The types of tea available to a new tea drinker can get a little bit confusing. This guide explains the six different types of tea plus a guide to herbal and flavored tea. So many choices!
What do you really need to know about the different types of tea to enjoy a good cup of tea?
The four basic facts you need to know about tea:
- All tea comes from the same plant, Camellia sinensis.
- There are six main categories of tea often referred to as the types of tea: green, yellow, white, oolong, black, and pu-erh. The difference is in the cultivar and the way the tea is processed or manufactured.
- Herbal teas are called tisanes and are not considered tea in the context of this definition.
- Flavored teas can be from the Camellia sinensis plant, an herb, or fruit. Many are a mixture of all three.
ALL ABOUT THE TEA
Tea comes from the evergreen shrub called Camellia sinensis. There are two varietals: Camellia sinensis var. sinensis (Chinese tea) and Camellia sinensis var. assamica (Assam or Indian tea). All tea comes from this plant.
It’s simply amazing to me how so many different types of tea liquor can all come from the same plant. This is what makes tea so fascinating. The region in which the tea is grown, the cultivar, and subsequently the way the tea is processed gives its own distinctive flavor.
Thousands of tea estates around the world produce tea. Each estate masterfully crafts a unique tea all originating from the Camellia sinensis plant. It is the process for picking and drying that determines the type of tea; green, yellow, white, oolong, black, and pu-erh.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF TEA
1. GREEN TEA
Green tea is not oxidized. It is roasted, rolled and dried with steam, oven heat or pan-fried preventing oxidation. Also known as fixing. This produces a refreshing tea with a sweet-smelling aroma. Green tea has a lighter flavor than black tea. It is most popular in eastern countries, but becoming more so in the west.
2. YELLOW TEA
Yellow tea is not oxidized. After fixing, yellow tea leaves are heaped or piled and then wrapped in a damp cloth to rest for a period. The heat and humidity give the leaves a yellow hew. It’s a very rare tea produced only in China and very little is exported.
3. WHITE TEA
White tea is barely oxidized and has a sweet subtle flavor. White tea is mostly processed from the bud only but can incorporate the first or second leaf as well.
4. OOLONG TEA (WULONG)
Oolongs are partially oxidized, within a range of 12 to 80 percent. Oolongs are some of the most prized teas due to their intricate processing, which provides a complex flavor that evolves with each sip. The flavor all depends on the skills of the tea maker.
5. BLACK TEA
Black tea is fully oxidized producing a hearty deep rich flavor of the amber-colored tea. It is the most popular style of tea in most western countries and used in many blends such as Earl Grey, English Breakfast, and Chai.
6. PU-ERH TEA (FERMENTED)
Pu-erh tea is an aromatic black tea originating in China. The leaves undergo double fermentation and are compressed into bricks or cakes. This made it easy to transport and exchange tea in ancient China. Still produced today, this is perhaps the most exotic of Chinese tea.
If you have a local specialty tea shop close to you, consider yourself lucky. It's nice to try the tea in person. Many people have to buy tea online, which can be a little daunting considering there are over 700 online tea shops.