Being that all tea comes from Camellia sinensis leaves, it may be hard to understand what makes each tea different, and how it got that way. This article will hopefully help you better understand the process of how loose leaf tea is made.
As stated above, all tea comes from a plant called Camellia Sinensis (Sinensis means Chinese in Latin). These plants are native to Southeast Asia, but can be cultivated in other subtropical regions like India.
Farmers in the tea gardens pick fresh Camellia tealeaves. All of those leaves are then sent to wither except for the young leaves and buds, which will eventually become white tea. White tealeaves do not go through the withering process, but instead go straight to the steaming process. After steaming, they are dried and sold. Because they haven’t been as processed as the other teas, and are so close to their natural state, they carry more powerful antioxidants such as polyphenols, than any other tea! Aside from its gentle sweet flavor, these health benefits are making White tea more and more popular in the west.
After withering, a section of tea will be “rolled”. The rollers rupture the cell walls of the withered leaves allowing air to interact chemically with the tea juices, a process called oxidation. Tea that has been rolled is then sent to fully ferment and then to be fired. Firing is how they dry or remove moisture in tea. Firing also heats the enzymes in the leaves and stops the oxidation. Examples of firing are Pan fired, bamboo basket fired and oven drying. This group of teas that have gone through this process will be sold as black teas. Although most popular in the US, Black tea has the highest amount of caffeine but the least amount of antioxidants.
After withering, another section of tea will be shaken or bruised. Breaking the tealeaves exposes the enzymes to air causing oxidation. This tea will be partially fermented, pan fired and will become Oolong tea. Oolong is the most difficult tea to process because it can only be partially fermented, so they very gently bruise the edges of the leaves instead opening the whole leaf.
The last group, post withering, will be steamed and then rolled and dried. Different from White tea, the farmers use the rolled tea leaves, not the buds to make glorious Green tea. Green tea is high in antioxidants and low in caffeine compared to black tea. Originating from China, Green tea is now extremely popular in the US due to its long-purported health benefits. The antioxidants in Green tea are thought to help prevent cancer, lower cholesterol, regulate blood sugar levels help with weight loss and slow signs of aging.
Whichever loose-leaf tea suits your taste, it is likely your body will reap rewards from drinking it. We certainly know that with so many types of tea and additives to choose from, you can certainly find something to please both your body and you palate!