Six Types of Tea: Flavors, Processing, and Examples

Reading time: 6 minutes 

One of the frequently asked questions I get as a tea sommelier is about the type of teas. 

Colloquially, we refer to most hot beverages with herbal or fruit infusions as tea (i.e., honey lemon tea, ginger tea). However, technically these infusions should be called tisanes. 

So many tea drinkers are surprised during our tea tastings when I reveal that all teas come from the same Camellia Sinensis plant.

There are thousands of tea blends all over the world from different varieties of Camellia Sinensis.

Then, what differentiates different tea types? Let's dive in.

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What is Tea? What about Tisanes?

All teas come from the same tea plant called Camellia sinensis. And it's the processing of the tea leaves, not the type of plant, that determines the six types of teas:

  • White tea
  • Green tea
  • Yellow tea
  • Oolong tea
  • Black tea
  • Dark tea (or post-fermented tea)

Then, what about rooibos, yerba mate, chamomiles, and other caffeine-free "teas"? They certainly look like they are from different plants.

Indeed, they are from different plants. But they are technically tisanes, a French word for herbal infusion, not "tea.”

The difference between tea vs. tisane is simple. In fact, in Europe and many other countries, the word "tea" is legally regulated to only apply to tea made from Camellia sinensis, the tea plant.

Now that we clarified the definition of tea, let's learn about what makes the six types of teas different from each other.

Six types of teas from Camellia sinensis

Given that teas come from the same tea plant, it's how farmers and producers process the tea leaves that differentiate the tea varieties.

Different processing methods lead to varying levels of oxidation and fermentation, and hence different loose leaf tea types.

Therefore, regardless of location, a single tea garden can produce all six types of teas if the makers have the craftsmanship and the skill to do so.

So let's look at how processing methods impact flavor profiles and explore a few examples of each type of tea.

Mansa Handcrafted Aged Tea | Pearl White - aged white tea collection

1. White Tea

White tea is the least processed of the six types of tea. Most white teas are plucked and withered (indoors and outdoors) for days, although some white teas go through an additional drying phase at low temperatures.

White tea's minimal processing is why many companies market white tea as having high levels of antioxidants. White tea retains the most antioxidants present in the fresh tea leaves.

Although the process seems so simple, simple does not mean easy. Tea masters handle the leaves with additional care to ensure they do not bruise the leaves throughout the process. 

Based on the type of tea leaves used for the tea, the white teas are named as follows:

White teas range from fruity to floral to sweet honey notes. 

2. Green Tea

Green tea is a prevalent choice amongst casual and more enthusiastic tea drinkers in the United States, likely due to numerous media outlets touting its health benefits.

As green tea is heated after a short withering step to prevent oxidation, it contains high levels of antioxidants, polyphenols, and chlorophyll.

Afterward, the leaves are rolled or pressed to develop the flavor.

Depending on the specific processing techniques and the harvest location, the flavors can range from marine and vegetal to more toasty and smoky.

Different regions have traditions of shaping their tea, and the names of the green teas reflect the shape. A few examples are

  • Taiping Monkey King (Taiping Houkui): leaves rolled between wire meshes to create flat leaves
  • Dragon Well (Long Jing): buds pressed into flat needles
  • Green Snail Spring (Bi Lo Chun): leaves rolled between the palms

The famous raw pu-erh also begins its processing as green tea. You can read this full article about how green tea differs  from raw pu-erh tea.

Mansa Handcrafted Aged Tea | Is raw pu-erh the same as green tea? If not, how are they different?

3. Yellow Tea

Yellow tea is the rarest of the six types of tea as it is complicated and time-consuming to make. 

Although the manufacturing process used to develop yellow tea is incredibly similar to the steps for green tea, there's an additional step that requires a high degree of craftsmanship. 

After the withering and panning step of green tea, yellow tea undergoes wrapping (also called heaping, yellowing, or menhuang), which causes non-enzymatic oxidation (previously thought of as microbial fermentation).

This wrapping step brings out a more mellow flavor in tea and less astringent and vegetal notes associated with green tea. If you are a smooth and creamy tea fan, yellow tea is for you.

If you are interested in learning more about yellow tea, read our comprehensive article on yellow tea's origin, production, and benefits. 

4. Oolong Tea

Oolong tea is frequently known as the partially oxidized tea, sitting between green and black tea in terms of oxidation.

That is because it goes through a bit of bruising of the leaves to promote oxidation before heat is applied. 

The additional oxidation is why oolong is much darker in color than green tea. More oxidation makes tea darker in color. So oolong teas higher in oxidation are darker in color than those lower in oxidation. 

Oolong tea is typically categorized by its oxidation and roasting levels as follows:

  • Bao Zhong10-18% oxidized
  • Jade or Balled Oolongs: 20-30% oxidized
  • Dark Oolongs: 40-60%+ oxidized

Some oolongs, such as Baked Oolongs, are roasted at the end for an additional layer of flavor, such as fruity, floral, or toasty notes.

Mansa Handcrafted Aged Tea | Is raw pu-erh the same as green tea? If not, how are they different?

5. Black Tea

Black tea is the most consumed tea across the world; in the US, 86% of the tea enjoyed throughout 2017 were different types of black tea, such as earl grey.

Unlike partially oxidized oolong tea, black tea is fully oxidized after a long period of withering. Tea leaves are rolled or cut to expedite the oxidation process. 

Because black tea is fully oxidized, it does not go through a separate heating stage to stop the oxidation. Instead, it goes straight to the drying step.

Also, the oxidation process reduces tea's bitterness and increases sweetness.

A few examples of black teas are:

  • Assam Black: malty black tea from Assam, India
  • Darjeeling Black: more delicate black tea from Darjeeling, India
  • Keemun Black: sweet and fruity black tea from Anhui, China
  • Lapsang Souchong: smoky black tea from Fujian, China

6. Dark Tea (or Post-Fermented Tea)

Many assume that “dark” and “black” tea are the same, but there is a world of difference separating these two categories.

Dark teas are closer to green teas because they are processed similarly to green teas in the beginning. Then, they go through a microbial fermentation process and are aged for years.

A few examples of dark teas can be categorized based on their location and the processing the tea leaves go through:

Fermentation is sometimes stopped after only a few months, but many teas benefit from years and years of microbial activity.

You can read more here to learn more about the different types of pu-erh tea. If you want to know if these teas are caffeine free, read more here.

Now that you know about the six tea types, check which one you are drinking the next time you enjoy a cup of tea

This post is part of our Tea Education series. Sign up to read more like this!

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