There are many different types of tea available today. Green, black, red, oolong, white and Earl Grey are just a few you may encounter. It can be confusing to the average consumer; I’m here to help sort through the many variations out there.
Most teas actually come from the same plant: the blooming tea balls camellia sinensis bush. White tea comes from picking the unopened flower buds off of the bush. These buds are also referred to as the silver needles of the bush. They are always picked by hand and only able to be harvested in the spring before blooming occurs. As a result, white tea is normally a costly option. It does, however, make a smooth, silky cup of tea with a unique flavor you won’t get anywhere else. It doesn’t have any of the grassy notes sometimes found in green tea or the bitter flavors associated with black tea. It is light and refreshing. While it may be too cost prohibitive to consume regularly, white tea is a great choice for special occasions.
When the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant are picked, the type of tea that results depends on how it is processed. When the leaves are withered and lightly steamed or pan fried, you end up with green tea. If they are fermented until dark, allowing complex flavors to develop, the resulting tea is black. Partially fermented leaves are called oolong. They have a flavor profile that falls in the middle of the green and black varieties, with many of the health benefits of both. If you only want to keep one type of tea in your pantry, consider making it oolong.
Matcha is the Japanese word for “finely powdered tea.” It is green tea which has been completely pulverized. The result is a very fine powder which can be mixed with water and consumed without straining. As a result, you are actually drinking the leaves rather than just water they have steeped in. Matcha has about ten times the antioxidant power of regular green tea. It is also very easy to incorporate into recipes, as you can stir the powder into items without need for extra liquid (which may dilute the food item in question.)
This is a very popular version of black tea. It is made by adding a fragrant citrus oil to normal black tea. The oil is extracted from the rind of the bergamot orange, a distinctive citrus fruit grown mainly in Italy and France.
Red tea comes from either rooibos or honeybush plants. Unlike traditional camellia sinensis teas, they do not contain caffeine. They have a fruity, almost sweet flavor and a higher antioxidant level than most green teas.
Flowering teas have become quite popular in recent years. They are hand sewn by tea artisans and meant to mimic a blooming flower as they brew in a glass pot. It is very beautiful to watch and turns tea time into more of an event. Flowering teas can be made out of any type of tea, and run the gamut from simple to incredibly elaborate.