All tea is from the same plant, Camellia Sinensis. Then, you may wonder why each tea tastes so different if they are all from the same planet. It is because each tea undergoes different steps that determine its unique shape, color, fragrance, and flavor. Generally, tea can be classified into 6 different categories: Green teas, Yellow teas, White teas, Blue (oolong) teas, Red teas, and Black (aged) teas.
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Depending on how much chemical reaction in tea leaves is proceed during the tea- making process, tea can be categorized into 6 different types. There are two chemical reactions that tea leaves can undergo: Oxidization and Fermentation. While oxidization is a chemical reaction that happens when cell walls of tea leaves are ruptured and exposed to oxygen, fermentation happens in the presence of yeasts and bacteria on the tea leaves.
- Green tea is Unoxidized tea.
- Yellow tea, White tea are lightly oxidized tea.
- Blue tea and Red tea are partially ~ fully oxidized tea.
- Black tea (aged tea) is fermented tea and often referred as Pu-erh tea.
Besides those 6 different types of tea, there are Blended teas with different combinations of tea leaves, Processed teas (Jasmin, English breakfast, Genmai and etc) which adds extracted fragrance or flavors into tea leaves and Herbal teas (peppermint, chamomile, ginger tea, rooibos and etc) which does not contain any Camellia Sinensis at all.
Because there are thousands of different kinds of tea, I wouldn’t be able to write down every single tea. Nevertheless, I will name a few popular names and the general shapes and liquor colors of each category.
1. Green teas: Anji Bai Cha (Chinese), Bi Luo Chun (Chinese), Sencha (Japanese), Long Jing (Chinese), Tai Ping Hou Kui (Chinese), Sejak (Korean) and etc.
Each green tea has very unique appearance. I would say green tea has the most diverse shapes from long to round, fat to thin, and flat to full. Its color also range from yellow green to dark green.
2.Yellow Tea: Jun Shan Yin Zhen (Chinese), Meng Ding Huang Ya (Chinese)
Since yellow tea has a very limited production quantity, it is very rare, thus unknown to the general public. Lightly oxidized, yellow tea requires more delicate harvesting method and difficult process. The color of the liquor ranges from pale yellow to brown yellow.
3.White Tea: Bai Hao Yin Zhen (Chinese), Bai Mu Dan (Chinese), Shu Mei Bai cha (Chinese), Gong Mei (Chinese)
White tea has become very popular recently due to its healthy effects. Originated in Fujian region of China, white tea is divided into 2 main types : Bai Hao Yin Zhen and Bai Mu Dan. With the older leaves from the same tree of Bai Hao Yin Zhen, Shu Mei and Gong Mei can be made. Bai Hao Yin Zhen is often referred as silver tips since its tea leaf has lots of silver hair. Both Bai Hao Yin Zhen and Bai Mu Dan has pale yellow liquor color but Yin Zhen has brighter greenish color. Shu Mei and Cong Mei has darker brown color since they are made of bigger and older leaves.
4.Blue (Oolong) tea: Da Hong Pao (Chinese), Tie Guan Yin (Chinese), Shui Xian (Chinese), Oriental Beauty (Taiwan), Liu Gui (Chinese)
Blue Tea, also known as Oolong tea, is getting more popular year after year due to its wide range of different flavors. The least oxidized, Tie Guan Yin’s liquor color is pale green while one of the most oxidized, Shui Xiax’s is dark orange to bronze. The shapes of tea leaves differ dramatically as well. Tie Guan Yin or oolong from Taiwan is usually rolled to form pearls while Chinese dark roasted oolong is dark brown color of large and long leaves.
5.Red tea: QiMen (Chinese), Dian Hong (Chinese), Lapsang Souchong (Chinese), Darjelling (India), Assam (India), Nuwara Eliya High Grown (Sri Lanka)
Red tea, also known as black tea, may sound the most familiar to many of you. Red tea is produced in many different regions such as China, India, and Sri Lanka. Therefore, it has many different kinds. Red tea is widely used for making blended or scented teas such as Early grey and Lipton. It is fully oxidized tea so its color is pretty dark, ranging from orange red to dark brown.
6.Black (aged) tea: Puerh Tea (China)
While the rest is either unoxidized or somewhat oxidized tea, black tea is only fermented (not oxidized) tea. Pu-erh tea is the most popular tea in this category and often loved by many tea enthusiasts. People often compare pu-erh with wine since it needs to be properly aged to bring out the earthy flavors. Well aged pu-erh tea can be really expensive. Pu-erh is originated in Yunan, China where it shares its border with Laos and Myanmar. It can be classified into 2 main categories. (1) Pu-erh Sheng (raw) tea and (2) Pu-erh Shu (cooked) tea. While the former needs to be aged naturally for 10- 15 years to bring out the best flavor (the older, the better), the latter undergoes the post-fermentation process that speeds up the aging. Since Sheng tea is hard to be kept in the perfect condition for a long time, many people nowadays prefer to buy Shu (cooked) tea. While Puerh Sheng tea’s liquor is green brown (almost like green tea) before it is aged, Puerh Shu tea is very dark brownish- amber color.