Simple Classification Rules for Finished Tea
Tea has been categorized many ways: by the color of the finished leaves, the color of the tea liquor, and by the percentage of oxidation the tea has gone through during processing. I recognize 7 major types of tea as they relate to the processing methods that created them: green, yellow, white, oolong, black, post-fermented, and post-processed. If you are reading a book that doesn’t recognize yellow tea or any of the post-fermented teas, please burn it immediately. Under each tea type of tea are tea styles that can be loosely categorized by the variations in processing each style undergoes, these styles can also vary based on the variety of the plant being used and it’s terroir (soil, climate, altitude, latitude). Put simply using green tea as an example, green tea is a type and the different kinds of green tea are styles.
Type – Green / Style – Bi Luo Chun (China)
Type – Green / Style – Longjing (China)
Type – Green / Style – Giddapahar Green Delight (India)
So what I’m saying here is that tea is first defined as a type by a set of core processing steps it undergoes, then as a style by variations in those processing steps, by variety, then by terroir. I add terroir last because the same variety may be cultivated (when a variety is cultivated, it is called a cultivar) in several different regions. For more on cultivars and varieties, see this article.
Want one more layer of complexity? Sure you do. The same exact finished tea can exhibit different characteristics based on the time of year harvested. Most growing regions in India have 4 distinct growth periods or flushes. You can have the same type, style, and terroir, but different harvest seasons.
Type – Black / Style – FTGFOP / Terroir – Margaret’s Hope Estate, Darjeeling India / Harvest – 1st Flush
Type – Black / Style – FTGFOP / Terroir – Margaret’s Hope Estate, Darjeeling India / Harvest – 2nd Flush
Type – Black / Style – FTGFOP / Terroir – Margaret’s Hope Estate, Darjeeling India / Harvest – Monsoon Flush
Type – Black / Style – FTGFOP / Terroir – Margaret’s Hope Estate, Darjeeling India / Harvest – Autumnal Flush
Traditionally, tea styles require a specific processing method, cultivar and terroir. Over time, many old definitions have changed to become broader (like white tea and pu-erh). Demand for teas defined by tiny processing areas or rare varietals brought about clones and the clones meant that the definitions changed over time. Some people still hold that a tea must adhere to the original definition to be authentic and “best.” Bai Hao Yin Zhen (“White Hair Silver Needle”) is an example of this, some hold that unless this tea is made from the “Da Bai” cultivar of Camellia sinensis grown in Fuding, Fujian China, it is not truly Bai Hao Yin Zhen — what then would you call this same tea grown in Yunnan? China lacks a formal appellation system to protect tea names and terroirs so it’s basically a free for all.
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