Have you ever wondered what makes the types of tea available to us? Is it the different species of tea that makes it special? Or is it any kind of special treatment given to tea leaves?
Yes, it is the ‘mechanism’ or ‘processing’ behind tea leaves that how the tea ends up, depending upon how it is being processed after handpicked from garden.
All types of tea mostly come from the tea plant, scientifically named Camellia sinensis. It is an evergreen shrub or can say a small tree, whose leaves and leaf buds are used to produce different types of tea. It is of genus Camellia that belongs to family Theaceae. It is native to East Asia and Southeast Asia, but now grown across the globe majorly in tropical and subtropical regions. The major varieties largely grown and used today for tea are Camellia sinensis var. sinensis and Camellia sinensis var. assamica.
Different types of tea include black, white, oolong, green, yellow, all are harvested from same tea plant but ‘treatment’ or ‘processing’ they undergone makes them different from each other.
Tea processing involves five basic steps which are Plucking, Withering, Rolling, Oxidizing and Drying.
- Plucking : Picking up of the leaves from the plant in the tea garden
- Withering : Wilting or softening of leaves
- Rolling : Curling to shape the leaves
- Oxidizing : Series of chemical reaction that result in browning of leaves
- Drying : Removal of moisture from leaves
However, all types of tea do not undergo all these processes as same. Some tea repeats some processes several times, while some do not utilize all of these steps.
Out of these five steps, oxidation is the most crucial or says a ‘determining factor’ that results in a type of tea we want in the end. Oxidation, as mentioned above, is a series of chemical reactions that not only turn’s tea leaves brown but also responsible for the production of flavor and aroma in final tea product. Oxidation happens after rolling, crushing or cutting of leaves, once the cell walls of tea leaves are broken. This allows the enzymes in the tea leaves to interact with oxygen.
Depending upon the type of tea required (as final product), oxidation is either prevented or purposefully initiated, controlled then stopped.
Let us know more about different types of tea.
- Green tea : Green tea is made from the leaves of Camellia sinensis. Leaves are plucked, withered and rolled. They undergo minimal oxidation during its processing. The fresh leaves are steamed at a suitable temperature to stop the enzymes from browning the leaf. It has low caffeine content. It is widely available in various flavors like lemon green tea, tulsi green tea, ginger green tea, etc.
- Black tea : Black tea is very strong in flavor. It undergoes all basic steps of processing except that it is oxidized more than other teas that not only gives it a dark brown or black colour but also strong aroma. Black tea is most commonly consumed beverage among all. It is either blend with sugar and milk or without it. This tea has higher caffeine content than others.
- Oolong tea : Oolong tea leaves are pass through all five basic steps. It demands the rolling and oxidizing repeatedly. The leaves are rolled, and then allowed to rest and oxidize for some time. They will be rolled again, and then oxidized, over and over. As oolong tea is neither a black tea nor a green tea but its caffeine content is between the both.
- White tea : White tea is also obtained from the known tea plant Camellia sinensis. The white tea is actually minimally processed during its preparation. The tea is made from the young buds and the immature or the overlapped leaves. The buds ad leaves are handpicked even when buds are yet to open, when plant is young enough surrounded with fresh and new growth of leaves. The low oxidation for this tea makes this beverage so special and unique in colour.
Let us know more about different types of tea available in India.
- Darjeeling tea : Darjeeling tea is a tea that is obtained from the Darjeeling district in West Bengal, India. It is available in different variants like black, green, white and oolong. Because of specific geographical location or area and the environment of tea gardens in Darjeeling, the tea has unique, light colour and a musky flavor. The location of the tea plantations at these altitudes of Darjeeling provides steep slopes ensure excellent drainage as the region gets adequate rainfall. Like most Indian teas, Darjeeling tea is also made from the small-leaved Camellia sinensis plant. Conventionally, Darjeeling tea is made as black tea but nowadays other varieties like green, oolong as well as white tea are also available.
- Assam tea : Assam tea is obtained from the Assam region in India. Assam tea is a black tea and manufacture specifically from the Camellia sinensis var. assamica. As Darjeeling tea, Assam tea is not grown in slopes, instead grown at or near sea level in the plains Some regions of Assam also grow green and white teas but in smaller quantities. Black Assam tea is known for flavor, bright colour, strong and malty taste.
- Kangra tea : The Kangra tea is obtained from the Kangra valley of Himachal Pradesh. The tea is originally grown in Kangra valley of Dharamshala and in the surrounding of Palampur in the foothills of Dhauladhar ranges of the Indian Himalayas. The tea is famous for green tea along with other flavours like black tea, oolong tea and herbal tea.