When hosting a tea party, it’s helpful to know a little bit about the types of tea and how or where they are created. This knowledge will help you when selecting which kinds of tea to serve or when answering the questions of guests who aren’t familiar with a particular variety of tea.
This section is a brief overview about the different types of tea and only skims the surface of what it is possible to know about this subject. Like wine, you can become a connoisseur of tea but this is not required to enjoy it!
It is hard to believe that only one tea plant is used to create all of the world’s different types of tea, but it’s true. All tea comes from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, which has multiple varieties and numerous subvarieties. These varieties of the tea bush have developed based on varying factors like climate, soil, altitude, and geographical location. Each variety of the tea plant can be used to produce a tea with a slightly different flavor.
- White – a tea produced in mainly China and Sri Lanka that is only gently processed after the leaf has been left to wither in the sun. The oxidation step that is typical in tea production is actively avoided in the manufacture of white tea.
- Green – a minimally oxidized tea mainly produced in China and Japan
- Oolong – a partially oxidized tea mostly produced in China and Taiwan that is less oxidized than a black tea but more than a green tea and falls somewhere between the two
- Black – a fully oxidized tea mainly produced in China, Taiwan, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and some countries in Africa
A particular variety of leaf does not only produce one class of tea. Instead, these four types are created through specific manufacturing processes of the leaves. A freshly plucked tea leaf could be used to produce any of the types of tea because the major difference between the classes is due to the length of time that a tea leaf is oxidized.
However, this influence runs both ways. The variety of the tea leaf also affects the manufacturing process and certain leaf varieties work better as a green tea and others as an oolong tea. Factors like the shape of the leaf, how fast the tea bush grows, and the scheduled times during the year that the leaves must be plucked all contribute to the success or difficulty of producing a particular type. Most tea producing regions focus on only creating one or maybe two types of tea like Japan which produces mostly green teas. China is the only country that manufactures all classes of tea.
Even though there are only a few classes of tea, they produce an endless variety of flavors. Differences in taste and quality are based on factors such as geography, climate, cultivation practices, and the method of manufacture. Tea is very much like wine in this respect. Connoisseurs of each beverage always emphasize the date of the wine or tea as well as the region in which the grape or leaf was produced.
No two teas can ever truly taste alike, even from the same tea garden. One year, the weather might be extremely favorable and a very high-quality tea is produced but the next year, conditions may be extremely harsh on the tea plant and the quality suffers. Even within the same season at the same tea garden, the teas may not be identical because of the manufacturing process. Tiny details like the way a leaf is plucked from the tea bush to the amount of time that it is dried all affect the flavor.
Because of the variation, teas are often blended in order to keep the flavor between batches consistent. Teas that are unblended are called “single-garden estate” teas and are the fruit of a single tea estate. Their packaging often displays the address of the garden where the tea was produced. For tea blends such as an Irish Breakfast tea, this is impossible because the teas come from multiple estates, even multiple regions or countries depending on the blend. Teas are blended with the goal of producing a familiar tasting tea, one that does not vary from year to year or batch to batch.
For more about tea blends, visit the tea directory page which contains a brief directory of some of the most popular teas like Earl Grey, Jasmine, Darjeeling, English Breakfast, Russian Caravan, and many others.