What is Black Tea?
Black tea is the most oxidized variant of tea available. The leaves are put under intense oxidation during the processing, which brings out strong flavours in the brew when compared with green, white and oolong teas.
The liquor of black tea is known for its characteristic dark amber colour, smoky aroma, robust and full-bodied texture, distinct malty flavour and astringent aftertaste. Owing to its strong flavours, black tea is often consumed with additives like milk and sweeteners to balance the taste. Sugar and honey are the most commonly used sweeteners in black tea. Lemon can also be added to an infusion without milk.
Black teas are often chosen to brew breakfast or afternoon teas. It is one of the most versatile teas available, that can be combined with a variety of flavours and additives.
Assam black tea is known the world over for its flavour, and is often used to prepare English Breakfast Tea and Irish Breakfast Tea. It is also the most commonly used variety of tea in the preparation of Indian chai.
Teas from the Darjeeling first flush and Darjeeling second flush also have a reputation for their well-rounded and complex flavours, assuming a position as the tea of choice for royalty around the world.
How is black tea made?
Given that the oxidation in case of black tea is the highest, the leaves are put through multiple stages of processing. As in the case of all other teas, the leaves are plucked from the Camellia Sinensis plant and are then transported to a processing unit where they subjected to processing accordingly.
Withering: Hot air is directed towards the freshly plucked tea leaves to induce withering, wherein the moisture content in each leaf is significantly reduced, preparing them for the further stages such as rolling.
Rolling: This stage is dependent on whether the tea is meant to be Orthodox or CTC.
In the case of Orthodox teas, the tea leaves are either rolled by hand or using machinery after the withering process is completed. A cylindrical rolling table or rotorvane is used in the process.
For CTC varieties of tea, the leaves are shredded into fine particles with the help of the a rotorvane. This technique often results in the production of low grade tea dust and fannings.
Oxidation: The tea leaves are places in a controlled environment, where oxidization is carried out. Factors such as humidity, temperature and even the levels of oxygen are carefully monitored. It is this stages that causes the browning of the tea leaves. The flavours and aromatic compounds develop significantly during this process.
Drying: After oxidation, the leaves are dried, reducing the moisture content almost to nil.
After the stages of processing, the leaves are sorted and categorized as per the tea grades - whole leaf tea, broken leaf tea, fannings and dust.
What is Green Tea?
As opposed to black tea, green tea is the least oxidized variant of tea. It is prepared from the last batches of the harvest season comprising mainly of young tea leaves that are plucked after white, oolong and black teas have been produced.
While the origins of green tea are known to have been in China, its production spread throughout the world, and it is now grown and processed in almost all the tea growing areas of the world. Some of the most flavourful varieties of green tea are cultivated and processed in Japan, India, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Kenya.
During the processing stages, even a minor change in any of the stages can affect the chemical compounds and aroma of the tea. Hence, a wide variety of flavours and fragrances are exhibited by orthodox green tea, ranging from grassy flavours to subtle nut and citrus flavours.
The popularity of green tea has grown owing to the increasing awareness about its role in promoting weight loss and overall wellbeing. A large number of claims relating to green tea and health are not proved conclusively, but studies have confirmed that green tea does have a positive effect on overall health.
How is green tea made?
The method of processing differs significantly from black tea, involving minimal oxidation of the tea leaves.
Fixing: After plucking the tea leaves, they are subjected to heat which prevents them from browning. This process can be carried out either in wok sets, pans or above wooden stoves or steam tunnels. The technique used for fixing determines the flavour profile of the tea. Tea processed using a slow pan-fixing method will be sweeter than tea that is high-fired.
Rolling: After fixing, this process is carried out either manually by hand or with the help of machinery. The leaves are rolled to give them a distinct shape. This breaks down the walls of the cells and helps in the extraction of aromatic compounds within the leaf.
Drying: The process of drying is carried out in industrial pans or dryers in order to bring down the moisture content to a level as low as 1% of the weight of the leaves.
Types of green tea
The type of green tea produced is highly dependent on the nature of processing involved. The tea leaves are sun-dried, and charcoal or pan fired during the fixing stage in the case of artisanal production, while they are oven-dried, tumbled or steamed during in modern production.
The grading of green teas differs from the categorization used in black teas. The grading is based upon the size and style of the processed leaf. Japanese Sencha and Chinese Longjing are prepared with folder leaves, while tristed leaves are used in Ilam greens from Nepal.
The grading system used in Japan is far more detailed. The lowest grade as per Japanese grading is kukicha, assigned to tea made from the stems and twigs of the plant, while gyokuro and matcha are considered the highest grades available.
What is Oolong Tea?
Oolong tea is categorized somewhere between a non-oxidized green tea and a highly oxidized black tea. Mature leaves are plucked from the Camellia Sinensis plant and are then partially oxidized during the processing. The level of oxidation ranges between 10%-80%, with the flavour profile varying based on the degree of oxidation. An Oolong tea with less than 50% oxidation tastes more like a green tea and if the oxidation is more than 50%, the flavour profile moves closer to that of a black tea.
The flavour profile of mature leaves are mellow and the tannin content is usually lower. This makes them a preferred choice for oolong teas as the degree of oxidation required in order to bring out the leaf flavours is minimal. It must be noted, however, that the process of production of oolong tea is intricate and time-consuming, as manual labour is required to monitor every step. At times, the stages have to be repeated a few times before the optimum level of browning and bruising is reached.
How is Oolong Tea made?
Withering: The moisture content of the leaves is reduced by leaving them out in open air exposed to the sun.
Bruising: In this stage, the tea leaves are tossed in a tray so as to break them. This speeds up the oxidation of the leaves.
Fermentation: The leaves are left without any interference in order to promote the release of tannins and the breakdown of chlorophyll.
Fixing: The tea leaves are subjected to heat to inhibit the enzymes that cause oxidation. This results in the development of a fruity and flowery flavour profile.
Types of Oolong tea
Oolong teas are categorized into two distinct groups. The first is of small, wrap-curled oolong teas and an example of this is the Tieguanyin oolong tea. The second category comprises of long, strip-style curly oolongs, including the Da Hong Pao oolong tea famous in China.
What is White Tea?
White tea is considered to be a premium variety of tea, usually made from the youngest leaves and buds of the Camellia Sinensis plant. In most instances, tea leaves from the first flush are used as this is the prime growth stage of the plants. The processing involved in the case of white tea is minimal.
The definition of white tea differs from region to region. In China, the plant sub-species is used to define white tea, i.e. Camellia Sinensis var. Khenge bai hao and Camellia Sinensis var. Fudin bai hao. These are species that are native to the Fujiuan province of China. These teas are usually traditionally processed.
In some other regions, the style of plucking the tea leaves is used to define white tea. ‘Imperial pluck’ is a term used to refer to the bud and first leaf of the Camellia Sinensis plant. These are withered under the sun to prepare some variants of white tea. Fine, silvery downy hair is present on the surface of the young shoots and unopened buds of the plant, which is a characteristic of white tea. Once they are dried, these appear to be silvery.
How is white tea made?
The processing stages involved in the production of white tea are minimal. It involves light withering and rolling of the tea leaves after plucking. These tea leaves are plucked under temperate weather conditions, as the environmental conditions can affect the quality of the tea. This brings out the characteristic mellow fruity and floral flavours in the tea, while the liquor is light and pale.
The initial instance of white tea production are known to be in China. However, it is now produced in many other tea gardens of the world using local cultivars that differ from the original tea. The processing methods used, however, remain consistent.
Chai is a term that means tea in India. Strong black tea is simmered with milk and a sweetener (most often sugar or honey), with a blend of spices added to this concoction to spice it up. Loose leaf tea is not steeped while preparing chai. It is simmered together with the milk, sugar and spices on medium to high heat for a few minutes instead. The result is a dense creamy liquor with a sweet and sometimes spicy taste.
A term often used in India is ‘masala chai’ which is used when spices are added to the the tea. The term ‘masala’ refers to a combination of spices, which can be made as per individual taste preferences. Every region in India has adapted its own unique recipes to prepare the mixture, with the most common spices being cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, fennel and cloves.
The most popular varieties of chai available in India are mentioned below.
Masala chai: This is the most common variant of chai found throughout India. Black tea is combined with popular Indian spices and simmered with milk and sugar. The roadside tea stalls in India are credited with being the best places to have this Indian speciality.
Ginger Chai (also known as Adrak Chai in Hindi): Ginger is known to be a natural remedy for the treatment of colds and sore throats. This spice is added to the chai while it is simmering, and is often consumed during winter to keep the body warm.
Cardamom Chai (also known as Elaichi Chai in Hindi): Freshly ground cardamom or a powdered form of cardamom is added to the chai to enhance the flavour. A pinch of cinnamon is also added sometimes in a grated or powdered form.
Bombay Cutting Chai: This is a variant of chai synonymous with the city of Mumbai. Signature chai glasses are used to serve this tea, most often prepared by local vendors on the busy streets of Mumbai. Similar to masala chai, this variant of chai is consumed by thousands of people everyday as a break from their fast paced busy schedules.
Kashmiri Kahwa: The Kahwa recipe is is known to have originated in Kashmir in India. This is a tea made using a mixture of luxurious spices namely saffron, cardamom, cinnamon, almonds and cloves.
Sulaimani Chai: This chai is made by adding lemon to black tea, and is said to have originated in southern India. It improves digestion, which is why it is best had after meals.
Tulsi Chai: Tulsi is the Hindi name for Basil, and it is one of the most sacred herbs in Indian cultures. It has been used in traditional Indian medicine for centuries. Fresh tulsi leaves are added while preparing this brew, lending a pleasant aroma to the chai. The addition of milk is as per individual preferences.