Whether you’re new to tea or looking to find a new type to try, knowing how to select the perfect tea type is essential.
When you find flavors you love, you’ll be a tea devotee for life. There are over 20,000 different teas in the world according to The Tea Enthusiast’s Handbook: A Guide to the World’s Best Teas.
You could spend your entire life tasting teas and never finish! There are six primary kinds of tea, along with numerous herbal alternatives that are steeped like tea as well. Understanding tea types and their properties will help you discover the best way to select a type for you.
Understanding Types of Tea
Tea comes from the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant. How those leaves are handled determines the different types of tea.
- White tea is wilted but unoxidized
- Yellow tea is wilted and unoxidized, then steamed
- Green tea is unwilted and unoxidized
- Oolong tea is bruised, wilted, and partly oxidized
- Black tea is fully oxidized, wilted, and sometimes crushed
- Post-fermented tea is green tea that has been allowed to ferment before steeping
Herbal “teas” are not tea at all but are tisanes. A tisane is any plant that is brewed in hot water to make a beverage. Many people enjoy tisanes, and they can be an excellent choice if you’re looking for a flavorful non-caffeinated hot drink.
Knowing the best points of each tea type will help you select the perfect tea for you.
White tea has a much lighter flavor or color that other teas. When brewed, it’s a very pale yellow. White tea is called “white” because the plant appears white when the unopened buds are harvested.
This type of tea comes primarily from China and is also produced in Nepal, Taiwan, Northern Thailand, and India. Due to the low level of processing, the selection of leaves for white tea is very rigorous.
White tea is best if you’re looking for:
- Subtle flavor
- Low to no caffeine
- Freshness, with a slight flowery taste
Yellow tea is much less popular than white, green, and black. It is a rare and costly kind of tea. It’s steamed under a damp cloth which gives it a slight yellow color.
Yellow tea comes only from China. The flavor is mellower and less grassy than green tea. If you look for yellow tea in Western countries, take care in finding a good source. Low-quality green tea is sometimes sold as “yellow tea.”
Yellow tea is perfect for you if you enjoy:
- A unique tea
- An aromatic and mature tea
- Less grassy taste than green tea
Green tea is a highly common tea type. Higher grades have a full, complex flavor that is light and delicate.
When brewed, green tea is a yellow-green color and tastes very fresh and smooth. If it’s bitter, you’ve either brewed it at too high a temperature or the tea is a lower quality.
Green tea is great for those who like:
- Lower caffeine content
- A gentle but complex taste
- Tremendous health benefits
Oolong teas are oxidized, curled, and twisted. It’s extremely popular in southern China and among Chinese expatriates. It is produced in China and Taiwan.
Different styles have different flavors. Taste can range from sweet and fruity to woody and thick. The differences are based on the method of growing and production.
Oolong is perfect if you are looking for:
- A medium-bodied tea
- A unique taste between green and black tea
- A tea you can re-steep many times with evolving flavor
Black teas are the most commonly available. They range from English Breakfast Tea to Darjeeling to Assam. Because it’s fully oxidized, it has the strongest and boldest flavor of any tea type.
Black tea is therefore an excellent way to get a boost in your day, and many times they form a good foundation for tea with milk and other types of flavorings and sweetener.
Black tea is excellent for those who enjoy:
- A strong flavor and deep body of tea
- Higher levels of caffeine
- Affordable tea available almost anywhere
Post-fermented tea is called “dark tea” in China. It is a type of tea that has undergone microbial fermentation. The process may take months or even years.
Fermentation affects the qualities of tea leaves and the tea you brew from them. It will smell different and have a more mellow taste. The microbes also improve the health benefits you gain from this tea.
Most fermented teas are from China, but some are from Japan. You may enjoy fermented tea if you:
- Are particularly interested in tea’s health benefits
- Enjoy a unique flavor and feel
- Find common tea too bitter or astringent for your taste
What is commonly sold as an herbal tea is actually not from the tea leaf at all. Instead, it’s a tisane that combines different kinds of flowers, herbs, and spices to create a hot drink.
Drinkers all over the world enjoy herbal tea. Many swear by their health benefits, although research has not yet proved the claims. Still, it seems likely that the compounds in herbal tea help the body in a variety of ways.
Herbal teas are best for those interested in:
- Unique flavors and varieties of beverages
- No caffeine
- The health benefits of steeped herbs and spices
Ready to Select Your Tea Type?
Knowing who you’re buying from and where they get their tea is essential to getting the best product. This is especially important with yellow tea and fermented tea, which are rarer.
As a result ensuring you get the product and quality you are paying for requires having an excellent supplier. When purchasing tea, research growers carefully.
See if you can find shops that sell directly from farmers they know, rather than simply taking a corporation’s word for it.
If you’re interested in learning more about tea, we would love to help. Explore our blog and discover the answers to your questions about tea!