Tea – Part 2

tea 2Yesterday I wrote about making a cup of tea and at the end of the post I referred to one of my favorite back tea flavors and one of my favorite green teas.  Did you know there are actually at least 6 different kinds of tea?

Most of the tea you’ve probably drank is black tea.  It’s the most common tea in North America and Europe.  It’s produced when withered tea leaves are rolled and allowed to oxidize, darkening the leaves and developing the flavor.  Black tea has caffeine – but only about half of the amount in a similarly sized cup of coffee.  Want a trendy cup of black tea?  Try a chai tea which is a mix of black tea and strong spices like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, ginger or pepper corns.

You’ve probably also either heard of or drank green tea – if you’ve been out for sushi or other Asian foods, green tea is commonly offered to you.  In the U.S., green tea has gotten more popular thanks to its health benefits.  For green tea, the tea leaves are heated or steamed right after harvest which stops the oxidation process and allows the tea to keep its green color.  This process also locks in naturally occurring antioxidants and amino acids that are good for us.  Green tea also has caffeine but only about one quarter of the amount of a similarly sized cup of coffee.

Oolong tea is most popular in Taiwan and China.  The process to produce Oolong is similar to black tea – the leaves are withered but then briefly oxidized in direct sunlight until the leaves give off the distinctive fragrance.  Oolong’s caffeine content is somewhere between black tea and green tea.

White tea tends to be a high end tea.  It is the least processed of the tea varieties and comes only from the spring harvest of tea in the Fujian Province of China.  The process for creating white tea takes the tea buds and carefully dries them rather than oxidizing or rolling them.  The result is a delicate flavor with mellow, sweet notes.  True white tea has even less caffeine than green tea.

The most trendy tea right now is Matcha tea.  Unlike the other types of tea, matcha is made by grinding Japanese green tea leaves into a fine powder.  Then rather than steeping, you whisk the powder into your hot water to make a frothy, bright green cup of tea.  I’m not a fan of this type of tea myself but maybe it’s because I don’t have the knack for the whisk?

Last – but certainly not least – are herbal teas.  Strictly speaking, herbal teas are not really tea because there are no tea leaves involved.  Instead herbal teas are steeped brews of different combinations of fruits and herbs – think citrus, chamomile or hibiscus.  Most herbal teas are very aromatic and caffeine free.

So now you have an idea of all the different kinds of teas – have fun and explore them!  Need more help?  Try a loose leaf tea store like Adagio Teas or Argo Tea.  Don’t have a tea store near you?  Spend some time in the tea section at your local grocery – many of them carry more types of tea than you’ll think!  Enjoy!