It may surprise you, but all teas come from the same plant. The different varieties (black, white, green, and oolong) stem from how they are made. The main difference between varieties is how much oxygen the leaves are allowed to absorb during processing. More oxygen produces dark-coloured black teas. Less oxygen results in green tea. Unprocessed leaves are classified as white tea.
Black tea is made from leaves that have been fully oxidized that produce a hearty deep rich flavour. It is the oxidation process, oxygen coming into contact with the enzymes in the tea leaf, that distinguishes black teas from green. This process is also known as fermentation. Examples of black tea include Assam, Darjeeling, Ceylon, and many premium blends, such as Earl Grey and English Breakfast.
Most popular in Asia green tea is not oxidized (fermented). It is withered, immediately steamed, or heated to prevent oxidation, and then rolled and dried. It is characterized by a delicate taste and light green colour. Green tea has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity thanks to recent scientific findings touting its health benefits. Examples of green tea include the exotically named Dragonwell (also called Lung Ching), Genmaicha, Gunpowder, and many others.
Oolong tea is a “semi-fermented” tea that is principally manufactured in China and Taiwan. Oolong tea falls somewhere between Green and Black teas, and can resemble either depending upon the way that it is processed. Some Oolongs include Ti Kuan Yin, Formosa Oolong, Iron Goddess, and others.
White teas are among the rarest in the world. It is the least processed with no steaming or pan-firing. White tea employs only the best leaf from each tea plant at each harvest. The gentle, subtle, taste of white tea is just becoming known in North America and is mainly found on the shelves of specialty tea stores. Examples of white teas carried by Winston’s include Pai Mu Tan (or White Peony) and Yin Zhen Silver Needle.
Flavoured teas are generally made by combining the essential oils of the desired flavour with black, green, or white tea. Virtually any flavour imaginable can now be blended with tea. Examples include: Cherry Blossom white tea, Earl Grey black tea, Lemon Myrtle Ginger green tea, and many others.