Let’s talk tea! Lagom is all about the value of CBD, but what about the joys of tea?
We are going to start with one of the major misconceptions surrounding tea. Imagine standing in line at your local coffee shop and looking up at the tea selection. You are likely to be overwhelmed by the endless variety of herbal concoctions: from jasmine green to chamomile to rooibos. But did you know only some of the drinks we call tea are actually considered “tea” in a technical sense? In fact, there is only one species of plant on earth capable of producing tea leaves.
Camellia Sinensis: the Mother of all Tea
Though the exact origins of tea are not well documented, there is no debate over the true tea plant: the Camellia sinensis. The two main variations of this plant are the Camellia sinensis var. sinensis (native to China) and the Camellia sinensis var. assamica (native to India). These two variations of the tea plant species form the basis for the six basic categories of tea, which are categorized largely based on their various processing methods.
Whether you grew up on Lipton Iced Tea or your grandma made her famous sweet tea, chances are that you are well acquainted with black teas. Commonly but not exclusively derived from the assamica variation due to its robust flavors, black tea differs from other teas in that the leaves undergo a longer oxidation process. While leaves for green teas are heated and dried quickly to prevent oxidation, black tea leaves are generally rolled and manipulated to increase the amount of oxygen that interacts with the cell walls, darkening the leaves and creating a bolder, fuller flavor. The oxidation process also allows for the tea to better retain its flavor in the shipping process, which helps explain its popularization in Western Culture. Aside from being consumed as is, black tea provides the base for many infused favorites like Earl Grey Tea and Chai.
Originating in China, green tea has long been enjoyed by Asian cultures due to its many health benefits and decreased caffeine content. As mentioned above, green tea is dehydrated rather than oxidized, meaning that it maintains the earthy flavor of its plant leaves. This allows for many complex subtleties in flavor that depend on many factors such as the way in which the leaves are heated (pan-fried vs. steamed) and the conditions under which they were grown. Because many of the ancient processes and plants remain intact in Asia, countries like China and Japan offer some of the best-tasting green teas due to the fact that they can be readily harvested and consumed at their peak freshness. If you are looking for fresh, crisp flavors with a grand history attached, green tea is a good place to start.
Oolong (or wulong) tea is another traditional Chinese tea and is rarer than its black and green counterparts. It lies between the other two teas, with its flavors being achieved by a partial oxidation process. Depending on preferences and processes, oolong tea can range from light to full-bodied and span the spectrum from green to black tea. This creates an exciting diversity that has sparked many oolong tea competitions in Asia. So if you cannot decide between a black tea or a green tea, why not try your hand (or taste buds rather) at an oolong?
Dark Tea (Pu er Tea)
In an era of Westerners becoming hip to probiotics, it is amazing that dark tea still remains…well…in the dark. Popular in Western China and parts of Asia, this type of tea is developed via a fermentation process that occurs after the initial oxidation and heating. The fermentation process allows a microbe to form within the tea that changes the chemical nature and flavor of the tea leaves. I’m sure this is causing many Kombucha brewers to perk up their ears, but this process is very different and requires a lot of time and a lot of leaves (often tons). Tea expert and merchant Bill Waddington discussed in a talk with Splendid Table that while these teas are delicious and rather inexpensive, the geographic challenges of where they are grown and processed makes it difficult to send to North America or Europe.
If green tea reflects the natural form of the tea plant, then white tea tells the story of its beginning. This tea, once reserved for royalty and often enjoyed as a delicacy, is formed by prematurely harvesting the buds of the tea plant and quickly drying them out to prevent any oxidation from occurring. It is often revered for its purity having yet to really be exposed to the elements. These factors lend a rare and mysterious aura around the white tea and make it feel like a special occasion in a cup.
Formerly an extremely popular tea in China, yellow tea is no longer very common. Also closely linked to green tea, yellow tea just might be the wise elder of the other five tea groups. This is because it requires deep patience in the early stages and a sequence of gently wrapping the heated leaves in a cloth to lock in the aromas while gently oxidizing out the earthy flavors of the fresh green tea. What remains is a remarkably smooth tea that emits the lovely aromas of the tea plant without any of the bitter bite.
Of course, many of the teas you might love are not on this list. While leaves and buds for camellia sinensis form the base for many teas, other popular teas are comprised of herbs and tea leaves, or even just herbs. Keep following Blagom as we journey through the world of tea!