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Tea Categories & OriginsTea Categories & Origins

Tea Categories & Origins

Yunnan, Assam, Oolong, Long Jing, Black and Blue…

With so many kinds of tea available, it’s easy to feel lost in a sea of names and colours. But when it comes to types of tea, it could essentially be boiled down to two things - category and origin.

Camellia sinensis

Types of Tea

All kinds of tea come from the same plant – the camellia sinensis. A flowering evergreen shrub, this species is remarkably versatile. From this one plant, we can produce six distinct categories of tea: white, yellow, green, oolong, black, and pu’erh.

Our second consideration is origin. Where was it grown? What were the conditions like? How was it treated? All of this can give us some insight into the final flavour. So when you’re choosing the next addition to your kitchen cupboard, it might be worth investigating both the obvious and the subtle differences in each tea type.

What Is a Tea Category?

Contrary to popular assumption, there isn’t a green tea bush and a black tea bush. The different categories are all thanks to the skill and expertise of each tea maker. Centuries of rigorous experimentation and happy accidents have resulted in a beautifully diverse range of options. How the plant is plucked and processed will all influence our finished product, with the most crucial stage being oxidisation.

Picture a crisp, fresh apple. When we cut into the apple, we expose it to the oxygen in the air. Over the next few hours, the pale apple flesh gradually starts to turn brown. This chemical reaction is oxidisation, and it’s similar to what happens with tea.

What Is a Tea Category?
Different types of tea

Black tea is considered a ‘fully-oxidised’ tea. The tea leaves are deliberately bruised and left to brown, just like the apple, giving us that darker, richer finish. Green tea, on the other hand, is deemed ‘unoxidised’ – we heat the tea leaves to stop this chemical reaction in its tracks, preserving that fresh, naturally vibrant, jade colour.

Other categories of tea, (white, yellow, oolong and pu’erh), will also have varying levels of oxidisation. Additional stages might prep the leaves for oxidisation, prevent it, or bring entirely new and unique qualities to your tea. Some categories are treated with very simple precision whilst others can take several years to make! Learn more about how each category of tea is made.

What Is a Tea Origin?

Although the tea plant is native to East Asia, you’ll now find it growing as south as Argentina, and as far north as the Scottish Highlands! Origins are a useful way to separate teas because the growing environment can affect the flavour just as much as processing. Sunlight, rainfall, soil, altitude, even the surrounding flora and fauna might be detectable in your favourite cuppa.

Origins can refer to anything as broad as a country, or as specific as a single tea garden. You’ve probably heard of famous tea origins like Darjeeling or ‘Ceylon’ (now Sri Lanka). Certain locations are known for producing certain recognisable characteristics in their brews. For example, Sri Lankan teas are refreshing, Darjeelings are floral, Assams are malty, and so on.

Some origins specialise in certain tea categories and processing techniques. However, not all origins can produce all categories of tea! Did you know that China is the only country in the whole world that can produce all six categories? (Yellow and pu’erh are the exclusive ones, in case you were wondering!)

What Is a Tea Origin?

Going One Step Further

Once you’re comfortable with tea origins and categories, there’s plenty more to discover. Flushes, blending, grading, shaping and even introducing surprising ingredients, make tea’s potential practically boundless.

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Twinings Black Teas by Origin

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