Types of Tea
Tea is generally broken up into four main categories, three of them depending on their oxidation level. The four main varieties are White Tea, Green Tea, Oolong Tea, and Black Tea, black tea being historically the most common in the western world, but green tea is rapidly gaining lost ground. Herbal teas, while not actually made from tea, are generally included when talking about tea, but are in fact considered a tisane, not tea. There are also countless sub varieties and blends of tea that will be addressed in this FAQ as well, and while they may not easily be categorized, they are respected and unique varieties of tea which are appreciated around the world.
Types of Tea
What are the different types of tea?
Tea is generally broken up into four main categories, three of them depending on their oxidation (fermentation) level. The four main varieties are (for much greater detail, please click on the tea name):
White tea is made from the immature buds of the tea plant that are picked and processed before they have had time to ‘ripen’ and develop many of the characteristics that are generally associated with tea. Due to their underdeveloped nature, they tend to have much less caffeine than any of the other tea varieties. They are not allowed to oxidize at all and produce a pale liquor and are the most subtle of teas. In poorer areas, where tea has been unaffordable to some, guests have been served another kind of ‘white tea,’ which is simply hot water.
Green tea is tea that has been allowed to mature and has been picked, pan fired (or steamed) to stop the oxidation process after a very short period. The natural vegetal flavor of the leaf stands out and often a green tea will have a subtle sweetness that is lost when the tea is turned into a style such as oolong or black tea. Green tea produces a greenish to yellow liquor and can range in bouquet from grassy to floral.
An oolong tea has been allowed to oxidize partially and thus produces a more complex, darker liquor, and sits on the scale between a green and a black tea. An oolong can be slightly oxidized to very oxidized depending on the variety of the tea. The depth of character for an oolong ranges greatly and is partially a result of the degree of oxidation, so an oolong can end up being closer to a green tea, or a black tea, depending on how it is produced. The liquor produced, therefore, can range from a greenish yellow, to a dark amber.
Black tea has been allowed to oxidize fully before being fired (dried), and the many chemical reactions that have occurred produce a dark, very complex tea. All of the vegetal qualities of the leaf are gone and replaced with a depth of character unparalleled in the food world. The liquor produced ranges from a dark amber to a black that would rival coffee.
Sub Varieties and Blends
There are many other sub varieties of tea, such as Pu-erh, Kukicha, Genmaicha, and many blends like the familiar Earl Grey. These teas run the gamut of flavors and characters due to the conditions under which they are produced, and the blending of particular teas has a long and rich history in western culture. These teas deserve pages in their own right, so please follow the links from the names to discover more about what makes them so different from each other.
Pronounced tee-zahn, this is the French term (now adopted by most western cultures) for any infused beverage made with anything other than actual tea leaves. This includes herbal tea, Rooibos, Heuningbos, fruit melanges, and many others.