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Tea Basics

We don't know anyone who explains it better than Mary Ann Rollano! Our founder, Sara, recently sat down with her virtually and explored tea in Rwanda. You can read the interview here.

Are you ready to explore the origins of tea and how the looseleaf varieties are produced? The summary below by Mary Ann really clears some things up, and we love the Tea Processing Chart provided by Tony Glebely, who has kindly published a review on our Rwandan looseleaf teas. 

HOW IS TEA MADE?

Tea leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant are plucked from new leaf growth, and only the first two leaves and bud are selected for processing. A new leaf is the sweetest.

Tea experts categorize tea by how it’s processed in terms of oxidation, the color of the finished leaves, and the color of the resulting liquor.

To understand the different types of tea there are, it’s best first to understand how tea is made.

As soon as the leaves are plucked, they begin to oxidize. Oxidation changes the enzymes influencing the flavor of the tea. Heating the tea leaves stops the oxidation process.

Green and yellow teas are heated (or fixed) as soon as they get to the processing plant to prevent oxidation. This is done by steaming, pan-firing or oven drying.

Oolong and black teas are partially or fully oxidized. The leaves are first withered, allowing them to dry, removing some of the moisture. Firing and tumbling are applied to the oolongs in varying degrees to prevent further oxidation.

[Reference: 6 Tea Types. Rollano, Mary Ann. Life is Better with Tea. Accessed May 1 2020. https://www.lifeisbetterwithtea.com/types-of-tea]

The following chart was created by Tony Gebely and shows the six types of tea and how they are processed.

[Reference: Tea Processing Chart. Gebely, Tony. Creative Commons. Accessed May 1 2020. https://www.lifeisbetterwithtea.com/types-of-tea]

THE SIX TEA TYPES

1. GREEN TEA

Green tea is not oxidized. It is roasted, rolled, and dried with steam, oven heat, or pan-fried preventing oxidation, also known as fixing. This produces a refreshing tea with a sweet-smelling aroma. Green tea has a lighter flavor than black tea. It is most popular in eastern countries, but becoming more so in the west.

2. YELLOW TEA

Yellow tea is not oxidized. After fixing, yellow tea leaves are heaped or piled and then wrapped in a damp cloth to rest for a period. The heat and humidity give the leaves a yellow hew. It’s a very rare tea produced only in China, and very little is exported.

3. WHITE TEA

White tea is barely oxidized and has a sweet, subtle flavor. White tea is mostly processed from the bud only but can incorporate the first or second leaf as well.

4. OOLONG TEA (WULONG)

Oolongs are partially oxidized, within a range of 12 to 80 percent. Oolongs are some of the most prized teas due to their intricate processing, which provides a complex flavor that evolves with each sip. The flavor all depends on the skills of the tea maker.

5. BLACK TEA

Black tea is fully oxidized, producing a hearty deep rich flavor of the amber-colored tea. It is the most popular style of tea in most western countries and used in many blends such as Earl Grey, English Breakfast, and Chai.

6. PU-ERH TEA (FERMENTED)

Pu-erh tea is an aromatic black tea originating in China. The leaves undergo double fermentation and compressed into bricks or cakes. This made it easy to transport and exchange tea in ancient China. Still produced today, this is perhaps the most exotic of Chinese tea.

Our company sources four types of tea for our Silverback recipes: Green, White, Silver (which is a type of White), and Black. We only buy premium-grade loose leaf tea from Rwanda. Similar teas can be found in other parts of the world, primarily in Asia, though flavors may vary according to: climate and soil variables, harvesting and processing methodology, and also the way it is stored. 

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