There are many species of the Camellia sinensis or tea plant. The most commonly seen are three varietals, C.sinensis sinesis also known as the chinary plant, C. sinensis assamica or the assamica plant and C. sinensis cambod or the Cambodia varietal. All teas have their origin in the tea leaves that are harvested. How the leaves are processed decides the tea that is eventually made.

The leaves, once plucked go through multiple steps, beginning with withering to remove some of the moisture from the leaves, through rolling, oxidation and drying. In controlling one or more stages in tea processing, the manufacturer can produce different teas.

Here’s a glossary that can be helpful in navigating a selection of teas, and what what you need to remember about them:

Black tea: These are more processed than a green or a white tea, particularly in the extent of oxidation they are put through. Within black tea, there’s a whole range of teas that is available.
High grown black teas from Nepal and Nilgiris differ in flavours from valley-grown black tea from Assam.
Another differentiation is as Orthodox and CTC. Orthodox black teas are those where the integrity of the leaves are retained, which is thought to impart more flavour. CTC or Crush, Tear, Curl style is where the tea leaves are processed in the CTC machine so that the final product is in the form of small granules.
Seasonal variations also impact the flavour and black tea is sometimes chosen for the harvest season, which can be spring, summer, autumn or winter.
In a nutshell, a good black tea is flavourful and offer several options for a tea drinker.

Green tea: This style of tea has been popular in China and Japan and for the past two decades, in India too. It’s considered to be a very healthy tea, which incidentally is not a claim limited to green teas. The green tea is not oxidised but goes through a fixing stage to prevent any oxidation at all. This is done by pan-roasting the leaves (Chinese style) or steaming (like the Japanese). Pan-roasting creates a tea that produces a pale-yellow liquor with a vegetal flavour profile. Steaming retains the colour and even intensifies it, with flavours that more umami.

White tea: This is a minimally processed tea made from leaves that are finely plucked and gently rolled. It’s named, not for the colour of the liquor but for the fine white downy hair on the underside of the leaves used to make it. This is a specialised tea and when made well, is very flavourful.

Oolong: These are partially oxidised teas and range in the entire spectrum possible between a green and a black tea. An oolong comes from a long tradition of tea making in China and Taiwan, and are among the most specialised teas made.

Flavoured teas: These are teas that are blended with another herb, spice, dried flower etc., to produce a flavoured cup. The base tea is chosen for the right vehicle it offers, like green tea with jasmine, or black tea with rose. The popular Earl Grey is a flavoured blend of black tea with bergamot oil. Masala chai is a flavoured blend of CTC black tea with spices. Contrary to this is the English Breakfast which is a straight tea blend of two or three teas.

Herbal or Ayurvedic teas: These are another variation that may or may not contain tea leaves. The name ‘tea’ indicates that it needs to be steeped in hot water, like tea. Purists prefer to call them ‘tisane’ which distinguishes it from a beverage containing tea leaves.

How a tea tastes depends on how its brewed. And there are many ways to brew tea. Chai, for instance, is made by boiling tea with water and milk, with or without spices. An orthodox tea is best made by steeping it in hot water for a few minutes. The temperature of the water and the steeping time will significantly impact how a tea tastes. For instance, an orthodox black tea will do well with water at boiling temperature, with a steeping time of 5 minutes. A green tea on the other hand needs water at a slightly lower temperature along with lower steeping times. When you choose a tea, do be sure to look at the brewing guides so that you use the right temperature and time for that tea, for the best experience. Often, when a tea doesn’t taste right, it could be one of these two factors that can solve the problem.

There are so many other styles of brewing, such as gongfu which is suited for a green tea, cold brew, ice brew etc. Perhaps, it’s this fact, that there are so many types of tea, and so many ways to enjoy them that makes it our favorite beverage.

And we, at Iron Kettle, are excited to share these teas and the experiences they can bring with you.