The world of tea is huge - there are thousands of different varieties produced in over fifty countries. These varieties are generally divided into six categories: black tea, white tea, green tea, oolong tea, yellow tea and pu'er tea.
The different levels of oxidation
The majority of tea drunk in western countries are of the fully-oxidised black tea variety - including popular blends such as Earl Grey and English Breakfast. Black tea leaves are cultivated worldwide. We stock black teas grown in Kenya, India, China and Sri Lanka. In China, black tea is referred to as 'red tea', referring to the liquors reddish colour.
The process of harvesting black tea begins with the plucking of young tea leaves. These leaves are withered for several hours to reduce their moisture content. The leaves are then rolled, twisted into the desired shape, heated in an oven for several hours, and finally left over a wood fire to dry.
White tea is the rarest and oldest category of tea in existence today. Records mentioning white tea date back to around 1105 AD, during the Song Dynasty in China, when white tea was the choice of beverage for the royalty and was given as a tribute to the emperor. Nowadays, the leaves are produced mainly in the regions of Fuding, Zhenghe, Songxi and Jianyang, all located within Fujian province.
White tea leaves are dried naturally and undergo much less processing than other types of tea. Young tea leaves are withered, rolled or twisted into shape and naturally dried under the sun. The leaves contain high quantities of antioxidants.
The liquor produced from white tea leaves is fruity and smooth with floral hints, and tends to be lighter than that of green tea. Famous white teas include Silver Needle (Baihao Yinzen) and White Peony (Bai Mudan).
Although green teas are produced mainly in China and Japan, they have experienced a significant resurgence in western countries recently, to a large extent because of the publicity of the huge health benefits associated with drinking green tea.
The leaves are picked three times each year. After picking they are dehydrated through either steaming or panning, therefore preventing any possibility oxidation. The leaves are then rolled into the desired shape and dried.
Although the taste of green teas differ greatly depending on the variety and brewing times, they often feature an alluring grassy aroma and beautiful floral taste - although if the leaves are left infusing for too long then bitter tannins are sometimes released.
Oolong teas have a long history dating back over 1,000 years, when the long-established Beiyuan tea went out of fashion with the royalty. The area began producing a partially oxidized loose leaf tea instead – the original Oolong tea. Nowadays, Oolong teas are produced mainly in Taiwan and the Chinese provinces of Fujian and Guangdong.
The leaves of Oolong tea undergo partial oxidation, the extent of which varies greatly depending on the variety. The leaves are then either rolled or twisted into shape, and dried in low-heat oven to ensure the leaves are not burnt.
The taste of Oolong teas is often smooth and floral, similar to that of White teas. Several varieties of Oolong tea, such as Da Hong Pao and Xiao Hong Pao, are among the most celebrated Chinese teas.