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If you like tea, but haven't explored the different styles, then you are in a very exciting place. Whole tea leaves come in thousands of shapes and sizes - all with a distinctive taste according to the terroir and how they are made.
Want to learn more?
Frequently asked questions about tea:
More Tea Information
Why should I drink fine leaf tea?
Conventional black tea is mass produced, pounded to dust and sealed in a paper teabag. It releases every scrap of flavour in an instant. But there are many thousands of leaf teas - produced in China for over 4,000 years and now in other small tea gardens all over the world. Like wine and any artisan product, fine teas have a distinctive look and taste according to terroir and whether they are made as a white, green, oolong or black tea. If you’ve only ever drunk tea in a bag, there’s a whole world of different flavours waiting out there.
Where does tea come from?
All tea comes from one plant, the Camelia Sinensis, which is native to China but primarily also grown in India and Taiwan although there are some other countries (mainly former British colonies) that are starting to emerge as tea producers such as Kenya and Indonesia. The Camelia sinensis has thousands of hybridized varietals that are used to make different types of tea.
What makes types of teas different if they all come from the Camelia Sinensis plant?
The varietal of the plant, when it is picked (what season and at what stage in the plant’s life), the processing of the leaf after it is picked and the level of oxidation the leaves receive decides what type of tea it will be.
What is oxidation?
Oxidation is the reaction of the leaf to oxygen in the air. Cut an apple in half and it goes brown due to oxidation. When you crush a tea leaf it breaks down the cell walls, releasing enzymes and speeding up oxidation, affecting the look and the flavour of the tea.
Unoxidised Green Tea Semi-oxidised Oolong Tea Fully Oxidised Black Tea
What are the different types of tea?
Tea is categorised into five main types:
White Tea – Young leaves and buds that make a tea with a delicate sweetness and a smooth texture. The leaves receive some oxidation, but not much – they are withered and dried – often just by being left in the sun.
Green Tea – Nutty, sweet and vegetal flavours and slightly more body than white tea. The leaves are heated (steamed or placed in a dry wok) soon after picking to prevent oxidation, hence why they keep their green colour
Oolong Tea (wu long) – there are a vast range of Oolong teas, some light like green teas and some dark like black teas with an astonishing variety in flavour from melon sweet to dark and chocolatey. The leaves are bruised and crushed to encourage oxidation and then fired or baked to arrest oxidation at a specific level.
Black Tea – Dark, deep full-bodied tea, very popular drunk with milk in the Western world. Europeans call this ‘Black tea’ due to the colour of the leaves, but the Chinese call it ‘Red Tea’ due to the colour of the liquor. The leaves are tumbled, roasted and fully oxidised (this is why the leaves are black)
Puerh Tea - this is actually a green tea which undergoes a complex process involving post-fermentation – almost like composting. Made from special tea varietals, it has characteristic sweet, woody and mossy flavours. Highly sought after due to the Chinese belief in the tea’s health giving properties and the fact that good examples can be laid down to age like fine wine.
What about Jasmine, Flowering and Herbal Teas?
These don't strictly fit into the five main types of tea but are nonetheless some of the most popular types of drink:
Jasmine Tea - There are many scented/flavoured teas available on the market. Jasmine is probably the most popular and is traditionally drunk with food at Chinese restuarants. Jasmine teas are made from green or white tea (therefore will contain caffeine, see below) and flavoured with Jasmine. Most are artificially flavoured with chemically identical scent, but the best ones, like ours, are infused with real jasmine flowers.
Flowering Tea - These are green or white tea buds hand-tied around dried flowers which, when infused in hot water, open out into a visual display of tea and flowers. The tea can then be drunk and reinfused.
Herbal Tea - These are not strictly speaking 'tea' as they do not come from the Camelia Sinensis plant. Herbal 'Infusions' are the leaves/buds/flowers of other plants that can be infused to make a beverage. As they do not come from the Camelia Sinensis plant they will be naturally caffeine free. The most popular examples are Peppermint, Chamomile and Rooibos (Redbush).
What types of tea contain Caffeine?
All tea that comes from the Camellia Sinensis plant contains caffeine. White, Green, Oolong, Black, and Puerh teas all contain caffeine, at different levels. Jasmine tea also contains caffeine as it is made from infusing green or white tea with Jasmine petals. Only infusions that are made from another species of plant, e.g. Peppermint, Rooibos and Chamomile are caffeine free (though they are often called herbal ‘tea’). Read more about Caffeine and Tea here.
How do I brew whole leaf tea?
Water: Fresh, filtered or spring water is best
Temperature: Different teas have different brewing temperatures, and most are well below boiling. As a general rule of thumb Whites should be brewed at 75°C, Greens 80°C, Oolongs 85°C, Blacks 95°C and Puerhs 95-100°C. Brewing a tea too hot will significantly impair its flavour.
Ratio of tea to water: as a rough guide, around 1-2 tsp (2-3g) leaves per 200ml water (about one European teacup)
Steeping time: Many teas don’t need more than 1-2 minutes but this is also down to personal taste as to how strong you like your tea
Reinfusion: Make sure you get the most from your leaves. Good teas can be brewed at least 3 times with the same leaves, and often the second or third infusion might taste the best. Good puerh tea can yield up to 60 infusions. Make sure you completely drain the leaves of water between each infusion in order to reinfuse them. If you leave the leaves sitting in water all their flavour will drain away.
How can I tell if the water is the right temperature?
You can use a thermometer to measure the temperature of the water, or the Chinese have a traditional method of discerning when water is at certain temperatures, by looking at the size of the bubbles:
Shrimp eyes (the first tiny bubbles) 70-80°C
Crab eyes (slightly larger) 80-85°C
Fish eyes (larger still) 85-90°C
Rope of Pearls (the first rolling bubbles) 90-95°C
Raging Torrent (the large, fast rolling bubbles when water is boiling) 95-100°C
Old Man water –been at 100°C for too long and is now flat.
What equipment do I need for brewing?
To start off with all you really need is a good teapot – one with an infusion chamber or screen for whole leaf teas so that you can separate the leaves from the liquor and reinfuse them. A couple of small traditional tea cups or ‘bowls’ are also a nice addition. We have a ‘New to Tea’ starter kit which includes a pot, cup and 5 of our bestselling teas to start you on your tea journey.
Should I add anything to the tea?
For most whole leaf teas, especially white, green, oolong and puerh we would not recommend adding milk or sugar – the teas aren’t traditionally drunk like this and do not need anything added. There are certain Black teas, however, like Breakfast teas and Earl Grey, that can stand up to a drop of milk and sugar. Herbal infusions can be sweetened with honey if desired.