Firewood, rice, oil, salt, soy sauce, vinegar. They are all only second to the one most important ingredient that features in the traditional seven necessities of Chinese life. The tea.
Walking into a tea bar, dipping your nose into little glass jars with eclectic blends of tea mixed with a whole host of floral, fruity, spicy and minty flavours, is perhaps the most aromatic journey one can experience. Equally enthralling is the little dance the silver needle tea leaves make as they brew into a warm yellow potion or the enchanting blooming of the fortune ball tea with lotus as it rises through the fine brew, making a tea tasting experience a treat for the senses.
While enjoying an exotic cuppa is simple, choosing one to fit in perfectly with your mood, food and need is as complicated. We make it a tad easy for you. Chalked out below is the entire tea colour spectrum, with focus on the Chinese varieties; so the next time you see the whites, blues, greens and blacks, you can ask for an aromatic Ginseng and Citrus green tea or some Aromatic White, and you are sorted.
Known to be one of the purest forms of tea, white tea gets its name from the fine white hair that covers the baby buds, as the leaves are handpicked and harvested even before they fully open. This variety of tea undergoes minimal processing and oxidation and hence contains very little caffeine compared to the other varieties. The popular varieties are silver needle tea, golden moon, white peony and white cloud.
Taste buds: In its genuine self, white tea is light and slightly sweet. It’s also often blended with fruity hints like peach or chamomile that lends it a fruity aroma and taste.
Best as: Sipping the tea is said to open up the palate and wakes up the taste buds to relish food. Sipped best with sea food. It also packs the most anti-oxidants compared to its peers and hence has a list of health benefits to its credit.
Smartbuy’s pick: Salada’s White Tea Asian Plum, Bigelow’s white tea range in interesting flavours
A hugely popular tea that has crossed the homely kitchens of the Chinese and entered into wending machines the world over, green tea is a more oxidised version of the white tea.
Taste buds: A distinct grassy flavour is the highlight of a green tea. Some popular varieties like the Green Silk tea are mild in flavour, being a pure green tea. Flavours like ginseng, citrus, can be added to give it an enhanced taste.
Best as: Apart from being a great after meal digestive or even an appetiser, green tea is good for diabetics and helps in weight loss.
Smartbuy’s pick: Salada has a neat range of green tea with different types of anti-oxidants, Tata Tea’s green tea, Bigelow’s range with lemon, mint, mango, peach, pomegranate and blueberry flavours
When the leaves undergo slightly more oxidation than the green, but lesser than the blue, the golden-hued yellow tea springs up to life. A rare tea, it gets its light yellow colour when the damp yellow-green tea leaves go through a slow drying process. Its varieties include Huoshan Huangya and Junshan Yinzhen.
Taste buds: While many may refer to it as a milder version of the green tea, it does have its unique non-grassy, fresh and flowery taste to lend to the tea palate.
Best as: Health benefits galore, yellow tea is rich in antioxidants, is heart healthy and is good for cancer prevention, lowering blood pressure etc.
Smartbuy’s pick: Not popular in the commercial market but can be sourced from speciality vendors
No, you won’t be served blue colour tea! The oolong tea is associated with blue, because it comes between green and black in the tea series. Depending on the leaves, harvest time, level of oxidation and geographic location, oolong has sub varieties like Shui Xian and Tie Guan Yin.
Taste buds: The taste notes are largely dependent on the oxidation process. Lesser the oxidation, sweeter and flowery the taste; as opposed to higher levels that results in darker tea leaves and an earthy tone.
Best as: Traditionally this tea was made by Chinese monks as a form of medication, and it still continues as a health tonic. However, it can be paired well with food, especially red meats like beef and pork.
Smartbuy’s pick: Twinnings’ Oolong varieties are worth a dip
Strong ‘n’ Black
Oxidised more than the white, green, yellow and oolong varieties, black tea is strong with more caffeine. It has been hugely popular as packed tea as it retains its flavours for several years, unlike the others. Unlike other teas that are very region specific, black tea is produced in many Asian countries like India, China, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and others.
Taste buds: Black tea is amber hued to golden depending on how strong it’s made. While the Keemum tea from China is fragrant, the popular Lapsang Souchong also from China is dark and smoky. A sought-after black tea blend is the Earl Grey that is scented with bergamot.
Best as: To wake you up from slumber and good for the heart; research also talks about its anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.
Smartbuy’s pick: One can get neat picks from Chinese vendors as well as Assam, Darjeeling, Nilgiris and Ceylon teas. Smith Tea’s Yunnan is known for its smoky, spicy and leathery notes and Twinnings has a classic range to choose from too.
Usually referred to as the Pu-erh and by some others also as a black tea, this tea is known to be the wine among the teas. Grown in the Pu’er county of South China, the Pu-erh is made after extra large leaves plucked from long-lived bushes go through a phase of special fermentation. It’s then stored for a few years up to a whole 50 in an air-tight container, like wine, for it to acquire its dark red colour. What makes Pu-erh a hit among tea lovers is the fast that it’s strong yet with less caffeine when compared to coffee.
Taste buds: Earthy tones dominate this tea. They are basically available in two categories: Sheng pu-erh (a non-oxidized or raw pu-erh that is allowed to age) and Shou pu-erh (oxidised or cooked pu-erh that can be had immediately, within three years)
Best as: It is best had as a digestive after a heavy meal and also has its share of medicinal benefits like reducing cholesterol.
Smartbuy’s pick: Heading to traditional tea factories in China and picking a ‘cake’ for yourself
When they say old habits die hard disapprovingly, we are so glad this 4,000-year old one didn’t.
Tete-tea with Gourmet versions
While all teas, irrespective of their colour, comes from the leaves, leaf buds and internodes of the Camellia sinensis plant, the time of harvest, the shape and size of the leaves and processing gives each tea its uniqueness.
Here are some exclusive versions:
Yes, you read right. These leaves are actually paw-picked by trained monkeys in native China, who pick out wild rare tea plants in inaccessible terrains. It’s a pale golden green tea, which is mild with a smoky flavour and fresh orchid aroma.
The dried tea leaves are bundled together with flowers like a small ball and wound with cotton thread. When steeped in brewing water, it unfurls to reveal the flower packed, and imparts the floral flavour when it blooms. Lotus, jasmine, lily, hibiscus and chrysanthemum are flowers commonly used.
An exotic tea from Twinnings, the Lady Grey is a fragrant black tea scented with oil of bergamot, like the Earl Grey, but with added lemon and orange peel
Best tea bars in India
- Golden Dragon at Taja Coromandel, Chennai has a tea bar with some of the finest Chinese teas to be savoured. The Fortune Ball with Lotus, Monkey Pick, and the pure Pu-erh teas are best picks.
- Infinitea at Bengaluru, India’s first tea bar. Peony Rossette shaped like a small rose that blossoms in water and a rare DJ Gold are part of their best sellers.
- Craft House, New Delhi has some whole leaf tea in natural and blended flavours