All About Tea

The taste of a tea depends on where it is grown, the climate, the type of tea (black, oolong, or green), and whether it has been scented or flavored. Herbal teas are not technically true teas but blends of spices, herbs, and fruit peels. Camellia sinensis, (tea) is an evergreen plant grown generally in tropical and semitropical climates. It will grow from sea level to 10,000 feet, and in areas with rainfall as low as 50 inches or as high as 300 inches. Most of the finest flavored teas grow in a cool high altitude. The most noteworthy tea-producing countries are India, Sri Lanka, China, Taiwan, Japan and Indonesia. Tea is also grown in the Soviet Union, Iran, Turkey, and certain areas of Africa and South America, but these teas are not considered particularly outstanding. Tea leaves are harvested at various times during the year, but the first and second flushings usually produce the highest and most sought-after quality. A flushing is a set of new leaves, specifically two leaves and a bud for average-to-good tea and only the growth bud and the next youngest leaf for a premium-quality tea. Premium gourmet quality teas are made only from first flush tea leaves.

Tea Processing

Tea is processed to preserve the leaves and concentrate flavor. Processing involves one or more of four basic operations: withering, which removes as much moisture as possible from the leaves; rolling, which breaks up the cell structure of the dried leaves to release natural juices and fragrances; fermentation, exposes the leaves to air (oxygen changes the color of the leaves from green to black); firing or drying, which stops the oxidation process and dries the leaves evenly.

Depending upon processing, tea is classified as one of three types:

  • Fermented or black tea. Subjected to all four processing operations, the flavor of tea brewed from black tea leaves is rich and strong.
  • Semi fermented or oolong tea. Oolong is lightly withered, rolled, and only partially fermented prior to being dried. The leaves are half copper and half black. The flavor of oolong tea is rich and fruity and not as strong as that of black teas.
  • Unfermented or green tea. Green tea is not fermented. The leaves are green because they have not been oxidized. When brewed, green tea is light and clear with a delicate, fresh flavor. Of the three types, green tea has the least amount of caffeine.

Grading Tea

The two major grades are Broken and Unbroken. Orange Pekoe (Pronounced Peck-o), is not a kind of tea, it is a term to describe the size of the black tea leaf. The word Pekoe was originally used to describe the young bud leaf on the bush.

India, China, and Indonesia generally grade their black teas in descending order of large to small leaves.

Leaf Sizes:

  • FOP — Flowery orange pekoe (the bud leaf)
  • OP — Orange pekoe (the next lower leaf)
  • P — Pekoe (the next larger leaf)

Broken Grades:

  • BPS — Broken Pekoe Souchong
  • BP — Broken Pekoe
  • BOP — Broken Orange Pekoe
  • FNGS — Fannings
  • D — Dust

Dust is a term used to denote leaf size only. Most tea bags contain a large percentage of fannings, perhaps some dust, and only a few large tea leaves. Fannings and dust are used in tea bags because they brew more quickly. Fannings and dust are not necessarily of poor quality; quality is determined more by the type of tea.

China is to Tea as France is to Wine. China grades and classifies their teas by the quality of manufacture. Five grades are graded by leaf, four by quality, two by manufacturing and over two hundred grades are by the region in which they are grown.

China’s Oolong gradings are:

  • Choice
  • Finest to Good
  • Standard

The Chinese grade according to age and style of leaf preparation in three broad Categories:

  • Country Greens
  • Hoochows
  • Pingsueys

In Japan, Green teas are classified according to their processing methods. They can be Pan-fired, Baskety-fire, Gini or Natural Leaf. The name of a tea can come from the name of a specific growing area or it can be a proprietary name formulated for a certain tea blend, such as the trademarked names Lisa’s Tea Treasures has created.