Did you know that the only real tea comes from the tea (Camellia Sinensis) plant? Based on the production process, there are 5 main types of tea, and they all vary in taste and active components. Although caffeine is undoubtedly the most popular, many other tea components have antioxidant and health-promoting effects. Read on to learn the main types of tea, how they are produced, what makes them unique.
While many types of herbal infusions are referred to as teas, true tea is a beverage made exclusively from the leaves or flowers of the Camellia Sinensis plant, a shrub native to Asia. It is one of the most popular drinks in the world, trailing only water in its consumption.
Indeed, in many countries and cultures around the world, tea is the main beverage consumed at social gatherings and some cultures including Japanese and Chinese have created ceremonies around the drink.
Most people are familiar with the green and black types of tea, but the ubiquitous beverage can also be consumed in white, Oolong or fermented forms such as Pu’er. Each of these different types of tea has unique molecular profiles and therefore may differ in their biological effects. Of the various forms, green tea is the most studied for its health benefits.
While there is no universally accepted definition of white tea, it generally refers to a type of tea made from immature leaves covered in white hairs, that are neither rolled nor oxidized during processing.
Rolling is the process by which tea leaves are wrapped around themselves, causing the sap and essential oils in the tea to released. Oxidation is a chemical reaction used during the processing of black and Oolong teas that both increases and decreases levels of certain polyphenols .
Green tea is the most studied type of tea. It is made from mature leaves that are wilted (dried to reduce water content) and then heated (usually steamed) to inactivate the enzymes responsible for oxidation reactions. The green is indicative of the concentrations of the plant pigment chlorophyll, which is normally completely broken down in black and Oolong teas, giving them their characteristic dark colors .
The most popular form of tea, black tea is an extraction made from tea leaves that have been oxidized to the point where there is very little chlorophyll left, changing levels of certain polyphenols, such as tannins and catechins .
Named after a city in the Yunnan province in China, Pu’Er tea is a type of tea that has been fermented by bacteria and oxidized after being dry roasted and wilted.
The fermentation process usually takes between 45 to 60 days and is carried out by a combination of bacterial and fungal species. Although some strains of the mold do produce a toxin known as ochratoxin, research has found that the specific strain used to make Pu-er does not have the genetic sequence to produce ochratoxin .
Caffeine has been well-documented in its ability to enhance aerobic athletic performance. It also has the ability to increase lipolysis, which is the breakdown of stored fat into free fatty acids that can be used for energy [6, 7].
When combined with caffeine, L-theanine has been shown to counteract its negative effects and have synergistic effects in increasing focus, decreasing reaction time, and improving working memory [17, 18].