Wednesday, January 09, 2013

What is Tea?

Top row, left to right:  White tea, Green tea, Yellow tea
Bottom row, left to right:  Oolong tea, Black tea, Pu-erh tea

For the first of my Tea 101 series, I thought I'd begin with the basic question, "What is tea?"  Technically speaking, tea is only tea when it comes from the Camellia sinsensis plant.  All of those other steeped/infused beverages are most correctly called herbal infusions or tisanes. 

In current classification, there are six basic categories of tea.  A simple way to think of the difference among the categories is by amount of processing, from least to most.  (Of course, any rule of thumb like this has exceptions.)  In addition, the processing methods are unique for each category.
  • White
  • Green
  • Yellow
  • Oolong
  • Black
  • Pu-erh
I'm excited that I have samples of each category in my tea drawer right now.  I typically have five of the six available, but yellow teas are quite rare and just beginning to become accessible from US vendors.

Within each of these categories, there are many variations.  For example, the macro difference between Japanese and Chinese green teas is very distinct.  Within the Chinese green family, the micro differences are too many to number.  Multiply that by the many teas in the other categories, and you can relate to this quote: 

"One life is not enough to learn the names of all the teas in China."
~Chinese Proverb
How many of the six categories of tea have you tasted?  Perhaps an awesome 2013 goal would be to expand your tea tasting experience by at least one new category. In future Tea 101 blog postings, I will discuss each category of tea on its own.  Happy sipping!


Teafan said...

That's a really great photo - I can see the uniqueness in each cup.

Linda at Friendship Tea said...

Great post! I love the photo.

Antiques And Teacups said...

Hi Steph. It's always great to have a refresher...for something so refreshing! Love your photos!

Ginger said...

I've never tasted yellow tea before. I should remedy that this year.

Marilyn said...

Not sure I have tasted yellow tea, but all the rest I have enjoyed. Your photo reminded me of Easter time when I make different cups of tea to dye eggs. Each tea makes a different color, as so well illustrated in your photo.

loralie said...

I'm with Marilyn & Ginger, I've not had yellow tea. I don't know that I've even seen it anywhere. I will look for it. Any suggestions?

Angela McRae said...

Neat photo showing the color differences in the teas. I have, happily, sipped some of every kind, yet it feels like merely a drop in a very deep bucket to me!

Steph said...

Thanks, all! I'll come up with some yellow tea sources to share.