“Tea” technically only comes from the Camellia sinensis plant and includes Green Tea, Black Tea, Oolong Tea and White Tea. “Herbal tea” or “Tisanes” are infusions made from anything other than the leaves of the tea plant. Herbal teas can be made with fresh or dried flowers, leaves, seeds, fruits and roots. Tea and herbal teas are generally made by pouring boiling water (or near-to-boiling water for green, oolong and white tea) over the plant parts, letting them steep for a few minutes, straining and serving. While all “teas” come from the one Camellia sinensis plant, they all exhibit different qualities that have been determined by the way the tea leaves have been processed. The tea making process may involve a full oxidation (or fermentation) of the tea leaf, partial oxidation or no oxidation before it is dried and it is this that will determine the colour, flavour and characteristics of the tea.
White Tea - White tea is derived from the young new leaves from the tea plant in early spring. They are young leaves that contain no chlorophyll and still have silvery white “hairs”, indicating new growth - hence the name “white” tea. The tightly rolled buds of the white tea are immediately fired or steamed after letting them wither (air dry) for a period of time, so that they do not go through any oxidation.
Green Tea - The processing of green tea is similar to white tea in that it does not go through any oxidation. After the leaves are plucked, they are sometimes laid out to dry. Then in order to neutralise the enzymes, thus preventing oxidation, the leaves are steamed or pan-fried. Next the leaves are rolled up in various ways and tightness before further drying takes place.
Black Tea - The processing of black tea requires a full oxidation of the leaves. After the leaves are plucked, they are laid out to dry for up to 24 hours. The leaves are then rolled in order to crack up the surface so that oxygen will react with enzymes and begin the oxidation process. The leaves are left to completely oxidise, thus turning the leaves to a deep black colour and for further drying to take place.
Oolong Tea - The processing of Oolong tea is the most difficult as it is partially oxidised and somewhere in between green tea and black tea. After the leaves are plucked, they are laid out to dry for up to 24 hours. The leaves are then tossed into baskets in order to bruise the edges of the leaves. This bruising only causes the leaves to partially oxidise because only a portion of the enzymes are exposed to air. The leaves are then steamed in order to neutralise the enzymes and stop any oxidation before further drying takes place.
QUALITY OF TEA AND HERBAL TEASThe quality of tea and herbal teas can vary depending on the climate, location and type of processing that the ingredients have been through. Tea leaves are separated into the following grades: “whole leaf”, “broken leaf”, “fannings” and “dust”. The tea’s taste, body and health properties will vary depending on the leaf size. The dust is the smallest grade of tea and is used for mass-marketed teabags. Drinking whole leaf tea and herbal teas allows one to experience a wider range of complex flavour profiles. Being larger in size, there is less exposure to air, light and heat that will age or oxidise the herb or tea – making it more beneficial to our health compared to its smaller-sized counterpart.