Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Classifying Tea

Recently I have been putting a fair amount of thought into the classification of tea. With the widely varied number of styles, types, origins, grades, etc. of tea, how do you go about classifying it? So far I have come across 3 main types of classification of tea for first tier classification, none of which do a very good job in my opinion.

1. Chinese Method - The Chinese method is the closest to a good system that I have seen. It is the normal classification by the 6 colors: Red(Black) , Green, White, Yellow, Blue (Oolong), and Black (Puer).

2. Oxidation level - This is the classification into 3 categories: Unoxidized, Semi-Oxidized, and Oxidized.

3. Country of Origin - Easily enough, what country the tea comes from. China, Japan, India, etc.

Unfortunately none of these classification systems say much in their own right, and area almost all incorporated into the naming and classification of any tea. With the possibility of Oxidation level which is determined in the Chinese method. So if you were to start a tree of all tea types and subtypes and subsubtypes how would you start it? Would you start with the Country of Origin so you wouldn't have as many colors in each, or would you repeat your countries in different colors?

At first it seems easy enough because you think that aside from the first two tiers it won't change that much. But what about when you think about classifying a Japanese Tamaryokucha vs. a Chinese Long Jing? When you think about it a Tamaryokucha and a Long Jing share much in common, possibly more so than the Tamarokucha and a Sencha. Both the Long Jing and the Tamaryokucha are pan fired, where the Sencha is steamed. But they come from different countries, they're both green teas. But a Sencha and a Tamaryokucha share a country and are both greens.

As countries produce more varied types of teas I start to wonder how we should classify teas now. A Darjeeling Oolong vs. a Taiwanese Oolong vs. a Chinese Oolong. Different teas, different styles, and different flavors. (Although there is a bit of similarity between Taiwanese and certain Chinese Oolongs.)

Something to think about the next time you're looking at a shopping list of teas. Let me know what you guys think.


Brittiny said...

Interesting thoughts! I think I may do some further pondering on this.

By the way, I didn't know that oolong was also called "purple." Very interesting...

Salsero said...

Good thoughts. Would you say that the taste of a Tamarokucha is closer to a Sencha or a Chinese Green?

According to the vendor website, Bai Sha Lu is steamed rather than fried, and yet to my thinking it seems more like its Chinese brothers than like a Japanese sencha. Perhaps I am unduly influenced by my expectations.

En Shi Yu Lu is another steamed Chinese green, but I haven't tried that one.

Eric said...

Oh whoops, I meant Blue, not Purple for oolong. Puer in the color scheme goes by black.

Tamaryokucha tastes more akin to sencha, but the firing is evident in hints toward pan fireds like a Long Jing.

Anonymous said...

I think there can be two parents of tea color and country of origin that spawn the different teas as their children. Oxidation is a subgroup under color, I suppose, and doesn't need to be considered as separate though it can be mentioned. --Spirituality of Tea

Eric said...

Jason - The point of my musings were more to generate a traditional hierarchical classification scheme which implies that you cannot have two parents to the same child. Hence the difficulty here.