Despite the thousands of flavours and varieties, all tea falls into one of five families: black, green, oolong, white, or dark. Herbal ‘tea’ doesn’t count because it’s not technically tea — true tea needs to come from the plant Camellia sinensis, and herbal teas don’t, though we will run down our selection later to round out the article.
Even though all tea is from the same plant, there’s still a wide variety of colour and taste between each family. The differences come from which part of the plant is used, the topography and climate of the area in which the plant is grown, and the way it’s processed. NOTE: Black tea doesn’t automatically have more caffeine than other varieties — caffeine levels mostly come down to how much the leaves are cut up in your tea bag (smaller pieces = more caffeine) and how long the tea is brewed.
The Tea Families
Black teas are typically bold and severe, as they have more tannins (a compound also common in red wine that gives you that weird dry feeling in your mouth) than other tea families. They also have a longer oxidation process than most tea—the leaves are cut up or rolled to release their natural oils, left to react with the air for several hours, then roasted to stop oxidation and dry them out.
Black tea is the most common category, so some of these varieties might sound familiar:
- Assam: Named after the region where it’s grown in India, Assam tea has a unique malty flavour. It’s typically used as the base of Chai tea, but it’s also sold as a breakfast tea and is often added to breakfast blends such as Irish breakfast and English breakfast. And it’s the breakfast tea we serve in Meejana.
- Ceylon: All Ceylon tea is grown in Sri Lanka, but depending on which part of the country, it can have flavours ranging from chocolate to citrus. Ceylon tends to be spicy, and it’s usually the main tea in Earl Grey and fruity blends.
- Earl Grey: Technically speaking, Earl Grey isn’t a variety of tea at all. It’s mostly Ceylon tea, but the use of bergamot changes the flavour into an aromatic blend of floral, sweet, woodsy, and sour. And you can find this at Meejana with real bergamot flowers inside.
- Lapsang Souchong: This one is for the whiskey lovers. Lapsang souchong has orange, floral, and vanilla notes with a smokey flavor—probably because it’s dried on an open fire over pine wood.
- Darjeeling: Darjeelings are delicate and the flavour can vary widely from brand to brand, or even within the brand itself. In this case, it depends on when the tea was grown — there are three different growing seasons in the Darjeeling region of India, and each provides a distinct flavour. Here’s a rundown:
- First Flush Darjeeling: Picked in spring, First Flush has appropriately fresh and floral flavours. It’s sometimes called the “champagne of Darjeeling.”
- Second Flush Darjeeling: Second Flush has a strong, rich flavour that tastes similar to grapes. It’s harvested in summer.
- Third Flush Darjeeling: Coppery in colour and sweet in taste, Third Flush is mellow, floral, and smooth. It’s picked in autumn.
Unlike black tea, green tea is unoxidized, which means the oils in the leaves never react with the air and it gets to keep its green hue. As a whole, green teas are usually sweeter and mellower than black teas, but it does depend on how it was processed. In Japan, for example, green teas are usually flash-steamed to prevent oxidation, but Chinese green teas are dry roasted instead. This results in a different flavour and brewing process.
- Sencha: The most popular tea in Japan, Sencha is briefly steamed before drying. This process gives it a grassy flavour and a bright green hue. Interestingly, some people say they taste a little seafood or seaweed flavour too.
- Bancha: Harvested later in the season but processed in the same way as Sencha, Bancha is more earthy than grassy. Though it has a sweet, robust flavour, it’s typically less aromatic than sencha is.
- Hojicha: If you’re a die-hard coffee drinker trying to convert, Hojicha is your brew. The roasting process brings out nutty, toasty, and caramelly flavours reminiscent of coffee, and with a reddish-brown colour, it almost looks like coffee, too. Almost.
- Gunpowder: A Chinese tea that’s rolled into a pellet shape, gunpowder is named for its resemblance to grains of gunpowder. Its flavours are appropriately smoky and peppery, with a touch of honey spice (without the sweetness).
- Chun Mee: Chun mee literally translates to “precious eyebrows,” which is probably a reference to the arched shape of the leaves. It’s sourer than most green teas, and it has a plum-like aroma and aftertaste that sets it apart.
The process of making oolong tea combines the process of making black tea and green tea, and the flavours reflect this. Oolongs are partially oxidized before they’re roasted, and depending on how long they’re left to react with the air, oolong can taste anywhere from floral and fruity to earthy and nutty to grassy and spicy. No matter the flavour, though, oolongs tend to be fuller-bodied than black teas.
Dark teas are processed almost exactly like green teas, but instead of being roasted, dark tea leaves are fermented. This ageing process results in a sweeter and less tannic flavour that changes over time. Puer tea, for example, is floral and grassy when it’s young, but becomes woodsy and minty with a fuller body if it’s left to age for more than seven years.
Because they’re neither oxidized nor roasted, white teas are the sweetest and most delicate of the tea varieties. They tend to be light and floral, though some are slightly nutty too.
At Meejana, we use only whole, loose leaf teas which means a smoother taste and less caffeine than the powder you find in many tea bags.
Assam: The ultimate breakfast tea, expertly blended from Assam’s finest tea gardens – strong and bursting with flavour. It has a comforting malt, caramel and rich dried fruit aroma and a satisfying flavour. Drink with or without milk. Assam lies at sea level in India’s subtropical northeast and is renowned for its rich soils bordering the Bramhaputra River. Assam is famous for the tea cultivar which bears its name – Camellia Sinensis Assamica.