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Blog132: Tea Cultivars and Tea Categories

There are two important tea knowledge that we cannot emphasize enough:

1. Tea plants do not make tea.

2. There aren’t any “green tea plants”, “black tea plants”, or “oolong tea plants”.

The first one is easy to understand. Tea-making is more than just plucking fresh leaves off tea plants. Fresh leaves are raw material in tea-making, and it’s the tea makers who make all fresh leaves into tea leaves.

The second sentence might be a little confusing if you’re new to the tea world. You see, different tea categories are usually decided by the tea-making methods, not the tea plants. In many cases, a tea cultivar can be used to make more than just one type of tea.

For example, there’s a tea cultivar called “Fu Yun No. 6/福云六号”. This cultivar is usually used for making both black tea and white tea.

However, we cannot just blindly choose a tea cultivar and use it for all tea categories. In practice, some cultivars are primarily used for one tea category. For instance, Huang Guan Yin (the tea cultivar) is nearly always for Wuyi Oolong (the tea product is also called Huang Guan Yin).

Therefore, the “suitability” of the cultivar becomes the key when we decide whether a specific cultivar can be used for a specific tea category.

In other words, if we want to make a good black tea/white tea/oolong tea/green tea, we must choose a tea cultivar that can best present all unique features of the targeted tea category.

Valley Brook Tea | Blog
If harvested early, these leaves can be made into green tea.

In reality, this cultivar selection process is quite a scientific one, and it’s impossible for us to show you all the details. In this blog, we’ll introduce some general guidance in the decision making process to give you a glimpse into our tea-making.

There are many criteria that affect a tea cultivar’s suitability. Most tea makers would focus on the leaf size, the color of buds and leaves, the “fuzziness” of fresh leaves, and nutrient contents (e.g. levels of tea polyphenols, catechin, amino acids, and the ratio fo tea polyphenols to amino acids).

To help you better understand the decision making process. Let’s use green tea and black tea as an example.

Many tea cultivars can produce leaves for both green tea and black tea products. For green tea, tea makers prefer cultivars that have smaller and yellowish green leaves; for black tea, tea makers prefer cultivars with larger and dark green leaves.

This is because different tea cultivars have different nutrient contents. Commonly, if a cultivar produces leaves with a high amino acids level and a low catechin/polyphenol level, it’s suitable for green tea products; if a cultivar produces leaves with a high catechin/polyphenol level, it’s suitable for black tea products.

Besides the nutrient contents mentioned above, the ratios of tea polyphenols to amino acids also plays an important role. If the a cultivar has a ratio <8, it’s suitable for green tea; if the ratio is between 8 to 15, it’s suitable for both green tea and black tea; if the ratio is >15, it’s suitable for black tea.

Finally, we also need to consider the fragrance substance contents and the chlorophyll content. Normally, green tea has a high demand for high chlorophyll content, and black tea requires more fragrance substances.

Realistically, a very limited number of tea cultivars can fit requirements of all tea categories. Even if a tea cultivar does fit all tea categories, it’s primarily used only for the most famous tea category in the local area.

This is why we have cultivars like “Huang Guan Yin” that’s only used for one tea category (Wuyi Oolong). Even though theoretically it can also be used to produce other teas such as green tea and black tea.

After all, tea producers like us need to consider the economic performance. Many cultivars are already associated with certain tea categories. It wouldn’t be financially sound to make a different tea just because the cultivar can.

We hope you enjoyed today’s blog. As always, if you have questions or suggestions, please leave a comment, tweet us @valleybrooktea or email the author directly at Please also follow us on Instagram @valleybrooktea and join our mail list to get our daily tea updates and our latest promotions!

This is a Valley Brook Tea original blog. All rights reserved.

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