The growing and naming of tea can be likened to wine; both are grown from one bush, they are often named after their growing regions, and the differences in things like elevation, climate, soil and the skill of the tea master or wine producer result in the different characters of the liquor.
Herbal ‘teas’ on the other hand, such as Chamomile, Peppermint or Rooibos, are not actually teas at all. We refer to these as infusions because they come from herbs and flowers other than the Camellia bush. Most of our infusions are naturally caffeine free and they tend to relax, invigorate and/or aid healing.
The way tea leaves are processed determines whether they will be classified at white, green, oolong or black teas. The main difference between the many varieties of tea is how much oxidation the leaves are allowed to absorb during processing. Essentially, more oxygen produces darker teas like black and oolong and less oxygen produces green teas. White tea is made from unprocessed leaves.
Each category is explained below. Although each method follows historical procedures, it is each tea master’s specific interpretation and skill that gives every single tea its unique quality. Tea really is the most varied beverage on the planet.
Black tea is fully fermented. There are four basic steps – withering, rolling, fermenting and drying. The freshly plucked leaves are spread out to wither and then the leaves are bruised by rolling (to release the chemicals within the leaf). The rolled leaves are then spread out again to oxidise (causing the leaves to turn from green to coppery red). The level of oxidation will depend on the intentions of the tea master. For the final step, the leaves are dried by heating them in an oven until the moisture content is reduced to 2-4%.
Black tea is typically robust and has the highest caffeine content. Some of the popular eteaket black teas include English Assam Breakfast and Royal Earl Grey.
Oolong teas (pronounced ‘Wu-Long’) fall between black tea and green tea because they are only semi-fermented. The process is complex and differs between tea gardens so oolong teas can have a very wide array of flavours and aromas.
For the manufacture of oolongs, the leaves are withered in direct sunlight and occasionally tossed on bamboo trays to lightly bruise the edges and encourage oxidation. Once the tea is sufficiently oxidised, it is fired to stop any further oxidation. It is then hand-rolled and fired anywhere between 15-25 times to bring the moisture from the inside of the leaf to the outside and to give the leaf its unique flavour and character. The final character of the tea is determined by baking the tea one last time.
Most Oolongs come from China or Taiwan (often referred to by its old Dutch name, Formosa). Oolongs are generally fragrant and full bodied and are widely drunk for their digestive benefits. Due to their smooth, complex flavours, oolong teas are often favoured by connoisseurs. Some of eteaket’s popular oolong teas include Yellow Gold Oolong and Oriental Oolong.
After the leaves are plucked, they are withered on bamboo trays. This allows the cells to weaken so moisture passes easily out of the leaf during the frying and drying stages. Without this step, moisture would stay in the leaves and the liquor would taste bitter. The leaves are then quickly steamed or pan-fried to prevent any chance of oxidation by killing enzymes in the leaf. This process preserves many of the vitamins and antioxidant properties of the leaves, making green tea renowned as a healthy and enjoyable drink. Next, the leaves are rolled to expose the moisture held deep within the leaves and then dried over heat (preferably charcoal). At the end of this process there should not be more than 4% moisture in the leaf.
Green tea is produced mainly in China and Japan (although we have discovered an exquisite green tea from Sri Lanka on our travels). Green teas typically infuse to a pale yellow-green liquor with a fresh, light taste. Some of eteaket’s popular green teas are Gunpowder Deluxe and Jasmine Pearls.
White teas are the most rare and delicate of teas and undergo the least processing. New buds are picked from the tea bush in early spring when the young buds are still covered in silvery downy hairs. They are picked before they contain chlorophyll so they don’t have the vegetal character associated with green tea. The buds are then withered to allow moisture to evaporate before they are dried (in the sun if possible).
The silvery appearance of the buds results in a pale, straw-coloured liquor with a subtle natural sweetness and an abundance of antioxidants. White tea is very low in caffeine. Some of the popular eteaket white teas are Silver Needle and White Peony.