Types of Tea

Tea is one of the oldest beverages on the planet. It originated in China and has been a fixture in Chinese culture since the Shang dynasty about 2700 years ago. Legend says that the mythical Chinese emperor Shennong tasted every herb and plant to determine it's medicinal value. Whenever he'd eat a poisonous plant, he'd chew on tea leaves to counteract the poison. In the 16th century, tea was brought to Europe from China by Portuguese merchants. By the 1700s, tea had become a popular drink in Britain. It was introduced to India when it became a British colony. India remains one of the largest producers and exporters of tea to this day.

Why should you drink tea?

There's a reason tea has remained a popular beverage after thousands of years. It not only tastes great, but also has incredible health benefits! It's been reported to have cardiovascular benefits, including the ability to prevent calcium buildup in the coronary arteries. Tea contains antioxidants which protect the body from damage by free radicals, thereby reducing the risk of several kinds of cancers. Tea also assists in controlling blood sugar. Polyphenols in tea have been shown to have a preventive effect on several neuro-degenerative conditions, like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease. Despite containing some amount of caffeine, tea hydrates the body. It's been popularly used as a weight loss aid and to boost energy levels. A positive effect on bone and mineral health has been attributed to regular tea consumption. So you might want to replace your morning cuppa coffee with a refreshing and delicious new alternative!

Types of tea?

All tea comes from the same plant, Camellia Sinensis. This differentiates true tea from herbal teas, such as chamomile or peppermint. There's a huge variation in the appearance, taste and aroma of tea, with more than 3000 varieties of Camellia Sinensis in existence. However, tea can be broadly categorized into five groups - green, white, oolong, black and fermented or aged tea. So what determines the type of the tea? The level of oxidation the tea undergoes. Oxidation is a natural process which changes the color and flavor of the tea leaves. The leaves are mechanically rolled to crack their surface and are exposed to air. The oxidation is stopped by the application of heat. Highly oxidized teas tend to be darker and more intense in flavor. Let's take a closer look at the types, shall we?

Green Tea

Among the most well known of teas, green tea is tea that has undergone very little oxidation. After the leaves are picked, they are allowed to wither or oxidize only a short time before they are rapidly heated, preventing further oxidation. The color of brewed green tea ranges from pale to dark green with yellow tones, depending on the variety of leaf and brewing duration. Their caffeine content tends to be lower than that of other teas. Green tea needs to be brewed at a lower temperature than oxidized teas, typically between 142F to 189F (61C to 87C). Also, the leaves are steeped for a shorter duration than with oxidized teas. Brewing green tea at high temperatures or for long periods can impart a bitter taste to the tea. This tea loses it's delicate flavor as it ages and therefore cannot be stored for long periods. Green tea is prized for its subtle flavor and refreshingly grassy undertones.

White Tea

White tea is made from new growth buds and young leaves. It is picked by hand and immediately heated, either by steaming or firing to stop oxidation. White tea derives its name from the white strands on the unopened buds of the tea plant, which tend to be whitish in color. The brewed tea itself appears pale yellow. Properly brewed white tea contains very less caffeine, although the leaves are not inherently low in caffeine. Like green tea, white tea needs to be brewed at low temperatures and steeped for a lower duration. White tea has the most delicate and complex flavor of all teas and tend to be natural sweet and light.

Oolong Tea

Oolong is traditional Chinese tea produced through a long and intricate process. The leaves are withered in the sun before they are rolled and curled. Oolong tea typically undergoes more oxidation than white and green teas, but less than black tea. There are a great many varieties of oolong tea, and each individual cultivar is oxidized for a different amount of time, ranging from 8% oxidation to 85%. The manufacture of oolong tea is considered intricate because the leaves need to be bruised, browned, rolled and shaped with careful attention to timing and temperature given each step of the process. It is an incredibly popular tea in south China and southeast Asia. The flavor of oolong is not usually as subtle as that of green teas, but less intense compared to black tea. Oolong tea is often described as having floral or fruity undertones, and it is extremely fragrant.

Black Tea

Black tea is tea that has been oxidized to a greater degree than other tea varieties. The leaves are allowed to wither before they undergo oxidation, resulting in tea leaves that are black or dark brown in color. Brewed black tea is reddish brown in color. The caffeine content of black tea is high compared to other teas. Black tea leaves are highly oxidized and can hence be stored for years without any loss in flavor or quality. It is typically brewed for a longer period and at higher temperatures than other types of tea. Black tea has a strong and robust flavor and aroma.

Aged or Fermented Tea

A relatively new kind of tea, fermented tea is tea that has undergone fermentation. The tea leaves are exposed to certain microorganisms and are allowed to ferment. The specific kind of microorganism introduced depends on the desired flavor and on the tea itself. The fermentation process itself oxidizes the tea, which is why fermented tea leaves are often dark brown to black in color. This type of tea is also called dark tea. Fermented tea is probiotic, and the microbes create metabolites that are beneficial to health such as polyphenols, L-Theanine and theaflavin. Dark tea is a source of nutrients and minerals.

Herbal Tea

Herbal tea is not a true tea, that is, it is not made from the Camellia Sinensis plant. Instead, it is a term used to refer to any kind of beverage made by infusing herbs in hot water. Spices and other flavoring agents are commonly added. Herbal teas have been consumed for medicinal reasons since ancient times. Herbal tea is usually prepared using dried or fresh flowers, leaves, seeds or roots. It typically contains no caffeine. Some popular herbs used to prepare tea include dandelion, anise, artichoke, cinnamon, ginger and lemongrass.

You don't have to limit yourself to drinking only tea! There is a plethora of interesting beverages that can be made using tea. Earl Grey is a popular blend, which consists of black tea and bergamot oil. Throw some spices in your cup of tea and you have masala chai. Bubble tea is a Taiwanese drink that consists of tea and tapioca pearls. There are many desserts and savory dishes alike that can be spiced up with tea. Be creative and include this delicious beverage in your diet to partake of its many benefits!

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