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Tea Cultivation and Classification

This article is about tea cultivation and tea classification.

Cultivation and classification

Tea is grown primarily in mainland China, India, Pakistan, Iran, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Japan, Indonesia, Nepal, Australia, Argentina, and Kenya. (Note that in the tea trade, Sri Lanka and Taiwan are still referred to by their former names of Ceylon and Formosa, respectively.)

Divisions of tea by processing technique

The four main types of tea are distinguished by their processing. Camellia sinensis is an evergreen shrub whose leaves, if not quickly dried after picking, soon begin to wilt and oxidize. This process resembles the malting of barley, in that starch is converted into sugars; the leaves turn progressively darker, as chlorophyll breaks down and tannins are released. The next step in processing is to stop the oxidation process at a predetermined stage by removing the water from the leaves via heating.

The term fermentation was used (probably by wine fanciers) to describe this process, and has stuck, even though no true fermentation happens (i.e. the process is not driven by microbes and produces no ethanol). Without careful moisture and temperature control, fungi will grow on tea. The fungi will cause fermentation which will contaminate the tea with toxic and carcinogenic substances. In fact, when real fermentation happens, the tea must be discarded.

Tea is traditionally classified into four main groups, based on the degree or period of oxidation the leaves have undergone: White tea: Young leaves (new growth buds) that have undergone no oxidation; the buds may be shielded from sunlight to prevent formation of chlorophyll. Green tea: The oxidation process is stopped after a minimal amount of oxidation by application of heat, either with steam, a traditional Japanese method, or by drying on hot pans — the traditional Chinese method. The tea are processed within the day or second day after plugging the tea leaf. Oolong (???): Oxidation is stopped somewhere between the standards for green tea and black tea. The oxidation process will take 2 to 3 days. Black tea: Substantial oxidation; the literal translation of the Chinese word is red tea, which may be used by some tea-lovers. The oxidation process will take around 2 weeks and up to 1 month . Black tea is further classified as either orthodox or CTC (Crush, Tear, Curl, a production method developed about 1932). Unblended black teas are also identified by the estate they come from, they year and the flush (first, second or autumn). Orthodox and CTC teas are further graded according to the post-production leaf quality by the Orange Pekoe system.

White tea is produced in lesser quantities than most of the other styles, and can be correspondingly more expensive than tea from the same plant processed by other methods. It is also less well-known in the U.S., though that is changing with the introduction of white tea in bagged form.

Unusual variations

There are several tea preparations available which do not fit into the usual nomenclature:
Pu-erh (???) Is a special categories of tea from Yunnan province, China. The tea is usually compressed into shapes such as bricks, discs or spinning tops. There are lessen oxidixation forms, called green (??) and mutual (??) respectively. Mutual pur-erh is made from green Pur-Erh tea leaf that going through second stage of oxidation process, using a method similar to compost bin, but with careful moisture and temperature monitoring. While most teas are consumed within a year of production, pu-erh can be kept for year for the aging process. The tea is often steeped for long periods of time or even boiled (Tibetans boil it overnight). Pu-erh is considered a medicinal tea in China.
Yellow tea: Either used as a name of high-quality tea served at the Imperial court, or of special tea processed similarly to green tea, but with a slower drying phase.
Chong Cha (??): Literally worm tea, this brew is made from the seeds of tea shrubs instead of the leaves. It is used in Chinese medicine for coping with summer heat as well as for treating influenza symptoms.
Kukicha: Also called winter tea, kukicha is made from twigs and old leaves pruned from the tea plant during its dormant season and dry-roasted over a fire. Popular as a health food in Japan and in macrobiotic diets.
Lapsang souchong (???? or ???): Originally from Fujian, China, Lapsang souchong is a black tea which is dried over burning pine, thereby developing a strong smoky flavour.
Rize Tea (Çay): Black tea produced in Rize Province on the eastern Black Sea coast of Turkey, that is crystal clear and mahogany in color. Prepared in a samovar, it can be served strong ("koyu" dark) or weak ("açik" open), in small glasses with cubed sugar.

Tea Cultivation and Classification

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