If you have a spare moment, go and search "Gungfu ceremony." The leaves being prepared are different, but there's some commonality there too. Much like our everyday ritual of preparing and smoking a pipe, the Gongfu ceremony serves both to aid in proper preparation and to ease the drinker into a proper mindset to enjoy the tea.
As both an avid tea drinker and pipe smoker, I've been known to practice a combination of the two rituals; a practice which must vex my wife horribly, as when you add them together, plus the time it takes to grab some photos, and the time spent enjoying the pipe, my afternoon smoke-and-tea break can take as long as a couple of hours.
While I'm not suggesting you take up this habit yourself (okay, I am), in this article I will quickly outline the different types of tea and tobaccos which I think pair well with them.
Or, more properly, tea cultivars. You see, while all tea is of the species Camellia Sinensis, that is — for those of you who remember their biology — the Sinensis (Chinese) species of the Camellia genus, it is subdivided by cultivars. Very briefly Camellia Sinensis has a propensity to throw a unique variety with every mating between male and female trees. While this works well in terms of evolution and survival, it makes for a terrible product, as every tree would produce different results. To remove this factor, farmers asexually reproduce plants, producing cultivars (cultivated varieties) unique to the geography, geology, and climate, or some combination of these. More properly, this is known as terroir.
These cultivars, or a blend thereof, are what you see when you pick up a box/bag/brick of tea and are often mistakenly referred to as varieties, or even worse (at least for the grammar nerds among you), varietals. Assam, ceylon, kenyan, etc. are all cultivars, but for the sake of ease I'll break these down by how they're processed.
Barring a few outliers like pu'erh and rooibos, all teas start out life the same and are processed using five steps: plucking, withering (which allows the leaves to soften), rolling, oxidising, and firing. The most important part of the process is oxidation, which some (incorrectly) refer to as fermenting, and is the process of allowing oxygen to interact with the leaf after the cell walls have been broken down through rolling or natural decomposition.
Most teas use some or all of these five steps, and I've broken them down by which of the steps are used.
Black teas are the more common, staple teas; with cultivars like ceylon, assam and kenyan being the primary ingredients in blends like English and Irish Breakfast, Earl Grey, etc. Black tea uses all five steps, with particular attention paid to oxidation to allow for a stronger flavour. If you're English or Australian (like me) this is best enjoyed with milk and a sugar or two.
Pairing: Sweet, milky tea goes best with English blends while black tea without milk generally goes better with a darker Virginia or Virginia-Perique. Earl Grey is a great tea to pair with Orlik Golden Sliced or anything with a lot of citrus notes.
Although generic "green tea" can be found in most households, this covers a staggering amount of cultivars and blends, from the rice infused genmaicha or 'popcorn tea' to the smokier gunpowder green tea. Basically green tea is processed using all of the steps bar oxidisation and is usually fired in a wok or steamed to stop the oxidisation process.
Pairing: Bright Virginias.
This is basically raw, unprocessed tea that's been plucked and withered. They appear pale yellow or green when steeped and have a delicate but clean and sweet flavour.
Pairing: For me, a Navy flake, slowly sipped, is the best pairing here, although a milder Oriental forward blend would more than likely benefit as well.Oolong
Oolong is a whole leaf tea that uses all five steps, with rolling and oxidising repeated as needed for that cultivar. They usually have a very little astringency and can range from floral or fruity to creamy and even smoky.
Pairing: Dark and musty Virginias, think McClelland Matured Virginia #24.
A different beast all together, pu'erh uses a process similar to green tea, but it is aged (either loose or in pressed blocks) before drying. Pu'erh is a musty, earthy tea, with some blends displaying a more smoky note. They're also great for digestion, especially with oily foods like pizza.
Pairing: Bright Virginias and aromatics.
Unlike the rest of these teas, rooibos doesn't come from the Camellia Sinensis plant, but rather the Aspalathus Linearis plant of South Africa. It's a red tea with a sweet, clean profile. Caffeine free and high in antioxidants, it can also come as the sweeter honeybush or the more earthy green rooibos.