Tea Tips for Newbies

By Stephanie Harkins [reposted from our sister blog]

Oolong Tea
Oolong Tea

Just getting acquainted with the wide, wide world of tea? Have you only just started to branch out beyond the familiarity of bagged tea or realized that tea comes in a lot more varieties than black or green? Tea can be very intimidating to someone just learning about it, because there are more varieties out there than one could possibly imagine.

All teas, no matter what their variety, come from the same plant – Camellia Sinensis. If the beverage does not have any Camellia Sinensis in it, it is not a real “tea”, but instead is termed a tisane or an herbal tea, even though there is no tea in it. Rooibos tea and Yerba Mate are both popular new drinks on the tea scene which fall into this category as they have no real “tea” in them.

So once you realize that all teas come from the same plant, the rest is easy because then the main difference is in oxidization levels. Black tea has the most oxidization, followed by Oolongs, then Green Tea and finally White Teas which are either lightly oxidized, or more commonly not oxidized at all.

No matter what type of tea you are drinking, it is either flavored tea or unflavored tea.

There are a few unique types of tea in the world of tea. Kukicha is one of these teas. Still produced from the Camellia Sinensis plant, Kukicha uses the stems and twigs of the tea plant, instead of using tea leaves.

Kukicha is often roasted, which is a popular process to change the flavor of different teas. Genmaicha is a roasted green tea with roasted brown rice which has a popcorn-like aroma and flavor which is incredibly delicious. Another roasted tea is Hojicha which is roasted green tea leaves. Lapsang Souchong is the strongest of the roasted teas, with a gorgeous smoked aroma and rich flavor that is full of campfire smoke and heavy woodsy notes.

Not only can the flavor of tea be altered by roasting, but also by age. Pu-erh tea has only gained popularity in the west in the recent past. Most teas decline with age, becoming less and less flavorful with age and taking on a progressively dull color. However Pu-erh is a rare tea which is actually enhanced with age, and the older the Pu-erh, the more valuable it is. Pu-erh tea is hard to classify and is definitely in a category of it’s own, and its complexities may prove to be interesting to those new to different varieties of tea.

Those represent the spectrum of teas in the tea world. There may be many different types of these teas, for example Earl Grey, a favorite in England falls into the category of a flavored tea, as it is simply a black tea (usually) with bergamot flavoring. Therefore simply by recognizing these main types of tea, you can easily identify most teas you come across.

Stephanie is the publisher of The Tea Review Blog.

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