In Part 1 of Tea Primer, I discussed black and oolong teas, which are both well known for their typically robust, rich flavors. In comparison, green and white teas, the topic of today’s post, shed all suggestions of darkness, showcasing lightness and freshness. The reason for this marked difference is that black and oolong tea leaves are given a chance to oxidize (basically, to wilt and turn brown) during processing, whereas green and white teas are not. As a result, while black and oolong teas are the equivalent to earthy vetiver and patchouli in perfumery, green and white teas call to mind the vibrancy of violet leaf and citrus. The difference is very marked, which is part of the reason why it never ceases to amaze me that so many diverse teas can come from the same Camellia sinensis plant.
Though green teas have gained popularity in the West only in recent decades, both the Chinese and Japanese have been producing these teas for thousands of years. With such a long history, today’s methods for producing green tea are, understandably, highly variable, differing from region to region. It is most common for the freshly picked tea leaves to be quickly steamed (so as to allow no time to wither or oxidize) and then rolled or pressed in a hot pan before being dried. Because the leaves are not given any time to wilt or oxidize before steaming, green tea leaves retain their green color, as well as many of their antioxidants.
Most noteworthy green teas come from China or Japan, but high quality green teas are also produced in Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia. More recently, green tea has also been produced in tea-producing regions of India and Sri Lanka as well. Chinese green teas tend to be more variable than Japanese green teas in flavor and available varieties, as production methods, harvesting time, and climate tends to vary more from region to region in China than in Japan. Thus, Chinese green teas vary in flavor from very fresh and mild to earthy and toasty, while most Japanese green teas have the vegetal, grassy notes typical of traditional Japanese Sencha or Gyokuro.
Perfumers have been inspired by green teas in fragrances like Bulgari Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert, L’Artisan Thé pour un Été, Mäurer & Wirtz 4711 Acqua Colonia Lemon & Ginger, Elizabeth Arden Green Tea, Lancôme AromaTonic, and finally, Calvin Klein CkOne and Tommy Girl. The green tea effects are produced by a combination of notes, which often include sheer jasmine (hedione) and woody violet (ionones).
Some of my favorite green teas: Gyokuro, Sencha, Hojicha, Matcha, and Genmaicha from Aiya, Art of Tea Lotus Green and White Tip Jasmine.
White teas are the most minimally processed of all teas. Typically grown and produced in China’s Fujian province, white teas are made by plucking the new leaf buds on the tea plant when they first emerge in spring. After plucking, the buds are allowed to wither a few days in the sun before being dried. Though this process is much simpler than for other types of tea, it is tricky; the new spring leaf buds last only a few days on the plants before unfurling into regular leaves (which are unusable for white tea), and much care must be taken through the entire process to ensure that the plucked tea buds are never blemished, broken, or exposed to extremes of heat or humidity. As a result, white teas are some of the finest available, with a delicate, beguiling flavor and high antioxidant content.
White teas are traditionally served plain, in order to fully appreciate the gentle flavors. Some white teas are gently scented with jasmine, but nonetheless it is uncommon for a traditional white tea to be flavored. Silver Needle, also known as Baihao Yinzhen, is the quintessential white tea, serving as a good starting point and a standard of comparison against other white teas. For more information about selecting and tasting white tea, see my recent article, White Teas : Perfume in Your Cup.
Of course, no discussion of tea would be complete without mentioning herbal teas. It is important to note, however, that unlike the teas mentioned above, herbal teas are not made from Camellia sinensis leaves. Herbal teas are created from the flowers, leaves, stems, and roots of various plants. Rooibos, also known as honey bush or “red tea” is created from the leaves of a South African shrub and has been increasing in popularity as an herbal tea. Many newer herbal blends are rooibos based, with other herbs added to form the main flavor. You can even try dabbing rooibos on your wrist–Bulgari Eau Parfumée au Thé Rouge was inspired by the lush woody sweetness of red tea.
In the next installment, I’ll discuss selecting and brewing all of these types of tea. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what are your favorite green teas to drink and whether you have any favorite green tea perfumes?
Photography by Bois de Jasmin