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Find the teas you'll love with JING #LeithsTakeovers

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Find the teas you'll love with JING #LeithsTakeovers

Refreshing and grassy or chocolatey and comforting? Or perhaps you’d prefer fruity and structured? The range of flavours and textures you can find in tea is vast. Our friends at JING are here to help you find the teas you love.

As you’d expect after ten years of working in tea, spending time in the gardens, with producers, and with tea lovers around the world my drinking habits have evolved from the cuppa with milk that I grew up on. Tea will always offer comfort, familiarity and reassurance, and it’s still my favourite thing to share with friends. The biggest evolution? Taste.

The joy of high-quality tea is in the revelation of the breadth and quality of flavours, textures and feeling. All from something as simple and pure as a dried leaf. Choosing different teas at different times of day (and changing with the seasons) brings so much more fulfilment to tea drinking.

The trouble is, there are so many teas that it can be difficult to know where to look to find a new tea you will really enjoy. As tea type is perhaps the strongest indicator of taste, I’ve put together this guide that will help you take the first steps – do use this to work out which tea types are for you.

Why are there six different tea types?

The answer is simple: there are six main ways to process tea and these methods create six main characteristics of taste. Remember, we are being top line here – there are many nuances of flavour within each type, just like there are many nuances of taste within the wine categories.

Very essentially, tea processing is the picking, withering, rolling, heating and drying of the leaves. The order and extent to which these are done determines the tea type.

So, what are the six main tastes of Green, Yellow, White Oolong, Black and Puerh tea (not to mention scented tea)?

1. Green tea is grassy, vegetal and refreshing, it encapsulates some of the freshness we know from spring vegetables. It is like this because very quickly after the leaves are picked, heat is used to lock or “fix” the leaves in their green state. The leaves will be withered before this heating to help develop the aromas.

The major sub categories of green tea are fired (like Chinese greens) and steamed (like Japanese greens) with the former being sweeter, slightly warmer and sometimes even nutty and the latter being more vegetal, thicker and more ‘green’.

2. White tea tastes delicate, sweet and light and should be very smooth. It is like this because of the varietals of the tea bush used to produce it and because production is very simple. All that happens when the leaves or buds are picked is that they are left to wither very slowly. The skill lies in not bruising the leaves and buds during picking so that there is only minimal oxidation; and in this slow drying process the gentle aromas and sweetness develops. in the bud/ leaf concentrates.

3. Yellow tea could be said to be a mellowed version of green tea. If you want the lightness of green tea but don’t want the grassy flavours, you might like this type. It is slightly ripe and has a very smooth texture. It is made like green tea, except after the firing, the leaves are kept warm for a long time. This warm period removes the greenness or vegetal flavours. There are very few yellow teas as it is a rare category – some famous examples are Jun Shan Yin Zhen, Mogan Huangya and Huoshan Huangya.

4. Oolong tea has incredible depth of flavour and a wide variety of sub-types. It’s a rewarding category with very broad appeal. It has some of the freshness of green tea and some of the depth and complexity of black tea – if you only take one thing away from this article it should be to explore oolong tea!

It can very from floral, creamy, fresh or fruity to complex, dark, chocolatey and comforting. It has this depth and complexity because larger, older leaves are picked (in contrast to the spring buds and young leaves used in green and white tea), and because they will be repeatedly rolled and fired during production which activates the flavour components in the leaf. Levels of oxidation and levels of baking are key parameters in the taste profile of oolong tea. Different origins and styles will require different levels of concentration – all the way from 10-15% to some that are 90% oxidised. Lighter oxidised oolongs, such as Ali Shan from Taiwan or Iron Buddha (Tieguanyin) from China, will be green-ish, but much more fruity, creamy and quenching than green tea. More heavily oxidised oolongs will have more structure and darkness to them but will retain floral aromas and a fruitiness. Some of them too, such as teas from the Wuyi Mountains or Phoenix Honey Orchid will be more baked after they have been processed and this will develop the flavours further – often with nutty notes, and a cooked sugar sweetness.

5. Black tea has strength and structure, it tastes rich and often malty with some sweetness. It tastes like this because the leaves have been allowed to fully oxidised or fully concentrate their strength and flavours. You might think of it as opposite to green tea – for people who do not want freshness or vegetal flavours, but instead want full concentration and depth of flavour. During the oxidation process tannins also develop, which is why black tea will be richer, stronger, more robust and will feel more structured when we drink it.

6. Puerh tea starts off very green and cam be astringent, but over time it becomes extremely smooth, mellow with incredible depth and complexity. It developse these flavours because it goes through a fermentation process. The main subcategories are raw and cooked. “Raw” means that the tea has been aged naturally over time (I’ve drank Puerh which are over 100 years old!). “Cooked” has had the aging process sped up through being put in hot and humid conditions for around a month. Within the raw category the taste will depend on the age of the tea and the type and quality of leaves used. The older raw and cooked puerh will be very dark in colour. Young puerh can be light, highly structured with some sweetness – old puerh will be more refined, complex, and super-smooth.

It is worth mentioning scented teas too – these are teas that have been processed as one of the six types above but then been combined with a flower or fruit which the tea will take on the flavour of. The base flavour and structure will be linked to the type that the leaves have been processed in to. Using Jasmine as an example, two types include Jasmine Pearls and Jasmine Silver Needle. Both are highly aromatic with Jasmine, but the pearls as a green tea will have more structure and vegetal flavours than Silver Needle, which as a white tea will be lighter and more delicate.

Check out our new afternoon tea class; all tea at this workshop will be provided by JING.

Author: Felicity Fowler


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