Discovering Tea Types

Understanding a tea type doesn’t have to be confusing.  Simply remember two facts as you explore the vast world of tea.

1.  All pure teas originate from the same plant species, Camellia Sinensis.

2.  There are four major varieties of tea:  White, Green, Oolong and Black, which develop their distinguishing characteristics during processing.

You may be curious as to how one species of plant produces so many diverse types of tea.

Many factors create the unique properties of various tea types but four significant aspects that categorize the varieties are:  provenance, processing, medicinal qualities, and appearance.  In our previous post, we shared the importance of terroir and how it affects the taste of tea.  Tea production is equally significant in developing specific tea varieties.  Each type of tea is also distinguished by its particular health properties.  The color of the tea is indicative of caffeine content and the richness of flavor.


White Tea:  The best white teas only use the first two buds of each tea plant before they open to become leaves.  Thus, they are extremely fragile, and harvesting is labor intensive.  Tea leaves for white tea are not only hand-picked but they also need to dry in the sunlight for one to three days before briefly being oxidized from 30 minutes to 3 hours, varying by weather.  White tea is the least processed of all tea types and offers the most antioxidants.  Popular white teas are Silver Needle and White Peony.   

Green Tea:  Scientists have discovered health properties in green tea, from lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease to fighting cancer.  After the leaves are plucked, they are dried and heat treated, which halts the oxidation process, preserving the leaf's emerald hue and natural occurring antioxidants and amino acids like Theanine.  The leaves are finished by rolling or twisting, and then fired.  One of the most sought after green teas is Sencha from Japan.

 Oolong Tea:  A popular tea due to its intricate tea production process, oolong tea is extremely complex in its taste profile, even within its type.  These leaves are withered and briefly oxidized, first in direct sunlight.  

Then the leaves are rolled and fired to halt oxidation.  This degree of semi-oxidation can range from 10-80%.  Oolong's caffeine content is midway between black and green tea.  The range of taste profile can be dramatic.  A light oolong can tastes similar to green tea, and a darker oolong will taste like a light black tea.  Iron Goddess of Mercy and High Mountain Oolongs are two favorites of this variety.

Black Tea:  The most popular tea type consumed in the U.S. is black tea.  The leaves are rolled and then oxidized to darken and develop the desirable natural flavor and color. 

Last, the leaves are dried to halt the oxidation process and lock in its distinctive characteristics.   Similar to oolong, black teas also offer a range of taste profiles within its type but generally contain the most caffeine of all tea varieties.  Like a cabernet sauvignon or merlot, black teas like Golden Beautiful Eyebrow are rich in color and flavor and can be extremely smooth to finish.