DRINKING BLACK TEAS
Tea characteristics can vary from harvest to harvest, region to region, and even between tea estates within a region. The following chart, which lists general descriptions of common appearance, taste, and aroma characteristics, will help you become more familiar with some of the most common black teas. Similar charts will follow the descriptions of oolong, green, white, and pu'erh teas.
As you review these charts, please keep in mind that taste is a subjective experience and that the descriptions here are very brief. There's a whole world of tea out there. Sampling many teas is the best way to find your favorites.
Oolong tea falls in between black and green tea in terms of processing, taste, and other characteristics, and as a result, shares qualities of black and green teas. During processing, the withering and fermentation (i.e., oxidation) stages are combined, and last only four or five hours rather than the twenty-four-hour fermentation process used to make black tea. Then the leaves are fired to halt fermentation, sorted, and packed. This process results in semifermented tea that contains less caffeine than black tea. Below are a few types of oolong teas from China and Taiwan.
Green tea is made from unfermented tea leaves. Immediately after picking, leaves are panfired in a large metal wok or steamed to break down the enzymes in the leaf that cause fermentation. Panfiring also softens the leaves for rolling. Next, leaves are rolled, then dried, sorted, and packed. This process generally takes twenty-four hours or less.
Because green tea is the least processed tea, except for white tea, more of the tea leaf's beneficial properties remain intact. Green tea has half the caffeine of black tea and varies widely in appearance and taste. Some green teas are light, mild tasting, and pale green or yellow in color. Others can have a bitter or grassy taste. Matcha, the strong tea used in Japanese tea ceremonies, is characterized by its frothy jade liquid. Most of the world's green teas come from Japan, which produces only green teas, and China, which produces black, oolong, and green teas. Below are several well-known green teas.
The purest of all teas, white tea is made from the fresh downy buds of the Camellia sinensis bush. White tea is the least processed and rarest of teas, drunk primarily by tea connoisseurs. You won't find white teas at the supermarket, only at fine specialty tea shops. A premium white tea like Yin Zhen (silver needles) can cost $120 or more a pound.
Originally produced in China's Yunnan Province and named after the ancient trading town of Pu-er, Pu'erh tea is a favorite in China. In Yunnan, Pu'erh is considered a medicinal tea, drunk with or after a meal to aid digestion. It is also believed to reduce cholesterol. Pu'erh is the only tea that is aged before processing and whose taste improves with age. Premium pu'erh teas are aged from twenty to sixty years. This mystery tea is processed under vigilant security and secrecy. Nobody outside of its manufacturers in China knows exactly what makes this tea so remarkable. In fact, during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) trespassers caught on the plantation were executed.
HERBAL TEAS (TISANES)
Technically speaking, herbal teas, called "tisanes" in Europe (tisane is the French word for infusion), are not considered true teas since they are made from dried herbs and do not contain tea leaves. However, for simplicity, all of the warm beverages mentioned in this book will be referred to as "teas."
Like tea, herbal teas have been consumed for centuries as healing tonics and traditional medicines. Their use as refreshing beverages is a relatively recent development, and in Germany, where pharmaceutical-quality herbal teas are sold as over-the-counter drugs, 60 percent of packaged teas are medicinal teas. Peppermint, chamomile, and ginger are just a few types of herbal teas. (See chapter 5 for more information on herbal teas.)
ROBUST ROOIBOS: THE REDBUSH TEA
Rooibos tea (pronounced "roy-boss"), grown only in South Africa, shares the best qualities of black and herbal teas. This herbal tea resembles strong black teas in appearance and flavor, but it is naturally caffeine-free, low in tannins (a type of polyphenol in black tea responsible for its sometimes bitter taste), and, like tea, a source of vitamins, minerals, and disease-fighting antioxidants. Rooibos is sometimes referred to as "redbush tea" (not to be confused with red-colored tea consumed in China). Honeybush tea is another herbal tea grown in South Africa.
Source: The Little Book of Healthy Teas