China, we drink tea almost as much as we drink water. And there are plenty to choose from – with over a thousand different varieties from over thirty countries, there’s a different flavor and character to suit every palate. You could spend a lifetime exploring the tastes, colors and smells of the world’s teas.
Even though both green and black teas come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, the difference between them lies in how the leaves are treated after they are picked. Green tea has a simpler drying process, whereas black tea leaves are oxidised as well as dried out. This gives a stronger taste, with a higher caffeine level, and also means the tea can be stored for years without losing flavor. By far the most popular way to drink it in the West is ‘black tea’ – your everyday cup is made from this kind.
Most teas are usually named after the province or area where they are grown. The soil, climate and landscape all affect the flavor, which means different regions produce teas with distinct characteristics. Known as the birthplace of tea, China has been cultivating and drinking tea for around five thousand years. A large proportion of the world’s tea still comes from China, although you can now buy varieties from South America, Turkey and Nepal as well as India and Africa. Here are just a few of the better-known black teas.
Lapsang Souchong is probably the best known china tea. Lapsang has an aromatic, smoky taste from the pine wood fires used to dry the leaves. Yunnan which is another well known tea, from the south west of China. It has a rich, malty flavor and blends well with milk. Keemun tea has a rich brown color with a delicate nutty flavor. It is made with great skill and discipline, the leaves are dried without breakage to preserve the flavor.
The most famous Indian tea is Assam, a full bodied and strong tea with a particularly malty taste. This is often drunk in the morning as a wake up brew! Darjeeling, from the foothills of the Himalayas, is often considered the ‘champagne’ of teas – with a light and delicate flavor. Sri-Lanka,is known for Ceylon tea known for a clean and bright, full bodied taste. Because of the unique climate in Sri Lanka, tea can be grown year round.
Around a third of the world’s tea now comes from Africa, from countries like Kenya, Malawi and Zimabwe. Kenyan teas are very bright and colorful, with a pleasant flavor. Tea has only been grown in Africa since around 1900, the climate and advances in scientific know-how mean that. African teas are used in many of the more common blends available today.
Be adventurous and try some teas from around the world. You’ll be surprised to discover new flavours and you may find a new favourite tea.