Sure there’s Camellia sinensis var. sinensis and Camellia sinensis var. assamica (as we had described in this previous article: Tea Plant Variations (Varietals)). But there’s a whole lot more to tea plant varietals than those two. Some say there’s also Camellia Sinensis cambodiensis (also known as Camellia sinensis var. parvifolia or the “java bush” — mainly cross bred to allow for certain traits and not usually used for commercial tea production). And there are a host of “varietals” and “cultivars” developed from these main plants.
Varietals for Pu-Erh Teas
This style of tea is not just about the processing. It’s also about the varietal. There are two main ones, both from the Yunnan Province: Chen Yuan Hao which originates in the Yiwu mountain area, and Da Ye (also called “Big Broad Leaf” since it has large, broad leaves with a unique flavor).
Varietals for Green Teas
Not all green teas are created equal. And there is a lot more to creating a green tea than the processing. The varietal used can make a tremendous difference. Japan has several, such as: Yabukita, a small leaf tea varietal with a sweet flavor profile; Makura No. 1, high in tannin and caffeine and with a floral taste; Asatsuyu, with a vivid green color; and Sofu, a hybrid of Yabukita and Shizu-Inzatsu 131 with a characteristic aroma.
Varietals for White Teas
Delicate and sometimes misunderstood, white teas are a very special segment of the tea market. Varietals can really make the difference. For example, the unique silvery “hairs” on the tight, young buds are especially fine from the Da Bai Hao (“Big White”) varietal, grown in the Taimu Mountain region of Fujian Province, China. Other varietals include Baimudan, Shoumei, Baihao Yinzhen, Shui Hsien, and Shao Bai Hao (“Small White”).
Varietals for Oolong (Wu Long) Teas
Probably the widest array of varietals are those used to make the hundreds of oolong style (semi-oxidized) teas. The leaves have to be able to withstand the precise rolling and roasting techniques needed to produce the different oolongs. The majority of these varietals have been developed in Taiwan and the Fujian Province, China. Many of these have very recognizable flavor profiles. One of these is “Big Red Robe” (Da Hong Pao) from the WuYi mountain region of Fujian Province. This is a full-bodied tea with a sweet aftertaste. You will feel it in your throat before the back of your tongue. After a few small Gong Fu cups, the pleasant floral fragrance remains in your mouth, lingering for a good few minutes. Another is Ben Shan Green Dragon from Anxi Province, China, and shares characteristics with Tieguanyin (“Iron Goddess”) with strong branches and brightly-colored, ellipse-shaped leaves. A host of others (too many to list here) are used as well.
Time for you to go exploring and experience some teas made from these varietals!