Green Tea Varieties
Many specialized teas offer unique aromas and flavors
Today there are literally many dozens of varieties of green tea from which to brew the tea beverage, and these differ to some extent on the tea plant cultivar that supplies the plant material, but most of the variation comes from the cultivation method used, the time of harvest, the portions of the plant harvested, and the processing employed to prepare the tea leaves for brewing.
Today, the tea plant is an evergreen plant that is cultivated worldwide, predominantly in the tropical and subtropical zones. The moderately astringent and smaller-leaved Chinese green tea (Camellia sinensis var sinensis) is produced in the subtropical temperature zones of China and Japan, while the Assam variety of more highly astringent black tea (Camellia sinensis var assamica) is best suited to the tropical zones of India and Sri Lanka. Beyond these two main types, a great many local cultivars have been developed, and these are prized for their unique aromas and flavors.
Leaves of a tea plant (Camellia sinensis)
Tea plants will naturally grow into trees of up to 16 m (52 ft), but when cultivated they are generally pruned to a bush or shrub of waist height to facilitate harvesting, or "plucking". Some varieties of tea are grown in the shade for part of the time, and this limited exposure to sunshine affects the ultimate composition of the tea herb produced. Depending on the type, the tea leaves are collected at different times of the growing season, from different areas of the plant, as individual leaves or as "plucks" that include leaves and a flower bud.
Tea that has been prepared for brewing falls into three main categories: green, oolong, and black. These differ in the amount of processing and fermentation or "browning" that is carried out prior to roasting. This fermentation process is different from that used for alcoholic beverages, cheese and the like, in that it doesn’t rely on discrete microorganisms but rather on the action of oxidative enzymes naturally contained within the tea leaves themselves. For green tea, the leaves are roasted immediately after harvest to minimize or prevent any such fermentation. In oolong tea, the green leaves are gently crushed before roasting, which leads to a moderate amount of fermentation. Black tea is obtained when roasting takes place after the harvested tea leaves have been crushed and undergone substantial fermentation. These different types of processing involve chemical changes that affect the various flavor and coloring components contained in the tea leaves, which undergo subtle changes that are closely connected with their mechanism of formation.
Pan-frying process for the preparation of Lung Ching Tea
We will now briefly consider a handful of green tea varieties, including the most popular types. These individual examples showcase the different cultivation and preparation methods used, and demonstrate graphically how these various methods affect the appearance and nature of the tea leaves and the beverage prepared from them. By selecting an option from the menu at the right, you can learn more about any one of a dozen green tea varieties: