All varieties of tea come from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. Altering the shape and chemistry of the leaf through “processing” creates the many different tea types. Herbal teas, also known as tisanes or herbal infusions, have no actual tea leaves and are traditionally consumed for medicinal reasons or as a caffeine-free alternative to tea. Zhena’s premium teas come from all over the world, each with its own taste, aroma and health benefits.
White tea is considered the purest of all teas, brewing up a bright, clear infusion. White tea is made from the fresh downy buds of the Camellia sinensis bush and plucked only a few days a year, typically between March and April when precipitation is at its lowest. Because it is rare and very high grade, white tea is one of the most sought after and revered blends for the tea connoisseur. White tea is the least processed tea, it is heated at very low temperatures or simply naturally dried in the clean mountain air, and it is not rolled. White tea usually contains buds and young tea leaves, which have been found to contain lower levels of caffeine than older leaves, making a perfect cup to drink day or night.
Green tea is tea that has undergone minimal oxidation during processing. The leaves have been steamed, rolled and then fired. The finest teas are pan-fired and shaped by hand very quickly in a hot wok, with only a few hundred grams produced at a time. This process denatures the oxidizing enzymes and preserves the color and characteristic freshness of the tea. After firing, the tea is baked; this is done over a slow-burning char-fire for the finest and rarest green teas. During the last 20 years, green tea has been the subject of many scientific and medical studies to determine the extent of its long-purported health benefits, with some evidence suggesting regular green tea drinkers may have lower chances of developing heart disease and certain types of cancer. Green tea has become one of the fastest growing teas in popularity with hundreds of green teas in China alone. Green tea undergoes less processing, so more of the leaf’s beneficial properties and rich antioxidants remain intact. It also has half the caffeine of black tea and varies widely in appearance and taste, yielding the fresh, ethereal, grassy taste of nature.
Matcha is fine ground, powdered, high quality green tea with a bright green color and sweet, full-bodied flavor. Most commonly used in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, which centers on the preparation, serving and drinking of matcha. The preparation of matcha tea starts several weeks before harvest. The tea bushes are covered to prevent direct sun light. The shade slows down growth, turns the leaves a darker shade of green and causes the production of amino acids. Only the finest tea buds are then hand picked and laid out flat to dry. Once brittle, they are de-stemmed and stone ground into silky smooth powdered matcha. With naturally occurring vitamins A and C, potassium and iron, nutrients and fiber, matcha is a luxurious, healthy alternative to a morning cup of coffee.
Oolong tea (pronounced wu-long) is a traditional Chinese tea somewhere between green and black in oxidation. It ranges from 10 to 70 percent oxidation. The more intricate processing of oolong yields a complex level of flavor appreciated by tea aficionados. The tea leaves are picked and withered with intermittent tossing, sometimes using a bamboo drum to bruise the leaf edges and encourage oxidation. Once the desired level of oxidation is reached, the leaves are fired to prevent any further oxidation. Oolong has a taste similar to green tea but without, the stridently grassy vegetal notes that typify green tea. Tightly rolled oolongs, such as the revered Tieguanyin, are hand rolled and fired repeatedly to shape the tea and bring the moisture from the inside to the outside of the leaf. Some open leaf oolongs offer leaves that are machine rolled, fired and then baked for a sweet, roasted taste.
Black tea is a variety of tea that is more processed and more oxidized than the green, oolong and white tea varieties. After picking, the leaves are withered and then bruised by rolling, inducing oxidation and creating their characteristic black color and complex flavor. The exact level of oxidation depends on the specific intentions of the tea master responsible for producing the tea. The leaves are dried or “fired” by being heated in an oven, thus reducing the moisture content. Black tea is generally stronger in flavor and contains more caffeine than the less oxidized teas. While green tea usually loses its flavor within a year, black tea retains its full-bodied flavor for several years. Compressed bricks of black tea once served as a form of de facto currency in Mongolia, Tibet and Siberia all the way into the 19th century. India, Sri Lanka and China are the most famous producers of high quality black tea.
Pu’erh tea (or Pu-ehr) is the only tea that is aged before processing. The aging or “fermenting” process, lasting anywhere from a few months to several years, is what gives pu’erh its prized earthy, woodsy aroma and rich, smooth taste. The basic production method of pu’erh tea involves picking, withering, firing, drying, fermenting or oxidizing, and then compressing the large green tea leaves into ‘cakes’ and placing them into careful storage. Those that truly love pu’erh tea find that its appeal is not just in its unique harmonious scent and flavors, but also in the way it soothes both mind and body. The richness of pu’erh is most satisfying to traditional coffee drinkers.
Herbal tea, technically speaking, is not tea at all, as it is a botanical blend made from dried herbs, flowers, roots, fruits or leaves not of the Camellia sinensis bush. For this reason, herbal teas are also known as tisanes, from the French word for herbal infusion. Like tea, herbal teas have been consumed for centuries as healing tonics and traditional medicines, especially for their stimulant, relaxant or sedative properties, or as caffeine-free alternatives to tea. In herbal teas, aromatic essential oils are added for enriched flavor, fragrance and taste, expanding tea drinking to a higher level of experience.
Rooibos (pronounced “roy-boss”), also known as “red bush tea” or simply “red tea,” is grown only in South Africa. It is naturally caffeine-free and, like tea, a source of vitamins and minerals. Research has also shown rooibos to be a rich natural source of disease-fighting antioxidants. The rooibos processing method involves harvesting the red bush leaves, followed by grinding and bruising the leaves, insuring oxidation. Then the rooibos is dried to yield a reddish brown needle-like tea. Green rooibos, rooibos that is not oxidized, is also produced. The more demanding production process for green rooibos (similar to that of green tea) makes it more expensive than traditional rooibos, and it carries a malty and slightly grassy flavor somewhat different from its rich, slightly sweet red counterpart. The absence of caffeine makes rooibos ideal to enjoy many healthy cups even at night.
Mate (pronounced mah-tay), most popular in South America, is an infusion made by steeping the leaves and stems of the yerba mate plant. Mate is one of the few plants on earth (along with coffee, cacao and tea) that contain caffeine. A cup of mate contains the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee but without the jittery effects. While the woodsy taste tends to be quite unusual to newcomers, many folks overlook its unique character to receive its many benefits. Traditionally, the brewed mate leaves are left in the cup, and a filtered straw is used to drink the brew.