Tea 101

100 Monkeys White Tea
100 Monkeys White Tea

Once upon a time, tea drinking was a relatively simple thing. If you lived in the East and drank tea it was likely to be green, while those of us in the West tended to favor black tea. Here in the United States tea drinkers were likely to take it black, in iced form, and probably with a healthy dose of sugar, as in the popular sweet tea that’s long been a tradition in the southern states.

Nowadays, with the increased interest in specialty teas, options have multiplied and tea drinking has become a little more complex. But tea need not be a terribly complicated topic, even so. While there may be hundreds or perhaps even thousands of tea varieties in existence, it’s important to remember that all tea can essentially be broken down into one of six major types – black, green, white, oolong, puerh and the relatively obscure yellow.

It’s impossible to present anything more than a very brief overview (see below) of fine tea in this limited space. Apprentice tea drinkers seeking to broaden their horizons might want try The Tea Enthusiast’s Handbook, which I recently reviewed.

Black Tea

Grown primarily in India, China, Sri Lanka and Africa, black teas are subject to a high degree of oxidization, which is what accounts for their dark color and more robust flavor.

Gyokuro Japanese Green Tea
Gyokuro Japanese Green Tea

Green Tea

Popular nowadays thanks to the many health benefits allegedly derived from drinking it. Green tea is subject to minimal processing, which helps it retain its health-giving properties and results in a more delicate flavor. Some of the most notable green teas are grown in China and Japan.

White/Yellow Tea

Like green tea, this one is also subjected to minimal processing. Some of the best white tea is grown in China and will make use of only the youngest, most delicate parts of the tea plant. As noted above, yellow tea, a somewhat obscure variety is probably closest to white in terms of processing methods and flavor.

Oolong Tea

A favorite of many tea connoisseurs, oolong covers a wide range of types and is grown mostly in China and Taiwan. Oolong teas range from lightly processed and reminiscent of green tea to more robust ones that are closer to black tea.

Puerh Tea

As noted in this article on the teas of Yunnan, China, where it originates, puerh tea (beware the somewhat confusing alternate spellings) is, as one tea expert put it, “perhaps the most exotic tea in China’s vast repertoire of astonishing tea.” A favorite of tea connoisseurs and even investors both inside China and outside of its borders.

Learn more about tea over on William’s blog, Tea Guy Speaks!

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