Types of Tea & Tea Gifts
Black tea, or red tea as it's called in China, is the result of a total oxidation of the leaf before being fired. First the leaf is spread out and left to wilt, losing some moisture, stiffness and much of its weight. Then it's rolled, exposing essential oils to the air and starting the oxidization process. When this is complete, the leaf is heated to stop the process, graded for quality and packed. Black teas are full bodied and are able to withstand the addition of sweeteners and milk.
Green tea is picked and then promptly dried, either pan-fried, steamed or fired in an oven. The goodness of the leaf is sealed inside. Because the leaf is so delicate, the tea needs to be brewed in water that is well below boiling to prevent cooking the leaves and destroying the subtle notes of the tea. Green tea has a short life span - it doesn't stay fresh long. Given the high levels of polyphenols, it is believed to have the greatest amount of health benefits. Green tea leaves are minimally oxidized and thus have less caffeine than other types of tea.
Oolong tea is gently rolled after picking allowing the essential oils to react with the air and slowly oxidize. This process turns the leaf darker with time and produces distinctive fragrances. When the leaf has reached the desired oxidation the leaf is heated, in a process called 'panning', to stop the process. It's then rolled to form the tea into its final shape. The resulting tea can be anywhere between a green and a black, depending on the processing method. This tea is handcrafted, undergoing a labor intensive process. The tea maker must carefully balance many elements in the critical few hours after the leaf is picked including weather conditions, quality of the leaf, and the time the leaf oxidizes. The finest Oolongs are often prepared and enjoyed Gung Fu style to savor their complex tastes and fragrances.
White tea is minimally processed - generally only air dried and slightly oxidized. The highest quality white teas are picked before the leaf buds have opened, while still covered with silky white hairs. Of all teas, whites probably have the least amount of caffeine. These teas should be steeped in water well below boiling and for at least 4-5 minutes.
Pu-erh teas come from the Yunnan province in China and have a strong earthy flavor. Pu-erh has been praised for generations for it's flavor and health benefits. It's processed according to an ancient technique (which used to be a state secret) that involves aging the leaves. It is often formed into bricks and is one of the few teas that ages well. Some prized Pu-erh teas can be 50 years old.