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Tea101

Tea 101: Everything You Need to Know

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What exactly is tea? What makes white tea different from pu-erh? What does the word pu-erh even mean? Let’s find out with a deeper dive into the fascinating world of tea.

TYPES OF TEA

Tea is made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. The origin of tea is shrouded in mystery; China is believed to be its birthplace. There are 6 types of tea made from Camellia sinensis: white, yellow, green, oolong, black and pu-erh.

If they all come from the same plant, why do they look, smell and taste so different from each other?

The way the Camellia sinensis leaves are processed determines what type of tea they become. A series of stages will encourage or stop oxidation. You might be wondering, what exactly is oxidation? Think of an apple. When cut and peeled, it turns brown. The same happens to tea leaves as soon as they are plucked. To make a green tea, the tea master will want to stop oxidation as soon as possible, so that the leaves keep their bright green color, whereas for a black tea oxidation is encouraged and the leaves turn completely dark.

You might have noticed that a black tea from China is completely different from a black tea from India. This happens because in the geographical area where the tea plants grow, the soil and climate have a big impact on taste. In addition, teas can be scented or unscented. One of the most traditional Chinese scenting techniques uses jasmine blossoms. Have you tried the deliciously floral Jasmine Green?

Let’s take a look at each category in detail.

WHITE

White tea, which is usually lightly oxidized, is the least processed tea category. Tea leaf buds are picked, withered, then dried. Its flavor profile is delicate, floral and slightly sweet. I recommend trying White Rose if you are not familiar with white tea.

GREEN

Green tea is the least oxidized tea category. The top leaf and bud are plucked and briefly withered, so they become softer and easier to work with. To prevent oxidation, Chinese green teas are roasted in a pan, whereas Japanese green teas are steamed. Compare Gunpowder Green (roasted and full-bodied) from China and Matcha Toasted Rice (nutty and savory) from Japan for two very different flavor profiles.

OOLONG

Oolong comes from the Chinese word “wulong” which means “black dragon”. After withering, a bud and up to three leaves are rolled, bruised and oxidized repeatedly, then heated to stop oxidation and dried. Flavor profiles range from fresh and floral to roasted and full-bodied. Try Iron Goddess of Mercy (Ti Kuan Yin), one of China’s most famous teas.

BLACK

In China, black tea is known as red tea (hong cha) because of the color of the steeped tea. Black teas are fully oxidized. The top two leaves and bud are withered, rolled, oxidized and finally dried. Flavor profile in black teas can be hearty and full-bodied with notes of stone fruits, malt and cacao. Try Chinese Breakfast™ or Aged Earl Grey for a full-bodied cup.

PU-ERH

A prized tea sourced from ancient, 500-year-old pu-erh trees, named after the town of Pu-erh in Yunnan, China. Initially, pu-erh leaves are processed like a green tea, then they are piled, dampened, regularly turned and fermented for 60 days. They can be compacted into bricks or cakes for aging. Its flavor profile is deep and earthy and the Chinese drink it after a rich meal to aid digestion. Try Emperor’s Pu-erh for a bold cup with hints of malt.

MATCHA

Matcha is a shade-grown green tea that has been part of Japanese culture for nearly 800 years. An antioxidant powerhouse, matcha drinkers benefit from ingesting the whole leaf rather than the brewed leaves. Sourced directly from a family grower located in Shizuoka, Japan, Numi’s Ceremonial Match is of the highest quality and has a bright savory taste, followed by a lingering sweetness. The prized Samidori tea leaves are covered prior to harvest to increase the chlorophyll content, which develops a classic bright green color and full, vibrant flavor. High caffeine.

organic fair trade tea farm china

GRADES OF TEA: WHY THEY MATTER

The larger the leaf, the more complex the infusion. After picking, tea leaves are placed in racks of different mesh sizes to sort out the larger leaves from the small broken leaves. Smaller leaves release tannins more quickly, causing bitterness.

  • Whole Leaf: Used for loose leaf teas; fullest aroma & complexity.
  • Fuller Leaf*: Pure taste that balances depth & nuance
  • Broken Leaf: Used in most premium teas
  • Fannings or Small Cut Sizes: Used in low-quality tea bags
  • Dust or Sweepings: Used in commercial tea bags

*Numi uses only hand-plucked, fuller leaf quality tea for our tea bags.

CAFFEINE IN TEA

Caffeine content varies based on when tea is harvested, brewing time & temperature.

Tea vs. Coffee Caffeine Per 8 oz:

  • Tea: 10-70mg
  • Coffee: 90-200mg

Caffeine by Type

  • White Tea – Low: 10-15mg
  • Oolong Tea – Medium: 3–45mg
  • Green Tea – Medium: 15-30mg
  • Pu-erh Tea – Medium-High: 50-70mg
  • Black Tea – High: 60-75mg
  • Herbal Teasan: Caffeine Free

BREWING TEA

Proper steeping maximizes flavor. Fine-tuning your quantity, temperature & steeping time will result in a perfect cup of tea.

Quantity: Use 1 teabag per 8-10 oz. of water or 2-3g (1 tsp) loose leaf tea per 8 oz. pot.

Water Temperature:

  • White & Green Tea: 160°-180° F
  • Oolong, Black & Pu-erh Tea: 185°-204° F
  • Herbal Teasans: 204°-212° F

*Note: Spring or filtered water is best

Steep Time:

  • White, Green & Oolong Tea: 2-4 min
  • Black & Pu-erh Tea: 4-5 min
  • Herbal Teasans: 5-10 min