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  • Writer's pictureMarielle

Types of Tea (Part Two)

Updated: May 19

Hi friends! Glad to see you made it back for part 2! Today we’re going to be learning a bit about some of the less common types of tea that you may have seen or heard about. We’ll talk about the unique oolongs, complex pu-erhs, flavorful matcha, and the up-and-coming herbal “teas” that have gained popularity in the past few years. The final part in this series will give an overview of some of the common ingredients found in tea blends, such as florals, herbs, and flavoring. And without further adieu, away we gooo~ (insert dramatic exit here)



Oolong

The great, mysterious oolong. Is it a black? Or is it green? SURPRISE B******, It’s BOTH! Oolong teas are partially fermented, with how much depending on the variety. This is why oolong is basically the baby of green and black tea. The process of creating oolong is similar in the beginning to how green teas are made, with final steps more closely following the black tea process, which includes allowing the leaves to oxidize, bruising the edges, and firing them to stop the oxidation process. The process will vary by region, with Chinese varieties steeping a dark amber or reddish color. There are three areas in China that produce oolongs, and the colors and flavor profile will fluctuate based on location. Taiwanese varieties produce a deep brown colored tea, due to a longer oxidation time. Oolongs lend well to blends, due to their balanced flavor. They make a wonderful dessert tea, with flavors added like cinnamon, vanilla, or cocoa, but also the lightly fermented varieties taste great mixed with fruit and floral add-ins, such as rose hips, lavender flowers, or berries. Personally, I use an oolong any time I need a solid base that will enhance the flavor of a blend without overpowering it. For example, if I were to create an apple pie blend, it would consist of about half Chinese oolong, approximately one quarter dried apple pieces, and the rest a blend of warm spices like cinnamon, vanilla, and nutmeg. Oolong makes a flavorful but slightly neutral base to elevate those flavors.




Pu-erh

Pu-erh is a tea that has some similarities to oolong in process and profile, but with a more complex taste. Pu-erhs are allowed to ferment slightly, either naturally over a long period of time using the Sheng method, or a quicker, more modern approach using the Shou method, which utilizes bacteria cultures (think… yogurt, or kombucha.) The flavor and depth of the tea will improve over time, like a fine wine, and the resulting tea brewed will be full-bodied and rich. It will have high levels of caffeine after it is produced, but caffeine content will decrease as the tea ages. As a general rule, however, the darker the tea, the more caffeine it contains. A quality pu-erh will be dark in color and can be steeped multiple times.

A good pu-erh will be delicious and satisfying to the taste buds by itself, however I find it to be the perfect tea to really get creative with. The bold flavor shines through nicely in cakes and syrups, and I've even had success using them as a plant-based foundation for hearty soups and gravies. The strong flavor can be mellowed with sugar or fruit, or you can play it up by pairing it with savory herbs and a hint of spice. Countless recipes can be kicked up a notch with this easy substitution.




Rooibos, Honeybush, and Yerba Mate

Now let’s talk about rooibos, honeybush, and yerba mate. If tea (camellia sinensis) is the action hero in our movie, these are the equally impressive and often under-appreciated stunt doubles. Rooibos and honeybush are both high in antioxidants and are consumed across the world for their health benefits. They are also popular as a naturally caffeine-free alternative to tea, both by themselves or in blends.They come from different, but closely related plant species, and both are native to South Africa. Honeybush is the sweeter of the two, with rooibos taking on an earthy flavor after processing. There are two types of rooibos sold; green rooibos and red rooibos. Green rooibos is made by steaming the leaves almost immediately after harvest to prevent further oxidation, while red is exposed to oxygen for a longer period of time, developing its sweetness and its warm, red color. Yerba mate is a plant native to South America, and this one, unlike the other two, does contain caffeine. It is also known for its high levels of antioxidants and other health benefits. Tea made from this plant will be energizing, light, with a mellow, grassy flavor to it. In South America, there is an important tradition that involves steeping the mate in a hollowed gourd, and passing it around amongst comrades as a friendship ritual. Sounds fun, right? I picture having a few friends over, sitting around a fire, while we chill out and pass around the party gourd.



Honeybush has been a personal favorite of mine for a while now, it's fantastic hot or iced. I love the sweet, easy-going drink alone, but I also find it to be a great base for flavors that are often outshined in blends. Flavors such as coconut, pineapple, and pear, that are light, and easily overpowered, come through nicely in a honeybush and a rooibos. Yerba mate pairs beautifully with exotic flavors like goji berries, lychee, and starfruit. These are varieties I continue to surprise myself with when developing new blends.





Matcha

And who doesn't love matcha?? I remember the first time I ever experienced matcha green tea, long before I knew what it was or where it came from. My first taste of matcha came in the form of an iced matcha latte from Starbucks, and I was OBSESSED by the second sip. It wasn’t as heavy as a traditional latte, it was an eye-catching green color reminiscent of young blades of grass, and it tasted like a fresh spring day. I ordered that drink every day for weeks, no lie. Matcha has become wildly popular, to the point that there are entire cafes dedicated exclusively to the jade-colored tea. Matcha is prepared differently from most teas. Instead of being steeped, the tea is processed and then ground to a fine powder. This powder is then whisked into water with a special bamboo whisk, the potion turning a deep emerald hue as it’s blended. This process can be as functional or as formal as you like, but Japanese tradition places an emphasis on spirituality, focus, and intent while preparing the tea, as part of an intricate ceremony. Ceremonial-grade matcha is the highest quality available, and will have the best flavor when preparing it hot or iced. Aside from drinking matcha, one of my favorite ways to enjoy matcha is in desserts. For drinking I recommend ceremonial-grade matcha, but culinary-grade is also available and I prefer it when experimenting with recipes. It is absolutely amazing in cupcakes, cookies, and my personal favorite, ice cream. The flavor of matcha in ice cream evolves, with a smooth creaminess and subtle hints of cocoa. As I type this, I'm triggering the worst (best?) craving. On that note, I'm off to whip up a matcha flavored frozen treat.

Wow we covered a lot there! I hope you leave this post feeling inspired to experiment with your teas, try new varieties, and confident when talking about and selecting teas for yourself and others. In the final part of this series, we will talk about blends, different floral and herbal ingredients, and extras used to flavor teas. Let us know what teas you’re going to try next! Until next time, much love!


Thanks for sipping with us!


Marielle @Moonstone Teas and Botanicals

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