Aside from the varieties mentioned above, there are also countless hundreds of cultivars (cultivated varieties) of C. sinensis. Just like how Carabao mangoes taste different from Indian mangoes, different cultivars of the C. sinensis plant have varying characteristics and profiles which affect the teas they produce. Some examples of tea cultivars are Shui Xian, which when processed becomes our Evening Spring/Midnight Spring and Ya Shi, which becomes Duck Shit.
Terroir refers to the growth conditions of the tea: elevation, soil, surroundings, sunlight, and so on. Similar to wines, the terroir of a tea greatly affects the quality and flavor of the tea. These variables all greatly affect the tea; two teas which are from the same cultivar and are processed similarly may taste vastly different due to their terroir. Generally speaking, tea plants thrive best in eroded and mineral-rich soil in elevations over 700 meters. However, the care put into growing and processing this tea is equally important; good terroir will not always translate to good tea if it is processed or grown incorrectly.
Oxidation is a chemical process in which compounds in the tea leaves naturally react to oxygen, similar to how apples and bananas darken when exposed to air. This process darkens the leaves’ color and develops different flavors and aromas in the tea. Once a desirable level of oxidation is achieved, the leaves are heated to stop further oxidation. Different types of tea generally have different levels of oxidation; for instance, green teas are minimally oxidized, while black teas are almost completely oxidized.
The Chemistry of Tea
Tea leaves contain a variety of flavor compounds and chemicals which ultimately affect the taste of the tea. Among these, compounds such as caffeine, L-Theanine, and catechins are among the most abundant. In particular, L-Theanine and catechins have a sizeable effect on the flavor of the tea — L-Theanine is responsible for the sweeter, softer notes of the tea, while catechins are responsible for the more bitter, astringent notes. Since these compounds extract at different rates and at different temperatures, it is important to find the ideal parameters in order to achieve a balanced, delicious brew.
Aside from their flavor, these compounds also have physiological effects. The caffeine content helps keep you awake and focused, but the L-Theanine makes you calm, and prevents a “caffeine crash.” L-Theanine and epigallocatechin gallates (EGCGs) found in tea are also known to lower levels of anxiety.