The plant is one: Camellia sinensis. The leaves are the same: tea leaves. But the kinds of tea available in the market: a breathtaking 3,000 plus. The majority of these teas are exotic, and limited to small regions of the world. Their pedigree and flavor is influenced by different soil and weather conditions, geographic location, plantation height, parentage, processing and blending methods. This also includes tea-making methods.
Most of these teas can be broadly categorized under three generic heads: green tea, black tea, and oolong tea. These teas get their individual qualities from the processing methods used to make them. The black teas undergo several hours of oxidation (fermentation), the oolongs receive less oxidation or are semi-fermented, while the green teas are not oxidized at all. Two other categories of tea are: white tea and Puerh tea.
The following are the important characteristics of these teas:
Black Tea: Black tea requires several hours of oxidation for its preparation and currently accounts for around 70 per cent of world tea consumption. The popular varieties of black tea are: English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, Darjeeling, Ceylon, Assam, and Keemun.
Green Tea: Green tea has a vegetative or herbaceous quality unlike black or oolong as it is not fermented or oxidized. The freshly harvested leaves are rolled and heated. Most green teas produce a greenish-gold drink which is generally much lighter than other teas. The green tea is highly valued for its medicinal qualities
Oolong Tea: Oolong tea is the least popular tea accounting for less than three percent of world consumption. It is a partially fermented (oxidized), has a delicate flavor and is often called the champagne of teas by tea enthusiasts. The caffeine content in these tea is somewhere between the green teas and black teas. The flavor is often compared to the taste and aroma of fresh flowers and fresh fruit. White teas: These are the most delicate of all teas, and are imbued with a natural sweetness. They are hand processed and made from the youngest shoots without any oxidation. They produce very low amounts of caffeine when brewed correctly.
Puerh tea: This is an ancient black tea that traces its origin to China. It has several important medicinal properties and an earthy flavor. Its import to US was illegal till 1995 and its production process is a closely guarded state secret in China. It is very strong with an incredibly deep and rich flavor without any bitterness.