A common misconception regarding how tea is made is that the various styles of tea are grown from different types of plants. The fact is that all styles of tea come from the same Camellia sinensis bush; however the method in which they are processed varies. It is this variation in processing methods that give us the main classifications and varieties of tea. Some teas are simply steamed after plucking, while others are gently bruised to change the leaves' chemistry. Other teas are allowed to ferment at varying levels, some for a long period of time.
White Tea: White tea is plucked by hand within two days between the time the first buds become fully mature and the time in which the leaf unfurls. The leaves are then allowed to wither, allowing the natural moisture to evaporate before being dried.
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Green Tea: To produce green tea, the fresh tea leaves are carefully placed on large bamboo trays and allowed to dry in the sunlight. The leaves are then placed into small hot roasting pans and quickly moved about. They are continuously rolled into balls and then re-roasted for several hours at a time. This process stops the chemical changes from occurring in the leaf by never allowing it to ferment.
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Oolong Tea: Oolong tea is referred to as a “semi-fermented” tea and is principally manufactured in China and Taiwan (Formosa). After plucking, this type of tea is allowed to wilt in direct sunlight and is then shaken in bamboo baskets to lightly bruise the leaf. The chemicals in the leaf react with the air, producing a reddish leaf color. After a desired amount of time, the leaf is fired and the fermentation process is halted.
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Black Tea: To produce black tea, the tea leaves are plucked by hand and then left out in the sun until they are pliable enough to be rolled without the leaf splitting. The leaves are then put into a mechanical tumbler and rolled. This process causes the leaves’ juices to react with the air and then oxidize. The green leaves turn black and are then fired in huge drying ovens to produce the final product.
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Pu-erh Tea: Pu-erh is made from fermented Yunnan Black tea. After picking, Pu-erh is created by piling the tea for lengthy periods, allowing a true internal fermentation of the leaf to occur.
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