Tea has played a significant role in society for many centuries. It is also only grown in a few locations in the world. Different tea varieties have resulted with the differences coming primarily from the conditions of where the tea leaves have been grown and how they have been processed. Each variety has a very distinctive flavor that sets them apart from each other. Here is a short description of each flavor:
This is the most common tea variety and is fully oxidized. The tea leaves are withered, rolled, oxidized/fermented then dried or fired to produce the strong, full bodied flavor known as black tea. It is also known as Red tea in China. Depending on the region of origin, flavors will vary slightly with Assam, Nilgiri, Sri Lanka and Darjeeling as the best known tea producing regions. The flavor profile for black tea is strong and bold which accompanies a full-bodied flavor that can range between sweet or fruity to vegetal or spicy. The differences are entirely dependent on the specific variety of black tea.
Chai tea is the mixture of black tea with various spices and ingredients ranging from vanilla and chocolate to cardamom and cinnamon. Although this is in reality a blended tea drink, it has become popular as a variety of its own and is very popular in Indian culture.
This is an unoxidized tea that contains less caffeine than regular black tea. As a result, it has become the most popular variety of tea in the world. Aside from having a milder flavor than black tea, green tea flavors range from citrus or vegetal to smokey or sweet. Again, the exact flavor note is dependent on the specific green tea variety.
Herbal tea is actually a mixture of dried herbs, fruit and flowers. There are no tea leaves present which makes this drink caffeine-free. Herbal teas include Rooibos, Mate and Herbal Infusions. In the latter of the three, common ingredients include ginger, lemon grass, rose hips, chamomile, hibiscus and dried fruits. Described best as having a delicate flavor, herbal tea can range from vegetal or naturally sweet to citrus-like, floral, minty or even spicy. These flavor notes depend partly on the specific variety but have more to do with the blend of ingredients that are present.
The Yerba plant, native to South America, is what produces Mate tea. The yerba leaves are blanched, dried, aged and cut to form loose leaf tea. As this variety of tea comes from the South American yerba plant the flavor is quite distinctive. It is bold and vegetal.
Also called African Red Tea, the leaves of the African Red Bush are used to produce this beverage, not tea leaves. The red bush leaves are ground and bruised before they are fermented and dried. Green Rooibos has a lighter flavor as the leaves do not go through the oxidation/fermentation process. Considering that this variety of tea does not come from the tea plant, and originate from leaves of the South African Red Bush, the flavor is very different to most other tea varieties. It is best described as being naturally sweet with hints of nuts or vanilla.
Green tea leaves that are ground into a powder and whisked together with some water is what Green Tea is all about. The fact that you ingest the complete tea leaf makes this a very healthy variety of tea to consume. As Matcha Tea is produced from powder that is made from the complete tea leaf, the flavor is much as you would expect it to be. Words such as grassy and vegetal best describe it.
Also called Wulong Tea, this is produced by leaves that are harvested later in the season than Green Tea. They are semi-oxidized, tossed or shaken in baskets. This is what alters the oxidation process. A heat treatment halts the oxidation and different methods in different regions can have an impact on flavor producing a truly regionalized tea. The very different oxidation process used to produce Oolong Tea greatly impacts the flavor. It has a taste of one or a combination of the following: flowery, fruity, naturally sweet or smokey. Again, the exact flavor depends on how the leaves have been produced.
This is the least processed of the tea varieties and comes from the tea plant grown only in the Fujian Province of China. The leaves are left to whither and dry on their own before harvest. As this is the least processed of the tea varieties the flavor is somewhat different to all others. As it has a delicate taste that is naturally sweet there are also undertones of floral and fruity flavors that combine to make White Tea an enjoyable beverage for those seeking something different.
Blends are very common. Teas that are combined with other flavors are essentials a blend as opposed to a specific tea variety. Lemon, mint, peach, ginger and raspberry are typical blends but flowers, herbs and spices mixed with tea also produce a blend.