Camellia sinensis, an evergreen shrub from the family of Theaceae is the plant that ultimately ends up in our cups every morning. The tea obsession has flooded social media with a zillion memes, things that I, being a non-drinker cannot relate to. While milk tea is the country’s favourite beverage, the average Bangladeshi can never entertain the thought of switching to a healthier option. Like, the hyped up green tea? Oolong tea? Wait, what’s that?
Tea is basically of four types: black, oolong, green and white. Each of these drinks is made from the leaves of the shrub and the difference in taste lies in the method of processing. Take for instance, black tea aka red tea, the most processed of them all.
Tea leaves are hand-plucked. The top young, juicy leaves along with the terminal bud are carefully collected from each plant. This encourages growth and every week or so more new leaves are plucked away. The first step is to allow the leaves to wither.
Once completed, the leaves are rolled and crushed to release essential oils that react with the oxygen in air and oxidise the leaves. This step is known as fermentation and is carried up to three-four hours. Oxidation causes the leaves to turn brown and brew a richer, stronger flavor. Oxidation is ceased by passing the leaves in a hot-air chamber. Finally, the leaves are sorted, graded and sent for packaging.
Oolong tea, on the other hand, is between black and green tea. It is semi-fermented, meaning it is oxidised for only a couple of hours. Another reason why leaves turn darker in this process is that the chlorophyll breaks down. Oolong leaves are therefore greenish-brown in colour and when brewed, they turn the water into an amber-coloured hue.
Green tea is not fermented at all. The leaves, after plucking, are withered, steamed, rolled, dried and readied for sale. The steaming leaves no chance for oxidation to take place. The leaves remain green, as a result. Throw in some of these leaves into a cup of hot water and enjoy its ‘grassy’ flavour.
White tea, a rare kind of tea, is made using unopened leaf buds with fuzzy white hairs. The leaves are hand-picked early, before chlorophyll could form. Its processing demands special attention. The leaves are withered and dried. When brewed, these leaves give an almost colourless drink with a delicate aroma.
But there’s herbal tea. And this is just a broad term that includes all *insert herb name* teas. These are not true teas but infusions of plant material in hot water, such as chamomile, anise, rooibos tea.
Fermented tea or kombucha, again, is black/green tea with sugar and cultures of bacteria and yeast. This version of tea is alcoholic and its level varies depending on extent of fermentation. Yellow tea, moreover, is somewhat similar to green tea except it replaces the grassy, astringent flavour with a fruity, mellow taste.
Last but not the least, the Pu-erh tea, the wine of teas is another rare kind and made only in the Yunnan province of China. The leaves here ferment naturally over years. Its production is highly regulated to ensure authenticity.
Hiya Islam is a student of BRAC University.
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