Tea – The most favorite drink
Did you know that tea is the most popular drink, second only to water around the world? Green Tea, Matcha, Assam Black, Sencha, Earl Gray, Darjeeling Black tea, Hei Cha, and countless more. Our favorite beverage comes in a wide array of colors, forms, and shapes.
So how do you tell the different types of Tea? Easy—once you understand the traditional hierarchy of Tea. This article highlights some basic tea facts to help you navigate this divine, prolific realm.
“The tea world is indeed colorful, and even more so, fascinating.”
First off, Tea comes in six major categories. Let’s dive in to take a closer look at each tea type and its fundamental characteristics.
Six Major Types Of Tea
Traditionally, Chinese people sort tea into six major categories. Here’s a tip—I find using a color system based on the “tea soup” color is the best way for me to learn about Tea when I was a kid. Here it is:
- Dark or Hei Cha (or Dark tea in Chinese) or Puer (also Pu-er, Pu-erh, Pu’er, Puerh)
Here is a chart for the six tea types, with corresponding tea leaves and tea soup.
All six tea types are made from the same plant — Camellia sinensis. What makes each cup of tea different is the way the tea leaves are processed.
This single factor—how Tea is processed—was a Chinese national secret that had baffled brilliant European scientists for more than 400 years.
Six Tea Types
White Tea takes its name after its downy white buds. A very subtle tea, the most delicate white Tea grows in Fujian province, China. Tea-pickers pluck the tender buds by hand and carefully process them without rolling, firing, or oxidation. White Tea is the least processed of all tea types. Some of the most famous names include Silver Pekoe, White Peony, and White Eyebrows.
Yellow Tea or Mixed Tea
Also called Scented Tea, these are traditional tea varietals infused with flowers. Best examples include Jasmine Green tea, Rose Black tea, and Osmanthus Oolong tea. As you can imagine, drinking this flower-scented Tea is like taking a virtual walk in the garden. It awakens the senses and the mind.
Green Tea carries a refreshing taste, ranging from clean to grassy. I call this the sauvignon blanc of Tea. Green Tea has earned well-deserved accolades for its health benefits around the world. However, Chinese tea connoisseurs discovered long ago that all types of Tea come with varying health benefits. Learn more about the health benefits of Tea by type here.
Green tea leaves are stir-fried or steamed (traditional Chinese method that spread to Japan) to stop the oxidation process, then kneaded. Green Tea is much simpler to make than, say, Black or Oolong tea. The whole process takes just a day. Green Tea has a shorter shelf life compared to Oolong or Black Tea. Learn more about how Tea spread to Japan and how Japanese tea-makers continue to evolve and innovate Green tea-making techniques, producing unique blends of Japanese Green teas such as shaded Green Tea.
Of the six tea types, Oolong tea is the most complex Tea to produce.
I call Oolong the Champagne of Tea. Semi-fermented, Oolong tea bursts with exotic fragrance and a sophisticated taste profile. Highly celebrated in China, Oolong tea comes with ancient lore belonging to fantasy novels. We capture this mystical origin story in the film 9 DRAGONS TEA.
Proper Oolong tea-tasting is a ceremonial experience, showing respect for Tea and the tea drinker. Done right Oolong tea-tasting is a journey for the mind and the body, stimulating yet tranquil.
“It’s like letting Tea take you on a walk through the meadow in springtime. There is no need for words.”
The best Oolong shimmers with a golden hue and is famous for its long-lasting brew. Each brew reveals subtle differences. Which is the best brew? You decide. My personal favorite is the third or fourth brew.
Watch a short clip of 9 DRAGONS TEA for a traditional tea-tasting ceremony, called Gong Fu Cha, or Kung Fu Cha.
Highly celebrated in the Chinese culture, Oolong tea is the most complex Tea to make amongst all six tea types. Learn about the 15 steps of tea-making.
The invention story of Oolong tea, namely Da Hong Pao (means “Big Red Robe” in Chinese), is a legend in and of itself. Do you fancy dragons? If so, this is your cup of Tea! Learn more about the origin of Oolong and the mystical beginnings of Da Hong Pao here.
Known for its health benefits, Oolong is also the world’s most expensive Tea, with Da Hong Pao leading the prized tea pack. The film 9 DRAGONS TEA traces Oolong tea’s history and how this storied Tea spread from Wuyi Shan to Japan, India, and other countries.
Black Tea is a historic Tea. Ever wonder where your favorite cup of Black tea, such as Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Darjeeling Black tea, came about? The world’s Black Tea came from Lapsang Souchong, invented in Wuyi Shan, Fujian province of China.
Lapsang Souchong gave birth to all other Black teas, including Assam Black tea, Ceylon Black tea, Darjeeling or Kenya Black tea, etc.. How did tea spread from Wuyi Shan to India, Sri Lanka, and Africa? An excellent question indeed.
In the documentary 9 DRAGONS TEA, we interviewed Mr. Jiang Yuan-Xun, the direct descendant of Lapsang Souchong’s inventor. The 24th generation Black tea master told the incredible origin story and how Lapsang Souchong significantly impacted history, including the Boston Tea Party that led to the American Revolution.
Why is Lapsang Souchong a world-changing tea? The smoky Tea fueled the American spirit of independence.
Did you know that all the Tea thrown into the Boston Harbor on Dec. 16th, 1773 were from China? Considered the “crown jewel of tea” from the 1600s to mid-1800s, Lapsang Souchong represented two-thirds of all the Tea destroyed that fateful evening, known as the Boston Tea Party.
The original Lapsang Souchong Black tea had a smoky aroma. Have you heard of the term “bohea,” a common name for Black Tea? The film 9 DRAGONS TEA explains how this name came about, as tea historian Bruce Richardson discusses this momentous chapter of American history from ground zero at the Old South Meeting House in Boston.
Black Tea is fully fermented, including withering, rolling, and drying inside a smoked chamber, which gives the tea its red color. In the ancient days, Chinese tea-drinkers despised dark tea colors since Tea was consumed pure, without adding milk or sugar.
In wine-speak, Black Tea is the zinfandel or merlot of Tea. In recent years, the Lapsang Souchong family created an ultra-refined Black tea, called Jin Jun Mei, known as the crown jewel for Chinese Black tea drinkers. Light and refreshing, Jin Jun Mei Black tea streams as a ray of light ruby and is a pure delight to taste. Of course, the Chinese wouldn’t think for a second to add milk or sugar into their Black Tea.
Dark Tea, or Pu-erh Tea (or Puer, aka Hei Cha)
Pu-erh Tea is a world unto itself. Indigenous to Yunnan Province in China, Pu-erh Tea has a long history, spanning over at least 2,000 years. A fascinating category as vast as it is diverse, Pu-erh Tea is a fermented tea and comes in two sub-categories:
- Sheng (raw in Chinese), and
- Shou (ripe in Chinese)
Both raw and ripe Pu-erh tea types refer to the tea leaves’ undergoing a complex process of gradual fermentation to reach maturity over time.
Both types of Pu-erh Tea are made from large-leaf tea trees, called “dayeh” in Chinese. The finest and rarest Pu-erh Tea comes from ancient trees; some are more than 2,000-year-old!
To me, this Tea deserves its documentary. A cup of aged Pu-erh Tea reveals ancient secrets of man and nature, culture and history. Have you heard of the Tea-For-Horses trade? Pu-erh Tea was the currency to trade for prized horses between China and Tibet via The Ancient Tea Horse Road over a thousand years ago.
Quality Pu-erh Tea shows a deep, dark crimson color and is rich in earthy flavors and aromas, which Pu-erh lovers seem to be addicted.
“Tasting a cup of well-aged Puer tea is like taking a walk through the forest or being inside a cave.”
In wine-speak, quality Pu-erh tea is like a French cabernet sauvignon. Smooth, refined with a beautiful deep red hue. Similar to wine, Pu-erh Tea comes with a standard label, declaring the year and production region.
The Chinese have long treasured Pu-erh Tea for its legendary health benefits. A well-aged Puer tea cake commands top dollars among feverish collectors worldwide.
Also called “hei cha,” meaning “black tea” in Chinese, Pu-erh is an “old tea,” and its dark crimson hue also made it an easy target for counterfeiting. Buyers beware. I’ll write more about this fascinating Tea in future blogs. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter for more sips of Tea right into your inbox.
I hope this article has given you some exciting facts about tea to spark a conversation with fellow tea-drinkers at your next tea party.
“Tea is a language unto itself — This cup makes us more human.”
If you have a tea story to share or comment about this article, I’d love to hear it. Until then, I raise my teacup and cheers to you!
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