The four “real” teas are black, green, white, and oolong. What are the similarities and differences that separate these four amazing beverages?
The Short Answer:
All four of these teas come from the same plant, but the way that they are processed creates a different flavor and aroma for each.
The Long Answer:
I’m fascinated by what we call the “real” teas. Those are black tea, green tea, white tea, and oolong tea. What makes them real teas over something like herbal tea? They come from the same plant, specifically the Camellia sinensis, or tea bush as it’s more commonly called.
That’s right, despite their wildly different flavors and aromas, black, green, white, and oolong tea leaves are the exact same thing. Why then do they taste and smell so different? It’s all in the processing. The most important factor that differentiates these four variations of tea is oxidation. That is a process in which the plucked leaves are exposed to oxygen. The plant is dried, withered, rolled up, and sometimes treated with heat.
Black tea is the most heavily oxidized of all teas. After leaves are plucked from the plant they are withered fully. Then they are rolled and crushed, either by hand or machine. Once this happens, oxidation begins. Once fully oxidized, the leaves turn black. The final step is to fire the leaves in ovens. This stops the oxidation process.
Green tea receives very little oxidation. The leaves are plucked off the plant in the morning and can be brewed in a pot that very same night. Because green tea receives very little oxidation, it has a low caffeine count. After the leaves are plucked they’re immediately heated, thus stopping the oxidation process before it ever truly has a chance to begin. The dry leaves will retain the original green coloring of the plant, which is where green tea gets its name from.
Oolong tea is the middle ground between green and black. It’s also one of the most versatile teas in the world. The leaves are semi-oxidized, with each tea master injecting a bit of their own personal style into it. Oolong tea can be anywhere from 8% to 80% oxidized, running between full and light bodied, like wine. Oolong leaves are withered and rolled before they are partially oxidized. After that, they are fired in a pan or basket. Charcoal is sometimes used to inject more flavor.
White tea is the least processed of all. They’re harvested very early in the growing lifecycle when the buds are still covered by thin white hairs. It’s described by many as delicate, and that’s because it is not rolled or crushed at all throughout the tea making process.
What’s your favorite tea? Sound off below and let us know!