The world of tea is wonderfully complex and intricacies exist at every turn. The more you learn and appreciate this beverage the more you realise how much you don't know. This is one of the reasons the world of tea is so rich and interesting. We created this really basic guide to the tea types you will encounter when browsing The Steepery Tea Co's online store to just help you navigate the choices.
If you are after more information we are starting to create a great resource, sharing tea tips and knowledge, each week via our blog, Tealosophy. And if you are after more still (and based in Brisbane) we recommend you consider joining one of our Tea Education Programmes.
What is tea?
At a simplified level, all tea is made from the same species of plant, an evergreen shrub known as camellia sinensis. There are two main varieties of this evergreen shrub: China Bush (Camellia sinensis var. sinensis) and India Bush (Camelia sinensis var. assamica). Whether you are drinking white, yellow, green, oolong, black or dark tea it is produced from the camellia sinensis. This topic becomes more complex as you start to appreciate the hundreds of varieties and cultivars that are existence today. Throughout the website you will see us refer to this as pure leaf tea or 'real' tea.
All other types of infusions are referred to as a tisane (e.g., peppermint, chamomile, rooibos, cinnamon etc). They have very different properties to tea depending on the botanicals used (e.g., leaf, bark, root, seed, fruit or flower) and are largely non-caffeinated.
You will also encounter blended teas that contain both tea and tisane ingredients. It is important to understand the ingredients used in blended teas as these may contain flavourings and other additives.
Kombucha and Jun, despite being tea based, are a symbiotic colony of yeast and bacteria (SCOBY) and not classified as tea or tisane.
One plant – many types
The Steepery Tea Co's core range consists of 5 of the tea types: white, green, oolong, black and dark.
All tea leaves commence their journey in a similar way, once they are plucked, wilting and oxidation commences. It is the intervention of the tea maker at this stage that defines the tea type they will be produced into. When we refer to oxidation we are talking about when the leaves come in contact with the oxygen in the air resulting in a reaction that darkens the leaves and starts to alter the flavour profile.
The least processed of the tea families. White tea undergoes a long withering and drying process. View white teas
Once plucked the tea leaves are left to wither and the enzymes are inactivated through rapid heating. The method of rapid heating depends on the tea maker and the country it is being produced. For example, generally speaking in Japan the leaves are steamed generally resulting in a much greener appearance in the dry leaf whereas in China the leaves are pan fired that results in a yellow or yellow-green appearance in the dry leaves. View green teas
Oolong or Wulong
Oolong teas undergo partial oxidation before being twisted or rolled. Tea makers use their skill to apply the desired level of oxidation to their tea. There are two main categories: lightly oxidised oolongs which exhibit characteristics similar to green teas and heavily oxidised oolongs that take on characteristics of black teas. View oolong teas
Black or Red
The leaves are first withered, than rolled or cut-tear-curl (CTC) to expose the oil in the tea leaves to ensure maximum oxidation. This results in the black colour of the dry leaf. View black teas
Dark tea or Fermented (e.g., Pu er)
A tea production style in which the tea leaves undergoes microbial fermentation. View dark teas to learn more about the fermentation process. The pu er process is a Chinese specialty.
We have recently added a post-heated fermented green tea to our collect of dark teas. This was as a result of our recent tea study tour to Japan. There is a really interesting story about this tea, Yamabuki Nadeshiko.
It is not possible to provide specific caffeine amounts for tea without undertaking scientific measurement of each harvest and processed batch, as it will vary. Generally speaking a cup of tea contains around 10-50mg of caffeine.
There is also no consistency as to the caffeine levels that exist in each tea type. Current research suggests that while processing method has some impact on caffeine levels in tea other factors contribute to these levels including: clonal variety, organic content of the soil and/ or fertiliser, age of leaves (caffeine appears higher in young leaves than older leaves), heat of water used when steeping, steeping time and quantity of tea leaves used.