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‘Camellia sinensis’ Tea Varieties – white, green, black
All varieties of tea - white, green, and black - come from the same plant, camellia sinensis. To make the different varieties of tea the fresh tea leaves undergo different levels of oxidization, which is a natural chemical reaction that produces a variety of different tastes and colour characteristics.
Tea plants are immaculately maintained and cultivated, as the quality of tea is highly dependent on a number of factors including the colour of the leaf, their nitrogen content and if there is any damage to the leaves. Harvesting is carefully done either by hand or finely tuned machines which remove only the top most 2-3 leaves from any tea plant.
White tea leaves are harvested at a younger age than green tea leaves, picked just before the tea leaf fully opens, while it’s still a bud and covered in white, silvery, fine hairs. White tea is considered a rare tea and is usually more expensive than other teas, as it can only be hand picked during a few days of early spring and has to be handled with such care. White tea can only be picked for a short time each year, making it a rare and precious tea.
Unlike black and green teas, white tea isn't rolled or steamed, but simply air dried in natural sunlight, making it the least processed of all the teas. This preserves more of its antioxidant properties, about three times as many antioxidant polyphenois found in green tea and contains the least amount of caffeine.
There are four main varieties of white tea: Silver Needle (made just from silvery white buds), white peony (buds and leaves), long life eyebrow (leaves), and tribute eyebrow (made with a special tea bush, which is processed slightly differently).
Green tea undergoes only a minimal amount of processing. The freshly harvested leaves are immediately steamed or pan fried to prevent oxidization.
The leaves are then rolled which ruptures the cells of the leaf to enhance brewing, and to make drying easier. The rolled leaves are then dried. The processing methods used to make green tea help preserve the leaves natural antioxidant polyphenol levels, and health promoting properties. It also results in green teas subtle taste, green colour and grassy aroma.
Green tea is the perfect beverage to assist with meditating, as it is mildly stimulating with it’s moderate caffeine content, yet it helps to keep you calm and focused due to its L-theanine levels.
An ancient legend has it that Bodhidarma, a Buddist monk and Zen master who lived during the 5th and 6th century, wished to meditate in front of a wall for 9 years. To
prevent himself from falling asleep at night he would pluck out his eyebrows. As his hairs fell to the ground they grew into the first tea bushes. From then on it became a ritual in Buddhism to drink tea when meditating to stay awake and alert.
There are many different varieties of green tea available, created through varying growing conditions, processing methods, and harvesting times. Some of the most popular varieties include Japanese sencha, a roasted green tea which is the most popular tea in Japan; gyokura, an expensive fine tea; bancha, a lower grade tea made from the twigs of the tea plant; genmaicha, which is made with roasted brown rice; matcha, a powdered green tea; and jasmine tea, a well known Chinese tea scented with the aroma of jasmine blossoms.
Green tea has become increasingly popular addition to heath foods and beverages, nutritional supplements and even cosmetics.
Black tea undergoes the most processing and oxidation of all the teas, giving it its distinctive aroma, taste and dark colour. Black tea is also called Qi Hong or Red Tea by the Chinese.
There are four basic stages involved in producing black tea, withering, which soften the leaves to reduce moisture; rolling, which breaks the leafs cells and starts the oxidation process; then oxidation, when the tea starts to develop its unique aroma, colour and taste.
As green tea is fermented to Oolong and then to black tea, polyphenol compounds (catechins) in green tea are dimerized to form a variety of theaflavins, such that these teas may have different biological activities.
This longer oxidation process changes catechins in green tea into a variety of theaflavins, which are unique to black tea. These polyphenols aren’t as potent as catechins, however they still provide health benefits.
There are two different methods used to process black tea, orthodox, which yields loose leaf artisan made teas, and cut-tear-curl which produces broken leafs, fannings (finer broken particles) and dust (fine powder), used for tea bags.
The cut-tear-curl method is often thought of as being inferior in quality and flavor as whole leaves are most desirable.