Types of Tea
The tea plant, called “Camellia Sinensis”, is a shrub with evergreen leaves that grows in hot and humid conditions. It is cultivated between the 42nd degree North latitude and the 31st degree South latitude, from sea level up to a 3,000-meter altitude. All teas come from the same tree. Differences in environment, harvest and leaves-processing provide the differences in quality, transformation, color, grade and type.
In most tea plantations, tea is still harvested by hand, especially where high quality tea is produced. Hand plucking requires a real dexterity and occurs many times a year, since the evergreen tea leaves constantly grow back. Theoretically, only the first and youngest leaves are plucked, including the topmost bud called Pekoe (Pak-Ho, which means ‘down’ in Chinese), which, if left, would grow into a full leaf. There are essentially three types of plucking:
Imperial plucking: rare, where only the Pekoe and the closest leaf are plucked.
Fine plucking: the most common for top-quality teas where the Pekoe and the closest and youngest two leaves are gathered.
Standard plucking: comprises of the mature bud and the three or more leaves that follow. Harvesting through the standard method allows the tea plant to fully develop. Once plucked, the leaves are quickly processed at the factory, usually located in the middle of the plantation, to avoid unwanted alteration of the quality.
It is only the transformation method after the plucking that determines the type of original tea obtained: white tea, green tea, blue-green tea or black tea. The main process that defines the color of the tea infusion is the fermentation or oxidation.
It is a post-fermented black tea from China where it is referred to as black tea. It is essentially the Pu Er, the tea that comes from the Yunnan province and is appreciated for its medicinal virtues (fat-burner, digestive, anti-cholesterol). It is low in theine, and its processing method remains a mystery. Pu Er is the only tea that improves with age; its price can reach tremendous amounts at auctions. It has a very typical taste, difficult to take in at first. It can be raw (to be cellar-matured) or cooked. It is sold loose or compressed in cake, plait, bricks or bird nests.
Also called Wu Long (or Oolong) meaning “black dragon” in Chinese, it is a semi-fermented tea with an oxidation level between 10% and 70%. Halfway between green and black, the leaves undergo a withering stage then rolling, partial fermentation and drying. Blue-green tea is light in theine and is always in the form of whole leaves. It comes in a variety of flavors due to the many possibilities of fermentation degrees. It gives a yellow to dark orange infusion and is appreciated in the afternoon. Blue-green teas come mostly from China and Taiwan, although some are developed elsewhere like in Darjeeling, India.
It is the least processed tea. The leaves undergo only two operations: withering and drying.
Both operations are done in open air, making the production of white teas extremely delicate and rare since it depends on weather conditions. Light, low in theine and with a high infusion time, it is renowned for its quenching properties. White tea gives a pale yellow infusion and is a Chinese specialty.
It is an unfermented tea that undergoes three operations: roasting to prevent oxidation, rolling and drying. There are multiple methods for manufacturing green tea. The difference between the vintages is due to the geographic location and to aesthetics; green tea leaves are often shaped in typical forms, folded, twisted, sculpted, rolled in a ball or lengthwise. Sculpted teas are a Chinese tradition and consist of 100 to 200 green tea leaves assembled to be given a particular shape, and sometimes added to a few flower petals. The most spectacular are the “tea flowers” that open up during the infusion. Green teas are rich in tannin and vitamins. They are known for their freshness and health benefits and can be consumed all day long. Green tea gives a yellow to green infusion and traditionally comes from China, Taiwan and Japan in infinite varieties.
Referred to as red tea in China, it is the most consumed tea in the world, especially in the West, the Middle East, Africa, and Russia. It is 100% fermented. Black tea gives a copper colored infusion. The best gardens are found in India, Sri Lanka, China and Africa. Black tea undergoes five main stages according to the so-called “orthodox” method used for quality teas: withering; rolling; fermentation; drying or roasting; selecting (sifting and sieving). Industrial producers of tea bags often use the CTC (cut/tear/curl) method to obtain broken or crushed leaves which are easy to package. After processing, black teas are classified in three types of leaves: the whole leaf, the broken leaf (Broken), and the crushed leaf (Fanning or Dust).
GRADES OF BLACK TEA
This classification, used primarily for the teas produced in the Indian subcontinent, directs the consumer to the desired taste.
The whole-leaf teas are divided into four distinct families according to international standards:
FOP (Flowery Orange Pekoe), with young leaves, downy-end bud and slightly golden leaves (tips). The word “Orange” doesn’t refer to color. It’s a reference to the Dutch, first European tea importers and to their royal family, the Orange-Nassau.
Variants of FOP include:
GFOP (Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe), with more golden tips
TGFOP (Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe), with all tips golden
One can be more precise about the qualities as in Darjeeling. These include:
FTGFOP (Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe)
SFTGFOP (Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe)
• OP (Orange Pekoe), with dark and mature leaves, the final bud already grown into a leaf when plucked.
• P (Pekoe), with mature and less refined leaves.
• Souchong, with large leaves rolled lengthwise, mainly used in China for smoked teas.
The broken-leaf teas, equivalent to whole-leaf FOP, OP and P are:
FBOP (Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe); BOP (Broken Orange Pekoe) BP (Broken Pekoe)