Saturday, March 22, 2014

Different Types of Tea

At Peaceful Water, we like to offer people tea. We use tea bags for convenience but we have a good range from sencha to Oolong to Puerh.  A lot of people are curious to know more about tea, so I decide to write a bit about tea.


I will first clarify. When I talk about “tea” here, I mean the dried leaves of the “tea plant” camillia sinesis. Rooibos, yerba mate, mint and chamomiles are perfectly good tisane or infusion. Only “tea plant” produces tea.


Tea can be different because of different cultivars or different terroir (borrowing some wine terminology here...). But usually when we talk about different types of tea, we are talking about how tea is processed after it's picked. The moment a tea leaf is picked, it starts to go through enzymatic oxidation. In another word, it starts to wilt. Similar to when an apple is cut and left in contact with air, the apple will turn brown. The bright green tea leaf will wilt and turn brown. The enzymatic oxidation can be stopped at any point by applying heat.

If you don't let the tea oxidate at all, you will get green tea.

If you let the tea oxidate completely, you will get black tea (called “red” () tea in Chinese for the color its liquor, to differentiate it from “black” () tea, such as Puerh, which steep to a thick brown liquor, sometimes as dark of soy sauce!)

Anything in partially oxidated is green-blue () tea, best known as Oolong, usually roasted to some degree.

Post-fermented tea, best known as Puerh, is unoxidated or partially oxidated tea dried at low temperature, pressed into cake, then left to age in a warm humidified environment, until the tea undergoes microbial fermentation and further oxidation, transforming the flavor and mouthfeel of the tea. Or the aging process can be artificially sped up in an controlled environment before pressing the tea in to cake.

Less common variations are white and yellow tea. White tea is very lightly oxidated then dried. Yellow tea, is briefly fermented in an anaerobic environment before drying


When I was living in Toronto, tea had became fashionable and there were many tea shops. They usually carry hundreds of different blended and flavored tea. To sell their tea, they let you smell them. They usually smelled fabulous. Vanilla, spices, fruit peels, flower, ginger. (Notice how they never smelled like “tea”?) Drinking those teas were always disappointing. They usually taste flat and bland. As if people believe tea to be scented hot water and nothing more!

I do like to smell my tea. But I like my tea to have flavors too.

I believe that good tea should have depth of flavors that reveal itself in stages. First, the liquor hits your tongue. You might taste the vegetal, seaweed flavor in sencha; the honey, fruity tones in Darjeeling; or the floral quality in Anxi Tieguanyin. Then, the liquor travel through your mouth. You might feel the astringency of a Oolong; or the velvety mouth feel of a Puerh. Lastly, after the liquor had gone down your throat, a new wave of sweetness arise from the back of your throat. Jinxuan's creamy taste might yield to a sweetness reminiscent of sugarcane.

A good tea should give you all these stages, and maybe more.


Right now we have a couple interesting tea bags.

This Oolong teabag is actually made with whole leaves, as opposed to the broken, crushed, or sometimes dust leaves in regular tea bags.  It takes a while longer for the leaves to open, but it has solid flavors and can be steeped multiple times.  

This is Ume Konbucha, made from plum (ume), sea kelp (konbu), sugar and salt.  It's technically not a tea and is an acquired taste.  There are theories suggesting the trendy fermented sweet tea beverage "kombucha" got its name from konbucha due to the similarities between their sweet & sour flavor, or the appearance of the thick bacterial growth to sea kelp.

So, That's it for today.  Next time when you come to Peaceful Water, have a cup a tea!

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