Different Types of Tea and Their Qualities

Jill Caren

There are five main varieties of tea. The most common types of tea are black, green, white, oolong, and Pu-erh. All types of tea referred …

Categories Tea

There are five main varieties of tea. The most common types of tea are black, green, white, oolong, and Pu-erh.

All types of tea referred to as “true” teas are derived from the same plant. Camellia sinensis is the botanical name for the tea plant.

Herbal teas can be added to this list of different tea types. Aside from the fact that they are referred to as “tea,” herbal teas are not true teas because they are not related to teas made from the Camellia sinensis plant.

Herbal teas, on the other hand, are made up of a variety of herbs and spices. Herbal infusions and tisanes are other names for them.

In this article, we will discuss the main differences and characteristics of these teas.

The differences between teas derived from the Camellia sinensis plant

While all tea is made from the same plant, as previously stated, the length of time leaves are oxidized and the processing style, which includes methods such as roasting, steaming, and pan-firing, account for the variety and differences in tea groups.

The processing of tea leaves must begin once the leaves have been harvested from the tea plant.

The way a batch of leaves is processed can make a big difference in the flavor, color, and even the quality of the final product.

Harvesting the leaves

The first step is harvesting the tea leaves. Premium tea leaves are hand-picked to preserve their natural sweetness, whereas mass producers harvest them by machine.

As a whole, machine plucking is more efficient, but harvesting tea leaves by hand ensures a high-quality, artisanal cup of tea.

The season in which tea leaves are harvested has an effect on the overall flavor of the finished tea leaves. Different teas may be labeled as “first flush” or “second flush”.

These terms refer to the time period during which tea leaves are harvested during the harvest season (spring to summer).

A “first flush” tea leaf is one that is harvested around March and has a more delicate, milder flavor than its “second flush” counterpart, which is harvested around June.


The tea buds and leaves naturally wilt and lose moisture after being harvested. Tea producers use a method of wilting known as withering, which is a systematic and controlled wilting process.

The leaves are placed on fabric or bamboo mats and allowed to wilt for this purpose. The variables in this process are strictly managed by modern tea producers.

Temperature and humidity are precisely controlled, and leaf racks are rotated to ensure proper airflow through each layer.

The water content of the leaves is reduced by half during the withering process. Because of the initial water content of the leaves and the desired flavor development, the range of withering times for different teas is quite wide.

For example, as withering time increases, the chlorophyll content decreases. Chlorophyll is the source of the “green” in green tea and is associated with the vegetal, earthy flavor found in many teas.

Withering times for different types of tea:

  • White: 12 – 36 hours
  • Chinese Green: 2 – 4 hours
  • Japanese Green: 30 – 60 min.
  • Oolong: 30 min. – 2 hours
  • Black: 4 – 18 hours

The withering time varies depending on whether the tea leaves are withered in sunlight or under controlled conditions, as large manufacturers do.

The list of times presented here is only an example to show that withering time varies depending on the tea. This time varies according to the method of withering used.

White tea, for example, has a longer withering period, allowing the enzymes in the leaves to develop the appropriate amount of sugar and tannins. As a result, the flavor profile of white tea is somewhat sweet, almost fruity.


After the leaves have withered, oolong, black, and Pu-erh teas typically go through a bruising process. This means that the leaves are rolled, twisted, or crushed in some other way.

The goal of this step is to break down cell walls in the leaf so that the next step, oxidation, can take place.


The process by which exposure to oxygen in the air causes a series of chemical reactions within the tea is known as oxidation.

This reaction in tea and food results not only in a physical browning of the substance (like a banana peel) but also in the creation and unlocking of new compounds at the molecular level.

Manufacturers manipulate the degree to which the leaves oxidize, which is ultimately one of the most important determining factors in the type of tea you’ll get in the end product.

During this process, the leaves must be carefully monitored. Missing the correct moment, especially with oolong teas, can mean ruining the tea or creating something entirely different than what was intended.

The main difference between various types of tea is the oxidation process. Oxidation is a necessary step in developing the flavor of black and oolong teas as well as determining the color of the finished product.

Green tea production excludes the oxidation step entirely, so green tea is unoxidized tea by definition. As a result, the color remains green. Black tea is defined as being fully oxidized, with no green color remaining on the leaf.


Fixation is a process that aids in the halting of oxidation. Heat is applied to the tea leaves after they have undergone the appropriate amount of oxidation. This aids in denaturing enzymes in the leaves and prevents further oxidation.

Except for black tea, where the final drying step is used to slowly halt oxidation, this step is applied to all tea varieties. This fixing step actually serves to preserve the remaining green color in the leaf at this stage.


After oxidation, the tea must be dried to remove any remaining moisture. The method of heating can have a significant impact on the flavor of the tea.

Tea leaves can be dried using pan-firing, sun drying, or backing, depending on tradition and tea producer preference.

The leaves are heated to temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit to stop the oxidation process and reduce the moisture content to just 2-3 percent.

After drying the tea is packaged and ready to be shipped all over the world.

These processing steps for tea leaves are just one example of the diligent and painstaking amount of labor that goes into producing the pricey tea variety that we enjoy drinking.

A single leaf from the Camellia sinensis plant can be crafted into any type of tea using variations on these steps.

Many different methods are used by manufacturers to process tea leaves, and it is impossible to cover them all in a short article like this.

However, these are the main steps that must be taken in order to produce a type of tea that we enjoy drinking.

The main types of tea and their characteristics

As previously stated, the five basic types of tea are black, white, green, oolong, and Pu-erh tea. We’ll go over their main characteristics and differences down below.

Black tea

Black tea loose leaf
Caffeine-rich fully oxidized black tea

The leaves of black tea are fully oxidized, which distinguishes them from other teas from the Camellia sinensis plant.

This complete oxidation turns the tea leaves brownish-black. The fact that the leaves are fully oxidized accounts for black tea’s strong, dark flavor profile.

Discovered in China in the mid-17th century, it was the first type of tea to be introduced to Europe and the Middle East. Black tea is a diverse category that includes several popular varieties, such as English breakfast and Earl Grey tea.

India produces half of the world’s black tea, with Sri Lanka and Africa accounting for a significant portion of the production.

In general, Indian black teas are stronger and more robust, and they are frequently used in breakfast blends that can withstand the addition of milk and sweetener.

Chinese black teas, on the other hand, are lighter and mellower. They are typically consumed without the addition of milk or sweetener. Furthermore, they frequently contain less caffeine than Indian black teas.

Black teas are relatively high in caffeine, with roughly half the caffeine content of a cup of coffee. They have a darker, coppery color when brewed and a stronger, more robust flavor than other types of tea.

Assam black tea: The Assam region of India is the world’s largest tea-growing region. This tea is well-known for its bold and malty flavors. It holds up well to milk and sugar.

Darjeeling: Darjeeling is a softer, more herbaceous black tea that varies with the seasons. It’s frequently used as the base tea for Chai, India’s popular spiced beverage.

Ceylon tea: Also known as Sri Lankan tea, is a popular type of black tea. Most Ceylon tea is orthodox tea, which means it was produced by hand, resulting in a brisk, bright tea. Sweeteners or milk can be added to smooth out the strong flavor and reduce bitterness.

Lapsang Souchong: This special type of black tea comes from the Wuyi region of Fujian province, China, and is distinguished by its smoky flavor.

Although this tea can be smoked or unsmoked, the traditionally smoked variety has a distinct pinewood smoke scent and flavor that is unlike any other tea on the planet. This tea is ideal for afternoon tea and pairs well with desserts.

Dian hong tea – Also known as Yunnan tea, it is a type of black tea from the Chinese province of Yunnan. Dry leaves have a strong flavor with earthy and honey undertones and a lot of golden buds.

Furthermore, black teas have traditionally been used to create some of the world’s most popular blends. Those blends can contain a variety of teas but will always have the same distinct flavor notes.

More Info: The Most Popular Types of Black Tea

English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Russian Caravan, Masala Chai, and Lychee Black Tea are some of the most popular blended black teas.

Black tea is generally stronger, bolder, and richer than green tea. The color of brewed black tea can range from amber to red to dark brown.

Depending on how long it was oxidized and how it was heat processed, the flavor profile can range from savory to sweet.

Black tea is more astringent and bitter than green tea, but when brewed properly, it should be smooth and flavorful.

Green tea

Cup of green tea and dried leaves
Fully processed green tea

Green tea is the most widely consumed tea in the world. It’s derived from the Chinese tea plant (Camellia sinensis sinensis).

It grows in high elevations with cool temperatures and has a sweeter, softer taste than the other tea plant varietal (Camellia sinensis assamica), which is primarily used for black teas.

Green tea is not oxidized, unlike other teas made from the Camellia sinensis plant. Plucking, withering, and rolling green tea are almost all steps in the production process. Heat is used to prevent oxidation.

Fresh leaves are either steamed or pan-fired (tossed in a hot, dry wok) to prevent the enzymes from browning the leaves.

Green tea’s flavor profile is best described as light, fresh, and possibly slightly grassy, thanks to this preparation with stopped oxidation.

Green tea is dried with steam in Japan, but dry heat is used in China, where it is processed in an oven-like drum or wok-like vessel.

The tea leaves are the only part of most green teas. Some Japanese varieties only use the stems, while others combine them with the leaves.

Green teas have roughly half the caffeine content of black tea (about a quarter of that of a cup of coffee).

Green tea’s common cup characteristics are a light body with mild astringency and a vegetal/grassy flavor, but these will vary depending on the style.

Sencha – This is the most widely consumed green tea in Japan. Sencha green tea is the most popular and widely consumed type of green tea.

It’s a perfect example of how green a green tea can be, with a fresh, green, and grassy flavor. When using Sencha green tea, be careful not to over-brew it because it can become bitter if over-brewed.

Kukicha – This is a steamed type of Japanese green tea made from twigs and stems rather than leaves. It has a low caffeine content and is suitable for drinking late in the afternoon. It has a vegetal sweet flavor that can withstand inexact brewing.

Gyokuro – A shade-grown Japanese green tea that is one of the most flavorful teas on the market. In contrast to other green teas, Gyokuro green tea should be brewed with cooler water – 104F – 140F – and for a shorter infusion time (15 to 30 seconds).

Gyokuro has a distinct umami flavor. It has a high caffeine content and a brilliant deep green color.

Matcha – A one-of-a-kind Japanese green tea powder made from shady leaves. All stems, twigs, and veins are removed from the leaf before it is ground into a fine powder.

Matcha can be easily incorporated into drink recipes and other powdered tea recipes because it is powdered. It has a bittersweet taste.

Matcha of higher quality is sweeter, while Matcha of lower quality is bitterer.

Longjing tea, also known in the west as Dragon Well tea, is one of the most popular types of Chinese green tea. It offers a clean, yellowish green liquor. It has a fresh, rich aroma with a subtle toasted and roasted chestnut note.

White tea

White tea
White tea

White tea is the purest and most valuable tea type. It is the least processed of all the tea varieties.

Its leaves and buds are picked just before they fully open when they are covered in fine white hairs. This is where the name “white tea” comes from.

White tea contains less caffeine than other types of tea. White tea, perhaps the most refreshing of all teas, can be consumed throughout the day. Sweet honey notes and lightly vegetal flavors can be expected.

It is primarily manufactured in China, specifically in the Fujian province. Some specialty white teas are also produced in Nepal, Taiwan, and Sri Lanka.

Always request brewing instructions for the tea you purchase from your vendor. White teas can have varying ideal brewing temperatures and steeping times.

In general, the water temperature should be between 170-185 degrees Fahrenheit (75-85C). Boiling water should be avoided because it can ruin the delicate flavor of the tea.

Silver Needle – This is the most common type of white tea and is regarded as the gold standard for white teas. Silver Needle is made entirely of young buds and does not contain any other tea leaves.

It is most commonly produced in China’s Fujian province. This white tea has a light, sweet flavor, is golden in color, and has a woodsy and rich body with a floral aroma.

White Peony – This is the second most popular white tea, produced by combining young tea buds with leaves. The flavor of White Peony white tea is stronger than that of Silver Needle white tea.

It has a sweet and light aroma with notes of freshly dried hay and ripe fruits, as well as a floral note on occasion. It is also a product of the Chinese province of Fujian.

Tribute Eyebrow (Gong Mei) – This tea, like the previous white teas, is grown in the provinces of Guangxi and Fujian. It’s made from a different tea cultivar and has smaller leaves. This white tea has a strong, fruity flavor reminiscent of oolong tea.

Long Life Eyebrow (Shou Mei) – Shou Mei white tea is primarily produced in China and is made from lower quality leaves leftover from the Silver Needle and White Peony harvests.

It is typically darker in color and is ideal for making white tea blends. It usually contains much less caffeine than other white teas, making it an excellent choice if you want to reduce your caffeine intake.

Interesting to know: Because of its high antioxidant content, white tea is often referred to as a “beauty tea.”

It’s delicate and light, and often lightly sweet, and could be an excellent choice for anyone who wants to reap the benefits of green tea but dislikes its flavor.

Oolong tea

Dried oolong tea
Chinese Oolong tea

Oolong tea, which is partially oxidized, combines the qualities of black and green teas.

Depending on the tea master’s production style, oolong oxidation levels can range from 8% to 80%. The less oxidized the tea, the lighter the color; the more oxidized, the darker the color.

This is why the flavor profile of some oolong teas may resemble that of a fresh green tea (less oxidized) while others may resemble that of a malty black tea (more oxidized).

Depending on the processing method, the flavor of oolong tea can range from light to full-bodied, floral to grassy, and sweet to toasty. The color of the leaves, as well as the color of the brewed tea, can range from green to golden to brown.

Oolong tea, also known as “wulong” or “black dragon tea,” is primarily produced in China and Taiwan.

The caffeine content of an oolong tea is typically between that of a black tea and that of a green tea.

A lightly oxidized oolong may contain less caffeine (similar to green tea), whereas a highly oxidized oolong may contain more caffeine (similar to black tea).

Phoenix tea (Dan Chong or Dan Cong) – This type of oolong tea is produced in China’s Guangdong province and is one of the most popular.

This variety’s Chinese name translates as “single bush.” Phoenix teas are known for their natural floral and fruit aromas and flavors. The fragrances of Phoenix oolong are particularly well-known.

Iron Goddess of Mercy (Ti Kuan Yin or Tie Guan Yin) – A lightly oxidized oolong tea with a sweet floral flavor. Iron Goddess of Mercy tea is grown in the southern Fujian province’s high mountain regions.

The semi-ball-shaped leaves take time to unfurl and can yield up to ten infusions, each with a different flavor.

This is one of the few teas that can be brewed simply by placing the leaves in a mug and filling it with hot water. They take up the majority of the mug and stay on the bottom, allowing for easy and carefree sipping without the need for a filter or teapot.

Wuyi Oolong tea (Da Hong Pao) – Da Hong Pao oolongs are dark and heavily oxidized. This oolong is excellent as a morning tea and, unlike other oolongs, can be enjoyed with a splash of milk, making it an excellent choice for black tea drinkers.

Authentic Wuyi teas must come from a protected growing region in the Wuyi Mountains in China, making them scarce and expensive.

Teas with similar flavors and styles are grown in the surrounding area, but they are generally less intense than true Wuyi.

High Mountain Oolong tea (Gaoshan) – This type of oolong tea is grown at Taiwan’s highest elevations. Because of its production schedule, this tea is typically seasonal. High Mountain tea is more lightly oxidized and roasted, resembling green tea rather than black tea.

This tea grows at higher altitudes than 3,300 feet and grows more slowly than other oolongs. High Mountain oolong tea is hand-harvested twice a year.

Milk Oolong tea (Jin Xuan Tea) – This is yet another Taiwanese selection. The tea is so named because of its creamy and sweet flavor.

It is less fragrant and floral than other oolongs and is commonly consumed with milk and sweeteners to enhance its natural flavors.

Pu-erh tea

Dried Pu-erh leaves
Naturally aged Pu-erh tea

Pu-erh tea is native to China’s Yunnan province. This is a post-fermented tea, which means that the leaves undergo a microbial fermentation process after being dried and rolled, causing the leaves to darken and change their flavor.

After fermentation, the tea leaves are aged (sometimes for years or decades) before being packed into bricks or cakes.

Pu-erh tea can be classified into two types: raw (sheng) and ripe (shou). The fermentation processes of these two Pu-erh varieties distinguish them.

Raw (sheng) – Raw or sheng Pu-erhs are so named because they are naturally fermented over a long period of time. It can be enjoyed young in the “green” stage, or allowed to age, whether in loose or compressed form.

This type of Pu-erh changes dramatically with age, transitioning from light, green, vegetal, and astringent to smooth, dark, earthy, and complex. Pu-erh connoisseurs prefer naturally aged Raw Pu-erh teas, particularly those made from premium raw materials.

Ripe (shou) – To meet the increasing demand for Pu-erh tea in the 1970s, tea makers devised a method to accelerate fermentation and imitate well-aged sheng teas. This new type of Pu-erh was known as shou, or “cooked” Pu-erh.

To accelerate the fermentation, ripe Pu-erh teas are processed using a high-humidity wet-piling method. This type of tea usually produces a dark red or black beverage. Although naturally aged raw Pu-erh has a more complex profile, it can taste like very aged raw Pu-erh.

The amount of caffeine in your cup of Pu-erh is determined by several factors, including the raw leaf material, the processing method, the age, and the steeping method.

In general, aging degrades caffeine, so a very aged raw Pu-erh will have less caffeine than a younger one.

Herbal teas

Dried herbs, spices, flowers
A mixture of dried herbs, flowers, fruit for herbal tea

Herbal teas, as previously stated, are not technically “true” tea types. They have nothing in common with true teas made from the Camellia sinensis plant.

Herbal teas, also known as herbal infusions or tisanes, are typically made from a combination of herbs, flowers, spices, and dried fruit.

This mixture is then brewed in the same manner as your favorite traditional tea, either loose or in tea sachets or bags.

Herbal teas can include a variety of plants such as chamomile, peppermint, rooibos, lavender, hibiscus, ginger, and others, some of which are consumed alone or in combination with other products.

Except for yerba mate and guayusa, which both contain caffeine, the vast majority of them are caffeine-free.

Herbal tea colors and flavors range from light and fruity to vibrant and spicy, depending on the type you choose.

Rooibos tea

Also known as red bush or red bush tea, is made from the leaves of the Aspalathus linearis shrub. This herbal tea is unique in that it is indigenous to South Africa’s Cederberg mountains (north of Cape Town), where it still thrives today.

Traditional rooibos is made by fermenting the leaves, which causes them to turn a reddish-brown color.

Green rooibos, which have not been fermented, is also available. It is typically more expensive and has a grassier flavor than the traditional version of the tea.

Naturally caffeine-free, full-bodied, and with a sweet nutty finish, rooibos has grown in popularity in South Africa and around the world due to its distinct flavor, numerous health benefits, and variety of flavors.

Chamomile tea

The flower petals of the chamomile plant are used to make this herbal tea or tisane.

The flowers are dried before being infused with hot water. Chamomile tea is popular as a caffeine-free alternative to black or green tea.

This is one of the best teas for promoting a restful night’s sleep. In addition to its natural sleep-promoting properties, it can be consumed throughout the afternoon and evening as a caffeine-free alternative to regular tea, ensuring an even more restful night’s sleep.

Chamomile has subtle apple notes, and the cup has a mellow, honey-like sweetness. It has a silky mouthfeel while remaining a clean, delicately floral herbal tea, and it feels wonderfully soothing right from the first sip.

Hibiscus tea

This herbal tea is made by steeping hibiscus plant parts in boiling water. Hibiscus sabdariffa is the most commonly used species to make hibiscus tea.

There are several hundred species of hibiscus, each with its own unique location and climate, but Hibiscus sabdariffa is the most commonly used to make hibiscus tea.

The red brew is sweet and tart at the same time (think of it as the tea equivalent of cranberry juice). To balance the tartness, it is often sweetened with honey or flavored with a squeeze of lime juice.

It’s popular as an iced tea and makes a fantastic and refreshing summer drink.

Mint tea

The refreshing cooling flavor is the first thing that comes to mind when someone offers you mint tea.

Menthol provides a cooling sensation in mint teas. This is an organic compound found in the mint family’s Mentha genus.

The two most popular mint teas are peppermint and spearmint; both are members of the Mentha genus and contain methanol.

The minty brew smells and tastes great and is commonly used to settle an upset stomach. In fact, it has been used for thousands of years for its delicious taste as well as its health benefits.

Lemon balm tea

Lemon balm tea is traditionally used to support digestion and relieve nervous tension.

It is made from the herb plant lemon balm, which has broad leaves and a pleasant lemony scent. This tea has a citrusy flavor and a refreshing finish. The citrus aroma and flavor complement honey or agave syrup well.

Herbal teas come in a variety of flavors. There are thousands of herbal teas available, each with its own distinct flavor and properties.

We’ve already mentioned the most common types of herbal infusions, just to give you an idea of what they are and why they aren’t “true” teas.

There are thousands of them, and if you want to learn more about them, go to our Herbal Teas section.

Final thoughts on common tea varieties and their properties

True teas are classified into five types: black, green, white, oolong, and pu-erh.

Herbal teas are the other category. There are thousands of herbal teas available, including rooibos tea, chamomile tea, hibiscus tea, mint tea, lemon balm tea, and many more.

Eventually, there are as many different sorts of tea as there are tea manufacturers. Also, the same tea variety grown under identical growing and processing conditions in different locations will develop diverse qualities due to the unique terroir of the growing environment.

At the end of the day, it’s all about the flavor and what you expect from the tea you’ve picked.

If you want caffeinated teas, look for teas from the Camellia sinensis plant. Herbal teas are caffeine-free, with the exception of yerba mate, which contains caffeine.

We hope that we’ve helped you understand the differences between the various types of tea and that this will assist you in selecting the proper tea.

Before you try a new tea, learn more about it, such as how to brew it and how long to steep it, to make sure you get the right flavor and taste.

Finally, take a sip of your tea and relax!