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Tea Types 2018-03-22T21:57:37+00:00

Camellia Sinensis

The scientific name for the plant which we enjoy as “tea” is Camellia Sinensis. Legend has it that, in 2737 BC, a wind blown leaf from the plant landed in Chinese Emperor Shennong’s cup of recently boiled water and he loved both the taste and effect of the resulting beverage. From its origin in Southwest China, tea spread throughout China and then Asia. Because Camellia sinensis is easily hybridized, growers were able to adapt the plant and its preparation process, to meet the preferred flavor profiles of different geographic regions. As a result, over the centuries, Camellia sinensis developed into hundreds of varietals grown throughout the world. The classifications of tea (White, Green, Oolong, Black, Pu-erh) result from differences in the methods of processing Camellia Sinensis’ leaves after harvest.  We’ve briefly explained some types below:

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WHITE TEA

White is the least processed of the tea varieties. Typically, the young top two leaves and bud of each Camellia Sinensis branch are harvested and then simply left out in the sun to dry – although some White Teas are lightly steamed or fired before drying – but they are never rolled or oxidized. The designation “white tea” refers to the small white hairs on the underside of the the tea leaves which remain visible after the gentle drying process.

The liquor itself is a pale yellow and has a very delicate floral flavor. Because White Tea’s leaves are left intact and visible to the consumer, growers MUST use the best leaves to make it. Additionally, White Tea aficionados prefer that its leaves remain unbroken so great care must be taken with it during shipping and storage. Because of this White Tea is relatively rare and tends to be more expensive than the other types of tea.

GREEN TEA

After harvesting, the Camellia Sinensis leaves used to make Green Tea are not dried or withered, but go directly to either a steam or a pan searing process. This strips the leaves of their enzymes preventing any discoloration by oxidation in future steps.

The leaves are then rolled or shaped for the desired appearance and fired to preserve the tea for packaging and distribution. Green tea typically has a yellow green liquor and a vegetal taste varying from sweet to savory natural flavors. There are an enormous variety of Green teas – from Japan’s powdered Matcha to Chinese Jasmine Tea – and it is the most consumed type of tea in Asia.

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OOLONG TEA

Oolongs offer complex flavors due to their unique, multi-step production process. After plucking, the leaves are set on racks to dry and wither. The dried leaves are then shaken and tossed, usually on large, circular bamboo trays, to bruise their edges; this exposes some of the leaves’ enzymes to the air, causing them to oxidize.

The next step is tumbling the leaves, which precipitates further oxidization and also helps shape the leaves. Once they reach the desired level (between 20% and 80% oxidization depending on the variety), the leaves are heated, either by steam or pan-frying, to stop any further oxidization.

Finally, the leaves are rolled into the desired shape (either into a ball or long, thin twists) and then baked to lock in the chemical profile, remove any remaining moisture and fix their shape. Different Oolongs vary widely in flavor; some are herbaceous, others sweet and fruity. Oolongs are considered the champagne of the tea world and reveal different, complex flavors over a span of steepings (one serving of Oolong leaves may be steeped up to 7 times).

BLACK TEA

Black tea gets its dark appearance and strong flavor because its leaves are more highly oxidized during processing than those of other varieties. Both India and China are famous for producing delicious black teas – although, in China, it is referred to as “red tea”, based on the color of the liquor rather that the color of the processed leaves. Black tea is the most popular tea in the world, accounting for almost 90% of all tea consumed. It serves as the base for many blends and, due the way it’s processed, retains its flavor for many years.

The color of the liquor ranges from dark green to amber. Because black tea is a loose term for several types of high oxidized teas, the taste can differ extremely. Some black teas have a sweet, malty, robust, full bodied flavor, while others can be bright fruity with a velvety astringent mouthfeel. Black tea stands up very well to milk and sugar; most tea consumed in England is black.

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PU-ERH TEA

Pu-erh has been produced in southwestern China –Yunnan Province most famously – for close to 2,000 years. Needing a tea easy to transport and resistant to spoiling, tea cultivators of the time developed Pu-erh.  By cooking, fermenting and compressing the tea leaves into solid bricks, they developed a product which actually improved over time (aged Pu- erh’s are some of the world’s most expensive teas) and was much more cost effective to transport than large bags of loose tea leaves.

Depending on the manufacturing process Pu-erh is categorized as either Raw (sheng cha) or Ripe (shu cha).  Raw Pu-erh takes a lot longer, is usually lighter in color, and more astringent. Tea sommeliers consider raw puerh the “wine of tea”. Ripened Pu-erh speeds up the process and has a darker liquor and deeper flavor. Both types are very pungent and earthy

BLENDS

Teas are often blended with other teas and/or herbs, flowers, spices or even grain to create a “better” final product. Purists will say that blends are just a way to hide the lack of flavor in inferior teas but, when done properly, blending tea can create an amazing beverage with great nuance of flavor. And some blends, created by an accident of circumstance, became so popular that they now rank among the world’s most loved beverages.

Earl Grey – One of this tea’s origin legends tells of a gift of Chinese black tea to Earl Charles Grey in the 1820s was on a ship which also picked up Bergamot limes from Italy. Packed alongside each other, the Bergamot lent its flavor to the tea and a new favorite was born.

Moroccan Mint – An English trader, unable to sell his China Gunpowder tea in Crimea due to a war, landed in Morocco and sold it there. Locals, long used to drinking a hot mint tea, mixed the black tea with the mint and created a new beverage which millions of people now drink on a daily basis.

Indigo has a great range of blended teas and also creates unique blends for our wholesale customers (the restaurant GINGER serves three fantastic ginger based blends from Indigo). When done properly, using top-notch ingredients, a blend can bring out the best in all the ingredients and create a superior drink.

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HERBAL TEA

In a strict sense, Herbal Teas are not teas at all because they don’t contain any Camellia Sinensis. They are more properly referred to as “tisanes”. Tisanes, which are typically caffeine free, can be made from a wide variety of fruits or herbs.

The most popular herbal teas are Chamomile, Peppermint and Hibiscus. Indigo has a great selection of herbals – our Tangerine Ginger is very popular – which are perfect for those sensitive to caffeine or who like a nice cup of something soothing in the evening.

ROOIBOS TEA

Rooibos is an herbal tea made from a South African bush. It contains no caffeine and is very high in anti-oxidants. Locals had been drinking rooibos tea for generations and when Dutch settlers arrived in South Africa they took to it as well; real tea being scarce and expensive due to the long shipping distances. It wasn’t until the early 1900s when a botanist discovered a way to produce rooibos commercially that it was grown in large enough quantity to be exported around the world.

Rooibos has a somewhat malty flavor with grassy notes and is often blended with other products – such as lemon, peppermint, vanilla, to name a few – to create a tasty infusion. Indigo also serves a Rooibos latte – which is unique and delicious!

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