All Teas Are Different, Right?

Every tea is different, right? White tea, black tea, oolong, and green tea all come from different plants, right? There’s no possible way they could all come from the same plant, right? Wrong. Camellia sinensis. Though it sounds like a mythical, all-knowing tree, it’s actually just a waist-high shrub, but it’s responsible for many of the teas you know and love. Did someone say Assam?

There are two varieties of the plant: camellia sinensis sinensis, first discovered in China; and camellia sinensis assamica, which is native to India. Camellia sinensis sinensis is a cold-tolerant plant that produces small leaves that are plucked and semi-oxidized (or not) to create white tea, oolong, and green tea.Sinensis assamica leaves are much larger and prefer the company of warmer climates and plentiful rain. When oxidized, sinensis assamica leaves make bold black teas.

But the camellia rollercoaster doesn’t stop there. Get ready for a few loop-de-loops, dear reader.

On the surface, all tea leaves sound the same, but there’s one key difference: air. Specifically, oxidization, which is the process by which incremental amounts of oxygen are absorbed by the leaves, changing their flavor. Heat is then applied to the leaves to stop oxidization.

White teas, which are unoxidized, are typically low in caffeine content and feature delicate, floral notes. Our Organic White Peony, White Champagne Raspberry, White Mimosa, and Açaí White are all smooth and brew soft colored as an early-morning sun. White teas are best steeped at between 160°F and 170°F for 3 minutes, which is considerably cooler and shorter than heartier teas like Assam TGFOP are steeped. Because the flavor of white tea is already very light, adding cream, milk, or sugar isn’t advisable, as they would likely just make your cup taste like milky, sugary water.

White tea is composed of fresh, young tea leaves and buds. This tea requires special harvesting within the early spring months, when the weather is most favorable. White tea is considered the “champagne of teas” for a few reasons. The liquor brews a light, golden tone and, similar to champagne grapes, can only be classified as white tea if it is sourced from China’s Fujian province. These teas have lower caffeine levels and have a sweet, mild flavor.

Like white teas, green teas are also unoxidized, but they are high in caffeine content. If you’re looking to wake up—and we mean wake up—leave the white tea for more hyggelig times. Because of green tea’s minimal processing, these teas are packed with more antioxidants, chlorophyll, and polyphenols than most other types of tea. Leaves are harvested, gently withered, and cooked or pan-fired to keep the tea from becoming overly oxidized. Green tea brews a golden color, with flavors ranging from savory and vegetal to clean and sweet.

Green teas brew best between 175°F and 185°F for 3 to 4 minutes. Adding a small amount of sugar will take the earthy edge off, but milk or cream will overwhelm the flavor. If you’re going to put anything in your green tea, we would recommend a small amount of honey and/or lemon. But what about matcha? Yes, the famous hyper-green powder is green tea, and it’s made in an entirely different way.

Top view of an iced matcha latte in a beer glass.

Oolong is a semi-oxidized tea, the quality of which can be seen in the leaves as they are steeped. If they unfurl and become large, perfect. If they don’t, well, maybe these leaves will score better in the taste category. Good oolong has a non-astringent, slightly floral flavor, whereas bad oolong can taste bitter, bland, and arid. If you’re beginning to suspect your oolong may not be up to par, maybe it at least smells good. Good oolong has a pleasant orchid fragrance when steeped. Bad oolong smells like fire or mold. Positively Tea’s Ti Kuan Yin Oolong does not smell like fire or mold. It’s good oolong, baby.

Oolong brews best between 170°F and 185°F for 4 minutes. Avoid adding any sweeteners or cream to your perfectly complex oolong. Fun fact: oolong leaves can be steeped several times! Funner fact: the flavors evolve with each steeping, meaning that no two cups will be exactly alike! Wowza! Adding anything to oolong would be like putting a ratty tarp over a functional sports car. Just don’t do it.

Lastly, we have black tea, the most oxidized, crushed, and withered of the bunch. Black tea, aptly named for its richly dark leaves, is oxidized to the max. The black tea oxidation process involves withering, rolling, cutting, and drying the leaves, which turns them black, but it brews a lovely rose gold-colored liquor. Black tea is high in caffeine content and has bold flavor. Just as the camellia sinensis assamica plant stands up to intense heat, the flavor of black tea shines through cream and sugar, but can also obviously be drank straight. Our Earl Grey de la Crème plays well with lemon, too.

Because it is a burlier tea, black tea must be brewed hotter than any of the previous teas, clocking in at a whopping, boiling 212°F for 3 minutes. Water this hot can destroy green teas, so be cautious. Since black teas are 100% oxidized, only water this scalding hot can release their flavors.


1 comment
  • Ok thank you, I am really getting interested in becoming a true tea drinker!. Much to learn, but is good stuff. But one question is tea all imported? why the pricy price? and is Kenya coffee really grown in Kenya, and where is it roosted??

    maria bowman on

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