Tea varieties available in the market

White, black, green…. you may wonder how many types of tea varieties are there on earth! Though we use the same raw material that is, the same leaves from the tea plant, the steps we use to make the tea causes the difference. There are as many as six basic steps that we may need to use to get a particular type of tea. different tea types- green tea cup with teapot

Main steps in tea production includes –

  • Plucking
  • Withering – letting the leaves to soften and release excess moisture
  • Rolling/CTC processing/roasting – to shape the leaves and/or eliminate excess fluid
  • Oxidizing – chemical reaction that enables the tea leaves to acquire a brown color and adds flavor and aroma to the finished teas
  • Drying
  • Sorting

We see five broad tea varieties of tea which are white, black, green, oolong and pu’erh. Producers manufacture these teas, available in the market, using different combination of steps mentioned above.  A brief description of each tea variety is given below which you may find helpful.

White tea:

It was first developed in the Fujian province in China. White tea got its first mention in the Song Dynasty (an era of  Chinese history that began in 960 and continued until 1279) document “Treatise on Tea”. It is the least processed type among various types of tea. Here the leaves and buds are withered and dried under natural sun. Unlike other tea variants, it does not need panning (a light roasting of the leaf before and between rolling). Hence it retains its natural taste with no extra flavor that smoke and flame can add. Its manufacturing process is very simple – first pluck the fresh tea leaf, then wither and finally dry the leaves. This may be by air drying, solar drying or by mechanical drying process.

White tea processing

It neither goes tea-variety-white-teathrough rolling nor oxidation process. The leaves used in white tea manufacturing plays a crucial role in the quality of the tea. They are selected under stringent quality control regime. The young unopened buds with fine silver white hairs gives a whitish appearance to the plant. As the name suggests, only these buds are selected for white tea. Strict adherence to this norm only can produce a high quality white tea with a greater pekoe value.

In 1876 an English publication first categorized it as a black tea variant. The logic behind this was that it did not require cooking like the green tea. Cooking or panning in green tea is used to deactivate the external microbes and the internal enzymes in the leaves.

Naming of white tea

White tea is often seen to be marketed in that name of ‘Silvery Tip Pekoe’.  It is the traditional name of white tea. But now it is also sold under the simple broad categories such as China White or Fujian White. Other than China, white tea is produced also in Taiwan, Nepal, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India. As white tea can be handpicked only and needs special care, its production cost is high and hence it is rare and expensive. But it can offer maximum of the health benefits associated with tea. This is because white tea is the almost unprocessed variety of tea. The brew from white tea is not colorless white. White tea comes with a very pale green or yellow liquor. It has a light taste with the most delicate flavor and aroma and a free shape.

Green Tea:

It is the most publicized among all the tea varieties. This is for its long history of use and proven health benefits. Green tea is plucked, roasted and machine dried. Green tea requires more processing than white tea tea varieties- green teabut less than the black tea. At first the plucked leaves are either roasted or pan-fried. This practice helps to stop oxidation in the leaves. It stops the very enzymatic  process that turns the leaves brown. After this, the leaves are dried in the dryer and then sorted as per their size and quality.

Green tea retains most of the antioxidants and polyphenols that exist in the green tea leaves. These polyphenols are responsible for the many health benefits of  less processed green tea. The color of its liquor is pale green or yellow. China produces almost 80% of world’s total green tea.  Chinese green teas are mostly pan-fried with a toasty, grassy flavor. Japan is the other most important producer of green tea. It  produces around 10% of world’s total green tea output. The green tea from Japan has a vegetative or leafy taste. This happens as the tea undergoes steaming at the time of production. To know more about the health benefits of green tea please read 7 Green Tea Benefits.

Oolong Tea:

The word oolong in English has come from the Chinese word wulong. Wu means black and long means dragon. Oolong tea is specifically most popular among a certain group of people. It is mostly popular among the people belonging to the south China region. Oolong is also popular among the people of Chinese origin living in the Southeast Asia.

Making of oolong tea

For making oolong tea, the leaves are wilted in the sun for some time. The leaves are then shaken inside a container for initiation of oxidation. Oxidation starts when the juice in the bruised leaves come in direct contact with air. Then the tea leaves are spread out for around two hours to dry. To stop the oxidation process, the leaves are then fired in hot woks for a very short period. The oxidation and firing process may be repeated until the leaves dry up tea varieties - oolong teafully and become crisp. This repetitive oxidation and firing process is unique to oolong tea.

Though somewhat time consuming, this process imparts a beautiful painting of aroma and flavor on to the oolong tea leaves. That is why its complexity of flavor far exceeds that of White, Green or Black teas. The degree of oxidation can be varied from 8 to 85% as per the requirement. This can be calculated by having a glance at the ratio of brown color on the leaf during the manufacturing process.

Unique benefits0f oolong

In addition to the common antioxidants that all the varieties of tea have, oolong tea has some additional polyphenolic compounds unique to it. This can be attributed to the repeated semi-oxidation process that the tea passes through. Oolong tea not only has caffeine, but also has some additional caffeine like content such as theophylline and theobromine. They act in the similar way as caffeine works and stimulate the nervous system.

Depending on the production method adopted and the quality of the raw material used, the taste of oolong tea can be (a) fruity & sweet

(b) fresh & green

(c) thick & woody.tea varieties - black tea in cup

Different Varieties of Oolong teas are:

  1. Indian oolongs – Sikkim Temi, Darjeeling, Assam smoked oolong
  2. Taiwanese oolong – Formosa Dongding, Formosa Alishan, Formosa Wenshan Pouchong, Formosa Oriental Beauty, Formosa Shanlinxi, Formosa Jade etc.
  3. Chinese oolong – Premium Wuyi mountain rock oolong varieties like Dahongpao, Tieluohan, Baijiguan, Shuijingui, Wuyi Cinnamon, Wuyi Daffodil, Phoenix Daffodil and numerous other standard varieties.
  4. Vietnamese oolong, Thai oolong, Indonesian oolong, African oolongs made in Kenya and Malawi, Nepali oolong etc.

Black Tea:

black-tea-vs-green-tea-black-leafIt is the tea that is allowed to oxidize completely at the time of manufacturing. The steps involved in the making of black tea are withering, leaf sifting, leaf conditioning, rolling (for orthodox) or CTC processing (for CTC), oxidizing, drying and sorting. All these steps are followed in a very linear form. Hence black tea is manufactured within a day. The brewed liquor of a black tea ranges between dark brown and deep red. It offers the strongest flavors and, in some cases, greatest astringent taste. Black tea can be enjoyed in a number of ways like mixing with milk and sugar, or with lemon, ginger etc. It is also popularly used for preparation of chilled cup of iced tea. Most of the teas produced in the tropical and sub-tropical regions in the world are black tea. To learn more about black tea please see Black teas types.

Pu’erh Tea:

Pu’erh is a post-fermented tea. In case of the other teas, all processes are stopped once the tea is ready. In pu’erh tea, process like fermentation may continue for several years even after few early steps in its production has been completed. The raw material of pu’erh tea is the tender leaves of Sinensis assamica. It is the tea species variety with large leaf, found in the South Yunnan Mountains in China and Assam. In green tea or black tea the plucking standard is one bud and maximum of two leaves. In case of pu’erh tea, it is one bud and up to 3 or 4 leaves.


Making of Pu’erh

To make the enzymes partially inactive, the plucked tea leaves are pan-fried at first. Then it is dried under the sun. During this sun-drying process, fermentation of the leaves continue uninterrupted. As a result, the leaves acquire the unique flavor of pu’erh tea. This output called maocha is still green in color. It can be used directly as loose leaf green tea. Pu’erh tea has two distinctively different categories – the raw/green sheng cha and the ripe/black shou cha.

The manufacturing process of pu’erh tea is quite simple. However the time required for its production is very long. This prolonged manufacturing period of pu’erh tea is responsible for the mellowing and refining of its flavor and character. If maocha is compressed into dense cakes or other decorative shapes, we get the raw pu’erh or sheng cha, which is still green in color. When the raw sheng cha is aged and matured naturally for several years, we get the vintage pu’erh raw tea. The green color of the pu’erh raw tea turns brown in course of this storage period. This happens because of the continuous fermentation happening inside the leaves. In case the loose maocha is not immediately compressed, instead it is subjected to the Wo Dui ripening process for some more months and then compressed into cakes, then we get ripe pu’erh or shou cha.

What is Wo tea varieties- two girls chatting over tea

It is a process of piling, wetting, and mixing the maocha which was developed in the year 1973 in the Kunming Tea Factory. This process –

  1. increases the moisture and the temperature level of the tea to attain fermentation at an accelerated pace
  2. ensures a more even fermentation of tea leaves in the ripened pu’erh
  3. Gives the fresh pu’erh the flavor and color of aged raw pu’erh

The pu’erh tea can be given different shapes. Some of the common shapes given to pu’erh at the time of compression include the shape of a round cake or a rectangular brick or a bird’s nest etc. Pu’erh tea is most popular in Hong Kong, Guangdong Province in China and Taiwan. Various types of post-fermented pu’erh teas are made in many places in China as well as in Burma, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Japan. Like vintage wine, well-preserved and aged pu’erh teas are considered as living teas which are very much sought after for their unique aroma and rich, smooth taste.

Different categories of Pu’erh tea with demand available in the market are:

  1. Maocha in loose form that can be used as the raw material for pu’erh tea or as green tea.
  2. Pressed but non-fermented maocha i.e. pu’erh raw green tea.
  3. Pressed maocha that has undergone fermentation up to a year i.e. up to one year old raw pu’erh.
  4. Vintage raw pu’erh that is aged, the most sought after pu’erh tea.