Types of Tea
Although they are all made from the same plant, the subtle differences in different types of tea are endless which is why tea is so fascinating to explore. However, if you’re new to tea, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the wide variety.
This variety is the result of variations in the tea production process. The leaves are harvested from the plant and then taken through a process of wilting, bruising, oxidation, shaping, and drying. The general process is the same for all teas, but there are many variations within each step of the process that lead to the resulting variations in flavor.
These variations fall into six main categories of tea: green, black, white, yellow, oolong, and pu’erh. Becoming familiar with these categories is a good way to find your place in the world of tea no matter what you’re brewing.
There are many different kinds of green tea, but in general they have a light, delicate flavor compared to darker teas like black tea. Green tea is not oxidized during the production process.
Common examples include:
- Sencha – The most common green tea in Japan
- Dragonwell – One of the most well-known green teas in China
- Jasmine tea – Green tea scented with jasmine flowers
Black teas tend to be a rich, dark brown color with a robust flavor. Black teas are fully oxidized during the production process.
Black teas are often named after the region where they are grown such as Assam and Darjeeling in India and Keemun in China. They are also commonly blended together to create new flavors such as English Breakfast and Earl Grey (black tea scented with bergamot oil). Masala Chai is an Indian black tea mixed with spices.
Oolong tea ranges between black and green teas in taste. This category of tea has the most variations in processing techniques and thus the most variations in taste because of the wide range of oxidation levels. Some taste almost like a green tea, and some taste almost like a black tea.
There are many types of oolong tea, one common example being Tie Guan Yin, or Iron Goddess of Mercy.
White tea tends to be minimally processed, very delicate in flavor, and made from the young leaves of the tea plant. White teas are also generally go through the least processing.
A common example of white tea is Silver Needle produced in Fujian Province in China.
Yellow tea is more rare than other types of teas. The tea has a distinct yellow appearance and follows a similar production process to green tea.
Pu’erh teas are unique in that they are not only dried and oxidized but are also fermented. This gives the tea an earthy, rich flavor. The tea is very dark due to the fermentation, but it actually starts production as a green tea.
There are many specific examples of tea within each of these categories, but if you pay attention to what kind of tea you’re drinking you can start exploring and have an understanding of where that tea fits within the spectrum of teas.