A Crash Course in Tea

What is Tea?

All true teas come from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. From two sub-species of this one plant come five types of tea, the characteristics of which come from a particular set of processing methods. The only exception is herbal “teas,” such as our Sleepytime herbal blend , which consist of leaves, buds, and/or flowers of other plants and do not contain Camellia sinensis .

Processing Tea

There are five steps involved in the processing of tea. The production of some types of tea involves all of these steps, even repeating certain steps; other teas use fewer processes. 

  1. Plucking: First, tea is plucked. leaves are removed from the stems. In most regions of the world, fine teas are plucked by hand, though Japanese growers often rely on machine harvesters. 
  2. Withering: Certain types of teas are withered. The leaves are allowed to wilt and soften, sometimes on their own and sometimes with the aid of drying machines or fans. 
  3. Bruising: Some teas may be bruised through rolling or shaping, almost always by hand.
  4. Oxidizing: Many types of teas are oxidized. This crucial step gives many teas their distinctive, deep flavors. 
  5. Firing: The last process is firing, a method of drying tea that stops oxidation. 

Oxidation is the most crucial of the five processes as the extent of oxidation (or lack thereof) is the most significant in determining the flavor notes in the tea leaves. 

During oxidation, the cell walls of tea leaves break down – this can happen naturally over time or can be sped up by crushing, rolling, or cutting leaves. You can see oxidation happening when you see apples turn brown; it’s a natural process that occurs in all living things. 

Before the chemistry of oxidation was properly understood, tea growers used the term “fermentation” to refer to oxidation. In some parts of the world, India, for example, you’ll find some of the old-time growers still use the term fermentation. 

5 Types of Tea


White tea is unprocessed tea. We call it “white” because of the fuzzy white “hairs” that delicately cover the surface of new buds - the newest growth on the tea plant. Our King of Silver Jasmine Needles white tea hails from the Fujian province of China, which is where white tea originated. 

To produce white tea, the new-growth leaves and buds are plucked and then allowed to wither dry. Though sometimes this process is gently “helped” along by tumbling in large drums, with or without low heat, it is often true that these delicate leaves and buds are allowed to wither all on their own. 

Once withered, these leaves come in a variety of shapes and sizes and have a white or light green/brown appearance. The tea liquor brewed from white tea is pale green or yellow and carries a delicate flavor and aroma. White teas are a lovely foil for floral and fruity blends, such as our Fuzzy Navel white tea .


Green tea is named after its leaves, which are still vividly green by the time it is fully processed. Tea growers use heat during the rolling process in green tea. In Japan, growers use steam to halt the oxidation process in the creation of Sencha and similar varieties. In China, green teas such as Dragonwell are produced by pan-firing (in a hot, dry wok). 

Heat is used to destroy the enzymes that cause oxidation, thereby halting the oxidation process. The liquors of steamed green teas have bright, vegetal, or grassy flavors – very similar to the bright flavors found in lightly steamed vegetables. Pan-fired green teas evoke toasty notes on top of those grassy elements. 

Green teas in their dry, whole-leaf state are distinctive for their beautiful and unique shapes that are produced by hand. Leaves may be rolled, swirled, twirled, or twisted – a testament to the traditions of tea. We are especially proud of our Jasmine Finest Pearls green tea

Oolong Tea

Oolong teas originated in the Anxi and Fujian regions of China and Taiwan. Oolongs, such as our Ti Kwan Yin , are created using all five steps in the tea-making process. Oxidation and rolling are done repeatedly to ensure that tea is oxidized to a precise degree. Anywhere from 8% to 80% of leaf material is oxidized in oolong tea, resulting in a delicately flavorful tea with an array of fruity and floral nuances, especially when compared to green and white teas. 

The care taken to gently oxidize oolong tea results in a distinctive, smooth mouthfeel, especially compared to black tea. For our Earl Grey aficionados, we offer Earl Grey Windamere Oolong – a truly special and deliciously fragrant take on a classic.

Black Tea

Black teas are grown all over the world and are produced in a very linear fashion: pluck, wither, bruise, oxidize, dry. None of the steps are repeated, and these processes are completed within one day. 

Black teas, such as those from the Ceylon region of Sri Lanka or the Assam region of India, are completely oxidized, unlike oolongs which are only partially oxidized. Certain black teas, such as Margaret’s Hope First Flush Darjeeling , may not be 100% oxidized, but are still considered black teas because of the processing method used. 

Black teas are most often known for their distinctive, bold flavors and notable astringency, though certain varieties such as Keemum , from the Anhui region of China, are uniquely smooth. Black teas produce a dark liquid that ranges in color from deep red to chocolate brown, depending on the type.

Pu Ehr

Pu Ehr tea, like our Pu Ehr #1 Organic is especially unique in that it is the only tea that undergoes true fermentation in its making. This type of tea, which originated in the Yunnan region of China, is processed very similarly to green tea as it is first heated to stop oxidation before being aged. 

Raw pu ehr is bright green, while red (ripened/fermented) pu ehr is dark red and produces a deeply ruddy liquid. Pu ehrs are considered “living teas” because they continue to age as they are stored. In fact, some truly special pu ehrs are aged for years before being enjoyed by a tea connoisseur. 

The flavor profile of pu ehr teas is that of deep umami: earthy, woodsy, musty aromas with an exceptionally smooth finish.