Types of Tea and Tea History

Although tea was discovered in China nearly five thousand years ago, it took several thousand years before the plant, Camellia sinensis, found its way to other parts of the world.

Today, tea is grown on a commercial scale in approximately three dozen countries from China to Argentina and Nepal to South Africa.

Chinese tea garden

How Tea Is Made

Every kind of tea comes from one plant, the Camellia sinensis. The different types of tea available are created after the leaf is picked, and how it’s processed.

Specifically, tea processing involves different manners and degree of oxidation of the leaves, stopping the oxidation, forming the tea and drying it.

The tea leaf from any tea farm will change slightly every year. Just like the grapes from a good wine, slight changes in climate and soil conditions will affect the tea plant and ultimately the flavour from the leaf.

Popular Types of Tea and Where It Comes From

Each type of tea has its own characteristics including a different taste and differing health benefits. After water, it is the most widely consumed drink in the world.

As mentioned before, tea is thought to have originated in China, where it may have been used as a medicinal drink to help prevent disease or as a treatment.

Tea came to the West via Portuguese priests and merchants, who introduced it during the 16th century.

Drinking tea became fashionable among Britons during the 17th century, who then started large scale production and commercialization of the plant in India to bypass a Chinese monopoly at that time.

There are many different types of tea, but here are some of the most popular.

Tea storage and packing room

Black Tea

Black tea is a heavily oxidised tea, the enzymes are really aloud to work their magic inside the leaf and are left to dry for a long period of time.

It’s warmed and aloud to go soft, and then the leaf goes a lovely dark/coppery colour that we know so well.

Black tea leaf

Green Tea

It’s very delicately picked and a good green tea will usually be off the very tops of the plant.

Green tea isn’t oxidised at all, so they remain a really beautiful green. It’s heated, which locks in the colour and flavour.

Green tea leaf

Oolong Tea

Oolong tea is a semi-oxidised tea, so you get a lovely creamy/sweet flavour.

Due to how oolong tea is processed, the leaf will vary in colour. Some of the leaves will end up being quite green and some almost black.

The colour and flavour depends on how long the leaf is oxidised, as with oolong, this will also vary depending on the blend and your personal taste.

Oolong tea leaf

White Tea

White tea is probably the purest form of tea you can get, the leaves and buds are allowed to wither and dry in natural sunlight. Some special white teas are dried under moonlight.

The name “white tea” derives from the fine silvery-white hairs on the unopened buds of the tea plant, which gives the plant a whitish appearance.

White tea leaf

Herbal Teas

Herbal teas are not officially a tea, this is because it doesn’t actually use the leaf of the Camellia sinensis plant, and it’s sometimes referred to as tisane tea.

Herbal teas, or herbal infusions, consist of pure herbs, flowers, and fruits.

Herbal tea

Mixed Blend Teas

You can mix and match different teas together to create unique blends.

It’s also a way of making sure you have a consistent blend year after year, as crops can vary due to slight changes in climate and soil conditions.

Mixed blend teas

Scented and Flavoured Teas

Many teas are flavoured directly with flowers, herbs, spices, or even smoke. Some teas, with more specialized flavours, are produced by adding of flavourants or perfumes. A variety of flowers are used to flavour teas.

The most popular of these teas include the flowers of the following:

Jasmine

Spread with jasmine flowers while oxidizing, and occasionally some are left in the tea as a decoration. Jasmine is most commonly used to flavour green teas to produce jasmine tea.

Osmanthus

In China, osmanthus tea is produced by combining dried sweet Osmanthus fragrans flowers with black or green tea leaves in much the same manner the more familiar jasmine tea combines jasmine flowers with tea leaves.

The flowers are spread while oxidizing, and occasionally some are left in the tea as a decoration. This flower gives the tea a mild peach flavour. It is the second most popular scented tea (after jasmine) in China.

Rose

Spread with rose flowers while oxidizing, occasionally some are left in the tea as a decoration. In China, roses are usually used to scent black tea and the resulting tea is called rose congou.

Chrysanthemum

The flowers are often brewed alone but it is also commonly mixed with pu-erh tea to make chrysanthemum pu-erh.

Lotus

Vietnamese lotus tea is made by stuffing green tea leaves into the blossom of Nelumbo nucifera and allowing the scent to be absorbed overnight.

Another common technique for making this tea is by jarring or baking the tea leaves with the fragrant stamens of the flower multiple times.