What makes them different?
Did you know that tea grows as a bush? Yes, it is true! But the real truth of tea, is that it is a diverse product of nature and the processes that are used to produce the different types of tea are quite complex and interesting.
So, we know that all tea grows as a bush - the bush is comprised of leaves, buds and stems of the plant called "Camellia Sinensis". Did you also know that Assam tea originates from the "Camellia Assamica"? And all tea, all the numerous assorted types that we enjoy daily...they are all derived from the same plant. It does not matter what type you prefer, from your energizing green tea to a full bodied black tea, or a fine Oolong to the complex flavours of Pu-Erh - the colour and flavour of tea is a direct result of how it is processed after picking.
My favourite black tea passes through 5 phases: withering, rolling, oxidizing, drying and finally...sorting. This process is called the "orthodox method". Darjeeling or Ceylon teas are produced using this method, where it originates from determines its name in the tea shops.
But now you ask, how are the rest of the teas produced? To put it simply, it depends on how long the tea is allowed to oxidize. During the oxidation phase, the tea leaves actually change their taste and colour under the influence of enzymes and oxygen...it just depends on the length of time that the tea spends oxidizing.
Green tea, for example, is not allowed to oxidize so that it retains its vibrant green colour and its signature bitter flavour. Oxidation can be prevented using several techniques: such as steaming the tea leaves or roasting them in big pans.
With yellow, white and Oolong tea, similar techniques are used to produce them. There are other factors that come into play as well, like the quality of tea leaf and drying times during the oxidation phase produce the differences between these particular teas.
For yellow tea, oxidation is also prevented. With white tea, oxidation is allowed up to 2 %. An Oolong tea is somewhere between black and green, thus it is called "semi oxidized" tea.
Pu-Erh is a special tea and requires a special process to produce it. At first, it undergoes the same process as green tea but then it is placed in bamboo barrels to ripen, in some cases...for years. During this time, micro-organisms cause the tea to ferment and this process produces the characteristic earthy flavour of Pu-Erh.
Which type of tea is the best tea? It really depends on each individual's personal preferences. The only way to find out, is to try each and every type of tea. Enjoy a good cup of tea, each and every day!