There are several different kinds of tea and each has its own flavour and character. Time spent exploring different varieties is well worth while, as you never know what joys you might discover!
Oolong tea leaves - character for tea in Chinese by Toby Oxborrow from Kowloon, Hong Kong (Tea 茶) via Wikimedia Commons
To start off with, although the label “tea” is used widely, it doesn’t strictly speaking include all hot infusions – redbush (rooibos), peppermint, camomile, etc are all herbal infusions but for the purist, tea is only made from the leaves of the plant Camellia sinensis. Tea was originally drunk in China but as its popularity spread, it was discovered that the tea bushes grow well in any warm high-altitude location, such as Darjeeling, on the southern slopes of the Himalayas in northeast India, or the central highlands of Sri Lanka where Ceylon tea is grown. Teas from these and other regions are now as well-known as China tea.
Fresh, still undried tea leaves of different qualities in a hand. Taken at the Happy Valley Tea Estate at Darjeeling, India by Arne Hückelheim via Wikimedia Commons
The leaves are picked from the bushes and look just like ordinary leaves at this point! The smaller the picked leaf, the more expensive the final tea will be, as the flavour is usually considered to be superior. The leaves are picked in “flushes” – the first flush is from the first leaves to be grown and picked that season and is reputed to have the best taste. The tea bushes are then left for a few days to grow a second flush of leaves, which are then picked in their turn and so on until the end of the growing season. After picking, the leaves are dried and processed to turn them into the tea leaves you can use to make a nice cup of tea.
Loose black tea 红茶 sold on the street markets in JianYang by PanShiBo via Wikimedia Commons
Different processes produce different kinds of tea; the most common kinds of tea are white, green, oolong, and black. Generally, the lighter teas have not been oxidised and contain less caffeine than the darker teas.
Tea of different fermentation by Haneburger via Wikimedia Commons
From left to right: Green tea (Bancha from Japan), Yellow tea (Kekecha from China), Oolong tea (Kwai flower from China) and Black tea (Assam Sonipur Bio FOP from India)
It is possible to buy tea leaves that have only come from one estate – this kind of tea is called Single Estate tea – but usually leaves from several estates will be blended together to produce the final tea that is available to purchase. The precise mix of leaves in the blend is what determines the different flavours available, and can be adjusted to suit the water with which the tea is being brewed. Local tea for local people! Also, the big brands such as Twinings, PG Tips and Typhoo, will blend leaves carefully to produce the flavour their customers expect.
Whilst the tea is being blended, other flavours may be added, such as bergamot oil to make the familiar Earl Grey taste or jasmine flowers to produce jasmine green tea. Spices might also be added to make a warming winter drink, such as cinnamon and ginger. Sometimes fruit flavours are used, as in the popular white tea and peach combination.
Earl grey tea by Stux via pixabay.com
In conclusion, there are many different kinds of tea, with many different flavours. It’s worth trying a few to find the one that suits you best! You can also experiment with whether you prefer using loose leaf tea or a teabag, and if you prefer it with or without milk. Or maybe add a slice of lemon – there’s no right or wrong with tea, just what you like. And remember: everything seems better after a nice cup of tea.
“There is something in the nature of tea that leads us into a world of quiet contemplation of life.”
Lin Yutang, The Importance Of Living