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Oxidize and Ferment
All tea, whether black, green, oolong, puerh or white, is made from the leaves of the same plant — Camellia Sinensis. The difference between the various types of tea is in how it is processed, and the level of oxidation. Oxidation is the process by which enzymes in the tea leaf break down, causing a darkening of the leaf and the development of certain organic compounds. Generally speaking, Black tea is considered to be highly oxidized. Black teas are formed by allowing freshly harvested leaves to dry while spread on trays either in the open air or in rooms where temperatures are raised in order to wither or steam the leaves. This process causes the leaves to cure (oxidize and ferment) releasing specific organic compounds. Once cured, the leaves are either hand rolled and twisted, or rolled in a large drum. Both actions gently bruise the leaves, releasing enzymes and turning the leaves black. In China, black is considered an unlucky color, so often times the tea is referred to as Red tea — as the brewed tea is reddish in color.