Types of tea
Like wines to the westerners, Chinese people enjoy various kinds of teas. Theoretically, all teas can be made from the same plant called camellia sinensis, which consists of a large range of varietals and grows in different environments. Hence, combined with different methods of processing, the leaf has distinctive shapes, aromas and flavours which attracts tea lovers. In China, there are numerous names of teas, however, they can be classified into six categories by ascending order of fermentation, as follows:
Green tea is best known for its health properties, as it contains a high amount of antioxidants. Fresh tea leaves are picked and quickly heated by pan firing or steaming to prevent further fermentation. The flavours are refreshing, ranging from grassing and vegetal to nutty and floral. The shapes of Chinese green teas are much appreciated by Chinese tea connoisseurs, therefore it is best brewed with a glass. Green and white teas are delicate and best enjoyed when made with lower-temperature water.
White tea is minimally processed. It is generally only picked and air-dried, hence, it is slightly fermented. The highest- quality white teas only come from the varietal of “big-white-tea”, picked early in the spring with the tips still covered with silky white down. These delicate teas carry flavours that can be described as savoury, mellow, and sweet. Traditionally it is a popular tea in Hong Kong and Southern part of Chinese mainland, now it is the focus of many studies for the high levels of antioxidants.
Yellow tea may be viewed as a green tea with a special, prolonged process of drying. It has deeper taste, more yellowish color, and a pronounced fragrance. The tea is rare today, but once it was a popular drink amongst common people.
Greenish tea or oolong tea is skilfully rolled and oxidized after picking, allowing the essential tea ingredients to react with the air. This process turns the leaf to darker green and produces distinctive fragrances before heat is applied to set the taste. The resulting tea can be anywhere between a green and a red tea. Oolongs can be recognized by flavour that ranges from highly floral, intensely fruity, to mildly roasted with honey nuances. Patience and care must be taken to make and to prepare the tea, tea connoisseurs take it to the level of an art, and call it kung-fu tea.
Red tea, or black tea as it is known in the west, is a result of complete oxidation of the leaf. The tea was first produced in China, but achieved worldwide acceptance after the British cultivated the plant in India, Sri Lanka, and Africa. Rea teas are known for their robust, full-bodied flavours described as cocoa, molasses, fruit or honey.
Chinese black tea, or more well known as pu-er, is aged, post-fermented, and often compressed into cakes or bricks. Its name comes from the town of Pu-er in South-western China. Pu-er has a strong green or earthy taste that gains mellow flavour. Some rare premium pu-er teas are more than 50 years old and become treasures of some collectors. Consumed for centuries by the Chinese, pu-er is said best to lower cholesterol, and digestion, and cure hangovers.
How to brew tea?
- Heat pure, preferably soft, water
- Warm the tea ware
- Add the right amount of tea
- Rinse the tea, when necessary, then strain quickly
- Check the temperature, add water and steep for a while
- Strain and enjoy
- Re-steep for more pleasure
Good tea: buy teas from well-know speciality shop with full informative service. You need to train your palette. It is not difficult but rather, is very enjoyable. You also need keep your tea properly in a clean, airtight container in a cool place. Please use your tea as quickly as possible, especially the green teas. Unlike pu-er that gets more taste through storage, most teas lose their flavour over time.
Good water: start with good tasting water, such as spring or filtered. Usually, soft water is good for most teas. If your tap water is good, filter it to clear it of impurities, like chlorines or rust, which will affect the taste of the tea. Do not over-boil or re-boil water, as this depletes the oxygen in the water and makes the tea flat.
Good-matched tea-wares: try to avoid plastic and metal made wares. Glass, porcelain and stoneware are good and dissipate heat in different rates. Please use appropriately, such as glass for low temperature brewing tea and Yixing stoneware for high temperature one. Chung is a very convenient option for most of the teas.
Right amount of leaves: it is quite up to your personal taste. We use about 5 grams of tea to 100 c.c. of water, and 8 grams for stronger teas. Try and adjust your taste.
Right temperature: it is the most important point you need to care. Know your tea and determine what temperature is best. As a general rule, use lower temperature for greener, smaller leaf tea, use higher temperature for browner, more roasted and tightly rolled tea. The table overleaf may serve as a guideline.
Right timing: greenish oolong is more critical and usually brews fast, while the other teas are more flexible. Brewing too long will make the tea astringent and bitter. Adjust timing, or use less tea.
The joy of tea
Throughout its history, tea has been associated with its medical and health benefits. New studies provide evidences that it may help in losing weight, slow the aging-process, reduce the risk of cancer, improve the circulatory system, increase the immunization, help digestion and so on.
Of course, we drink tea for a hundred more reasons. Tea will bring relaxation and peace to your mind. Tea will bring enjoyment between friends. Tea will refresh you in the morning and sooth your weariness after an afternoon of work. Tea reflects your preferences, tastes and moods. In Asia, it may be enjoyed as a kind of art or as a spiritual philosophy. Anyway, brewing tea can be complex or simple, there are no fixed rules in the tea world. These guidelines are only guidelines. Explore, experiment and have fun by yourself.