We could never describe all the varieties of tea in a single book. So here are just a few of the better-known types of tea you're likely to come across.
Classic teas include Darjeeling, Assam, Ceylon, Yunnan, Oolong, Sencha, Gyokuro and Gunpowder.
DARJEELING TEA comes from the north of India and is grown in the region from which it derives its name. Here, the finest varieties of tea in the world are grown on the slopes of the Himalayas at heights of between 800 and 2,200 metres. Darjeeling is known as the "champagne of tea" - and not without good reason. Thanks to its unique growing conditions, it has a mellow flavour that is by turns delicately flowery and intensely aromatic. There are three main harvests of Darjeeling, known as first flush (the finest of them all), second flush and autumnal. The first picking takes place from March to April and produces a highly esteemed tea that is characterised by its mild taste. Second flush is stronger in flavour than its predecessor in the picking order, while autumnal pickings are milder, with a less pervasive flavour.
In many growing areas, tea can be harvested all year round. In Darjeeling, however, there are three main harvests:
first picking from March to mid-April Second flush:
summer harvests from May to June Autumnal:
autumn pickings from October to November
Each harvest can be identified by the flavour of the tea it produces. First flush Darjeeling is light and flowery in taste, while second flush teas are more full-bodied. Both are of excellent quality and are highly prized by connoisseurs. Autumnal Darjeelings are less prestigious but have a mild aroma
There is palpable anticipation in all countries before the arrival of first flush Darjeeling. Selected teas of the highest possible quality are flown rapidly around the globe, so tea lovers can savour their delicate flavours as close to harvest time as possible. Only the world's best tea sellers stock first flush Darjeeling: it is an indication of quality to purvey such esteemed tea.
ASSAM TEA comes from the federal state of Assam in north-east India. Vast fields of tea stretch for hundreds of miles, from 300 to 800 metres above sea level, on either side of the Brahmaputra River. Assam is the world's largest continuous tea-growing region, with a humid and hot climate that facilitates the growth of strong, spicy and often malt-flavoured teas. Assam is used in many different blends, and the leaves can be harvested throughout the year. Even so, the best pickings are taken in late April and early May, and as second flushes, from mid-May to the end of June. Assam produces mainly black tea, as do India's other growing regions, Nilgiri and Sikkim. When Robert Bruce, a Major in the British Army, discovered wild tea bushes growing in Assam in 1823, he was the first person to realise that tea could be grown in India. Until that moment, the tea bush was thought only to be at home in China and Japan.
CEYLON TEA comes from Sri Lanka and retains the country's colonial name. This magical island is located in the Indian Ocean and is covered with stunning tea gardens. There are three main growing regions - Uva in the east, Dimbula in the west, and the mountain range of Nuwara Eliya. The monsoon season causes extreme variations in the weather across Sri Lanka, giving each region its own distinctive growing environment. On the whole, Ceylon is a full-bodied tea, described by tea tasters as'metallic'- a phrase meaning citrusy.
YUNNAN TEA grows in the province of this name in south-west China. Yunnan produces both black and green tea, and both varieties are renowned for their quality. Chinese teas grown in other regions include Keemum, a delicious black tea from Anhui, and varieties from Guizhou (Kweichow), Guangdong and Fujian.
OOLONG TEA is mainly grown and produced in Taiwan and China. It is partially fermented tea and offers a wide spectrum of flavours from very fruity to slightly nutty. The name does not refer to a place of origin, but rather means "black dragon" or "black snake" -a reflection of the distinctive appearance of Oolong tea leaves.
OOLONG TEA IN CHINESE TRADITION oolong teas can be brewed up several times.
The Chinese tea ceremonies use Oolong, and each brew is given a different, highly evocative name. Examples include "tea of pleasant smell", "tea of pleasant flavour" and "tea of the long friendship".
FORMOSA TEA Formosa is the former name of Taiwan, given by Portuguese settlers who called it the "beautiful island" (llha Formosa). The stretch of water between Taiwan and the west Chinese mainland is still known as the Strait of Formosa, and tea from the island retains this old name.
SENCHA TEA comes from Japan, China, Taiwan and Korea. Green Sencha is very popular in Japan, where varieties like the nutty Hojicha and the zingy Bancha are a mainstay of many mealtimes. Like other teas, its flavour depends on the growing conditions and how it is processed after harvesting. Japanese Sencha is slightly sweet, with a strong scent, while Chinese Sencha is known for a more tart and tangy taste.
GYOKURO TEA is regarded as one of Japan's finest green teas. Its name means "fine dewdrop", and it grows in the shade. The plants are covered for some weeks, causing the leaves to develop less tannin and therefore taste less bitter in the mouth. For many enthusiasts, Gyokuro is the best tea in the world.
MATCHA TEA is famously used in the Japanese tea ceremony. It is a bright-green powdered tea, traditionally ground in stone mills. The powder is doused with water and foamed with a whisk made of bamboo. It's a good tea for those lacking in energy, as it is very high in caffeine.
GUNPOWDER TEA comes from Tiwan and China. It is high in caffeine, but that isn't why it's been given such an explosive name. Instead, its because the leaves, which are hand-rolled into a pellet shape, have a similar appearance to gunpowder. When hot water touches the leaves, they unfurl and develop a slightly tart, strong flavour.
Other popular teas include CHUN MEE, a simple green tea grown in China, Taiwan and Indonesia, and LUNG CHING, which goes by the name of "dragon well. This tea has a sweet and flowery aroma and a mild, light flavour. MAO FENG is another favourite among tea fanatics, and MU DAN always proves popular. That's partly because its leaves are often connected to flowers, which open up after brewing to bring colour to the cup.
Although rarer among international tea drinkers, white tea is growing in popularity as people become more accustomed to new flavours. PAL MU TAN and YIN ZHEN are the two most popular white tea varieties, and both originate from the Chinese province of Fujian.
A SUSTAINABLE INDUSTRY Imports of tea are strictly controlled in the EU and have to meet a range of regulations. Tea traders have their products tested on a regular basis in order to safeguard the quality of what they sell.
As it happens, the industry is one of the most socially responsible in the world, and its central activities are innately sustainable, as well as contributing to social wellbeing. Tea production is a major economic force in many countries and relies on close personal relationships between growers, processors and traders. Most European tea traders work hard to retain environmentally friendly practices in the cultivation and harvesting of tea throughout the world. That way, consumers can rest assured that they are buying an ethically sourced product that makes a continued and significant contribution to the world's economy.