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Tempest in a Teapot: Tea and Politics and Health

Tea Types

A color illustration of a tea plant with blossoms. The tea plant is like a camelia with a pretty white flower, sweet scented and not unlike a single rose. If allowed to grow wild, it grows straight up about twenty feet high, like a handsome leafy tree, but when cultivated it is a bush kept down by frequent pruning to the height of about three feet. Only the tender young shoots or buds are marketed, the older leaves being too coarse in flavor, and the bushes have to be plucked every eight to twelve days in order to keep the shoots from growing too big.
Thomas Lipton, "Lipton's Ceylon Tea Estates."


An illustration of the leaves of a tea plant. Three basic types of tea are all prepared from the same plant.

  • BLACK TEA leaves are fully fermented. Leaves are picked and allowed to wither. The withered leaves are rolled to release their juices, then allowed to ferment and are oven-dried before packing.
  • OOLONG TEA leaves are partially fermented. The same process applied to black tea applies, but the fermentation time is substantially shortened before packing.
  • GREEN TEA leaves are not fermented at all. The leaves are heated immediately after picking to prevent fermentation. The leaves are then rolled, dried, and packed.

Other tea terms may describe the size and age of black (and some oolong ) tea leaves:

  • Larger leaves are referred to as orange pekoe, pekoe and pekoe souchong.
  • Smaller, broken leaves can be designated as broken orange pekoe, broken pekoe souchong, broken orange pekoe fannings, and fines ("tea dust")
  • Similar terms describe leaf's age: from youngest to oldest - flowery pekoe, orange pekoe, pekoe, souchong 1st, souchong 2nd, Congou, and Bohea.
  • Familiar tea blends use a formulaic blend of teas with different leaf sizes and ages: Lipton tea, for example, is made of young, small orange pekoe leaves and is called orange pekoe tea.

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