All teas come from the same plant – there is not a different tea plant for green tea and another one for black tea. It is the way the leaf is processed that determines the final product: green, white or black tea.
For black tea, the leaf is fermented. The ?orthodox? or traditional manufacturing method follows five basic stages and takes about 24 hours:
• Withering, which begins as soon as the leaf is plucked. In this stage the leaves are allowed to become limp so that they can be rolled without breaking. They are spread on mats or mesh pallets and left for about 12-18 hours at moderate temperatures, until they have lost around 50% of their moisture.
• Rolling also used to be done by hand. Now, however, the leaves are mechanically twisted. During this process the leaf cells burst, releasing many of the properties of the final product. The juices from the leaves combine with the oxygen in the air, initiating fermentation.
• Fermentation is the process in which the cell juices released by rolling are oxidised. The leaves are exposed to very high humidity at a temperature of around 25?C, for 1-3 hours. Fermentation is the most important and the most delicate stage of the manufacturing process, because the length of fermentation time (2-4 hours) determines to a very considerable extent the aromas and the quality of the resulting tea. It is during this stage that the tea acquires its coppery colour.
• Drying stops the fermentation, and must be carefully judged to avoid over-drying and spoilage. This stage usually lasts about 20 minutes, in a dry atmosphere at a temperature of 90?-95? C.
• Screening: Depending on their size, the leaves are sorted into four basic grades: leafy grades, broken grades, fannings and dust. Dust, the lowest quality, is the grade used for teabags.
Regardless of quality, this classification tells us how strong the tea is: the more broken the leaf, the stronger the brew.
Grades of black tea
Black tea is graded according to plucking fineness and leaf size.
The first distinction is between teas with whole leaves (leafy grades) and those with broken leaves (broken grades).
Orange - The word Orange does not refer to the fruit, but to the royal Dutch house that first imported tea into Europe. It describes a "royal" quality tea
Pekoe - The word Pekoe designates a leaf bud that hasen't opened yet and is covered by a white down (Pak-ho in Chinese).
Tippy - The tip is the new leaf bud. Describes a high quality tea
Flowery - Describes a tea with numerous young new leaves.
Golden - Describes a tea witha large number of golden leaf buds
OP - Orange Pekoe
FOP - Flowery Orange Pekoe.
GFOP - Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
TGFOP - Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
FTGFOP - Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
All these grades describe fine pluckings with buds, also known as "Golden Tips".
Each one indicates the use of fresh new whole leaves and specifies how fine the plucking was.
BP - Broken Pekoe
BOP - Broken Orange Pekoe
FBOP - Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe
These grades indicate the strength of the teas. Broken Pekoe usually designates a tea processed using a CTC (crushing, tearing and curling) machine, which produces the strongest teas, while the third grade describes a finer and more aromatic tea with tips.
Fannings - Small particles of tea yielding strong brews. Used for quality tea bag production or for loose tea.
Dust - The finest particles of tea. Commonly used for inferior tea bags.
Green tea is not fermented. Instead, the leaves are cured by one of two different methods.
JAPAN – The freshly plucked leaves are steam-blasted at 100°C. This kills the oxidising enzymes and thus prevents fermentation.
CHINA – To deactivate the oxidising enzymes the fresh leaves are traditionally roasted in hot cast-iron pans (woks) for about 30 seconds.
• Rolling: After curing, the leaves are rolled. Each tea acquires a different, characteristic shape: flat, needle, eyebrow, pearl, bird?s tongue, etc.
• Drying: The leaves are then dried for repeated periods of 2-3 minutes, with steam, until their moisture content is virtually nil.
• Sorting: Unlike black tea, green tea is sorted on the basis of leaf shape rather than leaf size.
Oolong (or Wulong) tea
Oolong tea originated in Mount Wuyi in the northern part of Fujian province, in China, and is now also widely cultivated in Taiwan.
Oolong teas are exceptionally delicately flavoured, with a wide range of interesting and very different colours. Although not much appreciated in Europe, Oolong teas are immensely diverse, with hundreds of varieties spanning the tea spectrum from near-green to near-black. Their rich aromas, complex manufacture and long history inevitably invite comparison with French wines.
The best of these teas are used up to 15 times in the Chinese tea ceremony, Gong Fu Cha. Depending on the degree of fermentation, these long-leaf teas may have a sweet floral or fruity flavour or develop more intense earthy or chestnut aromas.
Oolong teas are processed in the same way as black teas.
With few tannins and very low caffeine counts, these teas are ideal for drinking in the afternoon and evening. In traditional Chinese pharmacology they are reputed to combat toxins and fatty deposits and in general have the same beneficial properties as green tea.
Oolong - The word Oolong means “black dragon”. The Chinese call this tea “blue-green”, from the colour of the partially (15-70%) fermented leaf.
Rare and highly select. Traditionally, even today, it is harvested only once a year, in the first days of spring, from certain varieties. White tea historically originated in Fujian province.
It is a tea that has undergone minimal processing, remaining largely in its natural state. White tea undergoes only two of the normal manufacturing stages: withering, followed immediately by drying, either in the sun, in a pan or with steam.
The Chinese call them “cooling teas”, because they are said to lower body temperature during a heat wave or in case of fever. The infusion has a very pale colour.
Pekoe - This tea is named for the tip, or pekoe, which is plucked without the adjacent leaves and is covered by a fine, protective white down.