There are at least six classes (types) of tea: green, yellow, white, oolong, black, puer/pu-erh (hei cha) and over 1500 varieties of tea. Though they are all derived from the Camellia Sinensis plant, they vary in shape, color, taste etc. Like wine, they are influenced by the soil, the temperature, the elevation of the ground, time of plucking and ways of processing etc. The following are some of the main characteristics of the six types of teas:
Green Tea - the only tea that does not go through oxidation, and thus considered highest in antioxidants. Green tea is the most natural in look and taste. It has been most popular in China, Japan and Korea and its popularity is on the rise in the west.
Yellow Tea - slight oxidation. It is sometimes considered a variation of green tea. It differs from green tea mainly in an extra step in process, “the smothering” which turns the tea leaves yellow because of retention of more moisture. There are only a few varieties from China.
White Tea - slight oxidation (about 8 ~15%). It is called white tea because of the white hair on the leaves. It is considered the least processed. Some varieties are made of buds and are thus rare and expensive. The most famous one is the “silver needle” (yin zhen in Chinese), which is unique in that after infusion the needle shaped buds remain standing.
Oolong Tea - partial oxidation (about 15 ~ 80%). Is famous for its full-bodied aroma. The most famous are from China and Taiwan.
Black Tea - fully oxidized. Most well known in the west. People often like to drink it with milk or sugar.
Puer(Pu-erh) - a type of heicha, fermented (probiotic). Usually it is compressed into various shapes. Aging can make it taste better, the same as a good wine. It originates from China and the best ones still come from China. There are two types:
Sheng Pu-erh (‘Raw’ or ‘green’ Pu-erh) - produced using the same ancient method that was passed on from generations - a traditional or natural aging process was involved;
Shou Pu-erh (‘Ripe’, or ‘black’ Pu-erh) - uses an ‘accelerated aging’ process (including artificial fermentation) by creating a controlled environment to speed up the maturity tasting of tea.