There are over a couple hundred varieties of tea in China and there are many ways to classify them: by locality, by harvest season, by processing method, and by the form of the finished product. The varying characteristics of tea –color, aroma, taste, and form –are largely the result of enzymatic oxidation. This process is traditionally called “fermentation,” even though it is not actually caused by yeast or other organisms.
The simplest and most rational way to classify tea is according to the degree of fermentation. With this method, there are four types of tea:
- Unfermented : green tea
- Partially fermented: oolong tea, white tea, and yellow tea.
- Fully fermented: black tea
- Post-fermented: pu-erh tea
In this tea family classification green tea is like the innocent teenager: lively and full of energy, yet still a bit timid. It retains the green color and natural fragrance of fresh tea leaves. Without the interference of the fermentation process, green tea has a hint of the grassy taste of the fresh leaves, with a subtle sweetness. This results in a very delicate flavor.
Good green tea is handpicked, and consists of only the new shoots and tender leaves. Storing green tea in an airtight container is important because when it comes into contact with the air, the freshness of its color and taste can be easily lost –just as a teenagers’ enthusiasm is fragile and can change on the instant. The freshness of green tea is very important. Green tea should be consumed within a year.
Making green tea is like dealing with a teenager: one must be gentle. Green tea should be brewed at 80 C or 175F, lower temperature than other kinds of tea and steeped for only about two minutes. If the temperature is too high, or if it is brewed too long, the tea will be bitter and astringent –just as treating a teenager too harshly or with too much pressure will lead to rebellion.
While other teas that can be steeped many times, even the highest quality green tea can only be steeped at most two or three times. It is like talking with a teenager, who may be clever and interesting, but after an hour or so you know them well. However, even a short moment of connection with that youthful energy can be very delightful.
Over the last few decades, the heath benefit of green tea has become the subject of many scientific and medical studies. Green tea is rich in catechins, a group of powerful antioxidants, and there is evidence that green tea can help lower the risk of developing certain types of cancers. This has created a great interest in drinking green tea in the health-conscious community.
Green tea, the younger teenager in the family member will eventually grow up to become a mature and sophisticated lady—Oolong Tea.
Author of “The Essence of Tea”