THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TEA, TISANES, INFUSIONS & HERBAL TEAS?
Tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant also known as the Tea plant. These include black, green, white, oolong, yellow and pu-erh. Anything else, while sometimes called “tea”, is more accurately referred to as an herbal tea, infusion or tisane.
HOW DOES ONE TEA PLANT CREATE SO MANY DIFFERENT KINDS OF TEAS?
The styles of tea are produced by altering or processing the shape and chemistry of the leaf.
Tea processing is basically five steps (some teas don’t utilize all of these steps, while other teas repeat them several times).
Withering (allowing the leaves to wilt and soften);
Rolling (to shape the leaves and wring out the juices);
Firing or Drying
Oxidizing is the step that defines the categories of tea. It occurs when the enzymes in the tea leaf interact with oxygen, after the cell walls are broken apart. This can happen quickly, through rolling, cutting, or crushing, or more slowly through the natural decomposition of the leaf. Oxidation is still referred to as fermentation.
THE FIVE BASIC STYLES OF TEA ARE WHITE, GREEN, OOLONG, BLACK AND PU’ERH
WHITE TEA is essentially unprocessed tea. The name is derived from the fuzzy white “down” that appears on the unopened or recently opened buds, the newest growth on the tea bush. White tea is simply plucked and allowed to wither dry. Some minimal oxidation does happen naturally, as it can take a full day or two to air dry the tea leaves. This is why some white teas, like the classic White Peony, show leaves of differing colours – white, green, and brown. White teas produce very pale green or yellow liquor and are the most delicate in flavour and aroma.
GREEN TEA is plucked and withered and goes through kill green (steamed, roasted or pan fired). Green tea produces a green or yellow colour, and flavours range from toasty, grassy to fresh steamed greens with mild, vegetable-like astringency.
OOLONG TEA utilizes all of the five basic steps, with rolling and oxidizing done repeatedly. Oolong is a complex category because it’s so broad: it’s most simply described as half-way between green and black, and that’s quite accurate. These teas are anywhere from 8% oxidized to 80% (measured roughly by looking at the amount of brown or red on the leaf while the tea is being made). The leaves are rolled, then allowed to rest and oxidize for a while. Then they’ll be rolled again, then oxidized, over and over. Often, gentle heat is applied to slow the enzymes down a bit. Over the course of many hours (sometimes days), what is created is a beautiful layering or “painting” of aroma and flavour. Oolongs typically have much more complex flavour than Green or White teas, with very smooth, soft astringency and rich in floral or fruity flavours.
BLACK TEA also utilizes all five basic steps, but is allowed to oxidize more completely. Also, the steps are followed in a very linear form; they are generally not repeated on a single batch. The tea is completely made within a day. The brewed liquor of a Black tea ranges between dark brown and deep red. Black teas offer the strongest flavours and, in some cases, the greatest astringency. Black teas are the only style of tea regularly consumed with milk.
PU’ERH TEA first undergoes a process similar to Green tea, but before the leaf is dried, it’s aged either as loose-leaf tea or pressed into dense cakes and decorative shapes. Pu’erh is a fermented tea (and the use of ‘fermentation’ is correct here, although not the type which produces alcohol). Depending on the type of pu’erh being made (either dark “ripe” pu’erh or green “raw” pu’erh), the aging process lasts anywhere from a few months to several years. Very old, well-stored pu’erhs are considered “living teas”, just like wine. They are prized for their earthy, woodsy or musty aroma and rich, smooth taste.
HERBAL TEAS, HERBAL INFUSIONS & HERBAL TISANES are the same thing. They are created with fresh or dried herbs or botanicals such as berries, buds, seeds, twigs, bugs, pods, fruit or flowers. The part used of a plant is chosen for its medicinal properties as well as aroma and flavour. For example, Dandelion root supports bowel and liver health whereas the Dandelion leaf supports urinary health. Herbs are usually dried in a heat controlled dehydrating room to preserve their active constituents, aroma, flavour and colour.
Black, green, white, oolong, yellow and pu-erh can also be blended with herbs or botanicals or lesser quality kinds are flavoured artificially or with natural flavours. Check out our previous post called TEA FLAVOURING 101 http://www.ovvioorganics.com.au/how-tea-is-flavoured/ to find out how we create our unique Ovvio tea flavours, through the blending of natural ingredients and what we don’t use.