are the least processed of all. Only the youngest leaves and buds are picked, still covered with down, and are air dried and steamed. White tea produces a fragrant, sweet tasting brew.
Rooibos grows in the Cedarburg Mountain region of South Africa, and is often referred to as "red bush tea." Rooibos is naturally caffeine-free, and has recently become quite popular due to its fruity, sweet flavor and antioxidant content.