the tea experience
True Tea comes from the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant and is native to China as well as India. True Tea includes white tea, green tea, oolong tea, black tea and an aged tea called pu’erh, which result from:
1) the pluck of the tea leaf;
2) how the leaf is processed after plucking. Tea leaves want to oxidize and the arrest or allowing of the oxidation process determines the final tea variety. The descriptions below reflect the “orthodox” way of processing the tea leaf (versus “non-orthodox” which is an accelerated, mechanized process). These descriptions are simplified and will give a general idea of how each type of tea is made, but the actual process can involve many more steps than included here.
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The unfurled bud and (sometimes) one leaf are plucked. The leaves are laid out to naturally air dry. Nothing is done to stop oxidation and usually nothing is done to encourage oxidation.
Typically two leaves and a bud are plucked. The tea leaves may go through a withering process to reduce moisture and then are pan fired (China) or steamed (Japan) to deactivate the enzyme that causes oxidation. In a final step, the leaves are fired to reduce moisture to 3%. The leaves are then sorted and graded. There is no oxidation of the tea leaves.
Two, three or four leaves are plucked. The tea leaves are laid out to wither and may be shaken to start the oxidation process. The tea leaves are allowed to oxidize according the Tea Master’s plan for the final product. Once oxidation reaches the desired level, the leaves are fired to stop the oxidation process and reduce moisture to 3%. This is the most difficult tea to produce and truly reflects
the art of fine tea. With oolong tea there is partial oxidation of the leaves which can range from 8% to 70%—resulting in a wide spectrum of flavor and color.
Typically two leaves and a bud are plucked. The leaves are laid out to wither 12 to 16 hours to reduce moisture by approximately 30%. The leaves are then rolled (hand or machine) to facilitate the oxidation process. The leaves are then allowed to oxidize for two to four hours, until they are fully oxidized. They are then fired to stop oxidation and reduce moisture to 3%. Black teas are sorted and graded differently depending on the country producing the tea.
Pu’erh tea is a fermented and aged or composted tea. It starts out much like green tea with withering and pan firing to deactivate the enzyme that causes oxidation, but then the leaves are rolled to break the cell walls. This “rough tea” is then finished as either “sheng”— green pu’erh or as “shou” –cooked pu’erh. Green pu’erh gains its quality and character from years of aging and fermentation (minimum 10 years), while cooked pu’erh is put through a composting process to accelerate the fermentation and render it immediately characteristic of the earthy, dark tea that green pu’erh eventually becomes. You will find pu’erh teas in cake form, small “birds nest” shapes, and loose leaf.
What about herbal tea, rooibos and yerba mate’…aren’t these teas?
Any leaf that is steeped into a beverage that does not come from camellia sinensis is considered a tisane. There are many tisanes produced in the world, commonly referred to as “tea”, but officially are not True Tea.