The Shape of the Leaf

You can’t judge a book by the cover – or so the saying goes. Whether or not you can judge a variety of tea by its appearance is a question for someone with more expertise than yours truly. But I can say, without any fear of contradiction, that tea leaves do come in a very diverse assortment of shapes and sizes.

Flowering Tea Set with Choice of 2 Flowering Teas(Photo source: The English Tea Store)
Flowering Tea Set with Choice of 2 Flowering Teas(Photo source: The English Tea Store)

Which is something of a curious thing, mind you, since as we all learned in our Tea 101 classes, all tea comes from the same plant – Camellia sinensis (though there are a few different varieties of this plant, to be perfectly technical about it). The multitude of shapes and sizes are all an outcome of the processing that tea is subjected to and can vary widely. This is hardly the time or place for a comprehensive listing of this sort of thing, but here are a few of the more notable shapes and sizes of tea leaves (after processing):

Gunpowder
I’ve never been enamored of the strong flavor of this Chinese variety of green tea but I guess that’s beside the point for purposes of this discussion. What’s noteworthy about it from the standpoint of its appearance are the tiny tightly rolled pellets that presumably lend it its name.

Long Jing/Dragonwell
Arguably one of the best known Chinese green teas, Long Jing is known for its long flat leaves and its delicately distinctive flavor.

Bi Luo Chun/Green Snail Spring
Another popular variety of Chinese green tea, the leaves of Bi Lo Chun are tightly wound in a spiral – another case of the name matching the appearance.

Keemun
A popular Chinese black tea that often turns up in English Breakfast blends, Keemun is known for its faintly smoky taste and leaves that may be the smallest of any variety of tea.

Blooming
Not really a type of tea, at least not in the strictest sense of the word, blooming teas are artisanal products that typically consist of a bunch of tea leaves hand tied together. When they are steeped and the leaves unfold this creates an effect not unlike that of a flower blooming.

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