Black teas, the most commonly known in the West, have a rich aroma and flavour and are in fact reddish to dark brown in colour. The leaves are picked and allowed to wither in the sun, then bruised and left to ferment, which develops their colour, flavour and astringency. The leaves are then dried to stop the fermentation process and to preserve them.
Green teas have less aroma and flavour than black ones and are paler. The leaves are first steamed after harvesting to retain some of the colour and stop the fermentation process. They are then lightly rolled before drying.
Different teas have very distinct characteristics, which can affect not only how they are drunk, but at what time of day.
- Assam tea, from north-east India, is strong and dark and, blended with a Ceylon and often an African tea, it makes up the ‘breakfast’ blends. Assam is best drunk with milk.
- Ceylon tea is crisp, strong and distinguished by its amber colour. Best drunk with milk.
- Darjeeling tea varies in taste and price depending on when it has been harvested. Tea from the first ‘flush’, or harvest, is very delicate, the second flush is more mature and the autumn harvest produces a thicker tea. You can buy all three from tea merchants, but Darjeeling bought in a supermarket will be a blend of second-flush teas. Darjeeling’s delicate aroma and flavour make it the perfect tea to have after lunch, and it is best drunk without milk or sugar.
- Scented teas include jasmine and Earl Grey. The latter is flavoured with the citrus fruit bergamot. These are good in the afternoon and evening, drunk without milk or sugar.
- Gunpowder, a Chinese green tea, is very light and should be drunk without milk. It has less tannin and caffeine than black teas, so is good after dinner.
- Lapsang Souchong, a smoked black China tea, is very refreshing as an afternoon drink. It is drunk without milk or sugar.
- Oolong tea, from Taiwan or China, is halfway between black and green tea as it is semi-fermented. Sometimes sold on its own, it is mostly used in blends. It is very light and should be drunk without milk. It has less tannin and caffeine than black teas, so is good after dinner.