A Class of Tea
The definition of tea can loosely be defined as processed leaves from the Camillia Sinensis plant. As in my previous article, One True Tea I explored the types of tea and its humble originations. In this article I will explore the fermentation process and the classes in which the teas fall into.
The growth, cultivation, and harvesting of tea is serious business. Much care is taken with each of the processes.
The Camillia Sinensis tea plant is really a type of evergreen bush. It can come in several types or varieties. There are three major varieties, they are: Chinese tea, Assam tea (Indian), and hybrid tea (which are cross-bred teas of the Chinese and Assam teas).
Assam Tea are grown in the lower elevations and picked when the leaves are large. The Chinese Tea plants are grown at very high elevations and are picked when their leaves are the tiniest. The hybrid types of teas can be leaves that are anywhere between small and large and most are grown at lower or middle elevations.
The most important key factor that distinguishes tea is in its processing. The types of words associated with the process of tea are: steaming, fermenting, drying, pan drying or withering and bruising. Do the manufacturers beat up the leaves? Well, not really.
The degree in which the tea is fermented is key and it is the step to determine the classes of teas. The simple definition of fermentation is how much the tea leaves will undergo oxidation by allowing the fresh leaves to dry.
The process can be stopped by either to pan fry or steam leaves before the leaves completely dry out. Tea is then classified based on degree of fermentation.
The degrees of fermentation are labeled with words like, non-fermented/very lightly fermented, semi-fermented and fully fermented. The non-fermented or very lightly fermented group retains much of its original flavors. White Tea and Green Teas fall into this class. White teas process, is simply picked, steamed and then left to dry. It is considered the least processed, and it is preferred by many who believe that is the freshest type of tea available. It is also considered the most delicate. Second, Green Tea is picked, steamed (or pan fried), rolled, and finally “fired” (pan fired) and let to dry. This tea also retains much of its original flavor and richness.
The semi-fermented groups are teas that that undergo between about 10%-80% of processing. These teas have yellow/ brown hues and fragrant aromas. The three teas that are classed here are: on the lightest side Pouchong Tea (tea with Jasmine petals), following in the mid range is Oolong Tea, and finally on the heaviest of the semi-process is Champagne Oolong Tea. This is where the tea leaves are withered, then shaken, or even rolled to bruise the edges of the tea leaves. Then the final step is to dry or pan fry. So the leaves are really beaten up! The fully fermented group contains Black Tea. The color is usually dark reds and has sweet aromas. The fresh leaves are rolled and then placed into a long fermentation process and then fried in the final step. This is the most common tea.
And finally the least common group is the post fermented teas. Pu-erh Tea is in this class. The process of this tea is that the tea is allowed to ferment and then stopped and then later fermented again. This process takes the longest time.
So what’s your favorite class of tea?