Updated: Dec 28, 2020
As a tea enthusiast, you should know that all types of tea come from the same plant – Camellia Sinensis. It is the geographical location, growing conditions, and the way the tea leaves are processed that makes the difference.
Tea is native to Asia with China and India being the world’s largest producers and exporters. However, tea is cultivated globally across subtropical and tropical areas. There are over 3000 varieties of tea today thanks to the advancement in genetic mutations. This makes tea the second most consumed drink in the world after water.
While there are hundreds and thousands of varieties of tea available, tea can be divided into six basic categories. They include white, green, yellow, oolong, pu-erh, and black. As said before, all these tea types are derived from the same Camellia Sinensis plant. But it is the way they are processed gives them a different appearance, different taste, and various properties.
With that said, we are going to introduce you to the different types of tea and tell you everything about how they are made and the best way to consume them, among other aspects.
So, let’s jump right into it.
What are the different types of tea?
With good weather conditions, fertile soil, and proper care, a tea master can coax a fantastic blend of flavours from tea leaves. The following are the major categories of tea produced:
1. White Tea
2. Green Tea
3. Yellow Tea
4. Oolong Tea
5. Pu-erh Tea
6. Black Tea
Let’s discuss each of the tea types in detail.
#1 White Tea
White tea is one of the most popular varieties known for its rare, delicate, and beautiful flavour and aroma. White tea is handpicked and hand processed before the plant’s leaves are fully open when the buds are still covered with thin white hairs.
That is, the newest growth (leaves) on the tea plant are quickly plucked and meticulously dried, not allowing the leaves to oxidise. The tea leaves, to become white tea, go through minimal processing.
Oxidation plays a crucial role in how teas are produced. The more time tea leaves are exposed to oxygen, the darker the leaves will become, and hence, the flavour will change. White tea is not allowed to oxidise properly, or you can say, it is essentially non-oxidised. The leaves are left to dry and wither in a carefully controlled environment.
#2 Green Tea
When we talk about green tea, the leaves are collected from the same Camellia Sinensis plant, which is heated and dried by steaming or pan-frying to avoid further oxidation from happening. If oxidation occurs, the green leaves become brown. It will change their fresh-picked flavour. Now, the flavour and taste of green tea vary based on how the leaves are processed. For example, if the leaves are pan fried, the tea will taste grass-like and toasted. On the other hand, if the leaves are steamed, the flavour palette can range from sweet, vegetal, and seaweed-like.
The leaves are rolled several times before the final drying to give its unique texture and flavour when brewed. Since the leaves are prevented from experiencing oxidation, the tea preserves its natural properties.
#3 Yellow Tea
Yellow tea goes through the same process as green tea; however, there is one unique additional step called ‘sealing yellow’ that gives the tea its unique yellow colour. The leaves are pan fried and wrapped in a special cloth. The process is repeated numerous times for up to three days before the final slow charcoal drying. This ensures that the leaves are gently oxidised.
It offers the same grassy taste and astringency of green tea but with a more aromatic flavour. The reason why yellow tea is rare is that the process is quite tricky. Hence, you have to be vigilant when buying yellow tea as weak quality tea is sold as yellow tea in many regions.
#4 Oolong Tea
People say oolong tea is a combination of green tea and black tea. However, according to experts, it falls into its own category of tea. Depending on the tea master, oolong tea may end up with more green tea characteristics or more black tea characteristics.
When processing oolong tea, the leaves are partially oxidised – 8%-80%. This is the reason why the flavour profile of oolong tea lean towards either black tea (more oxidised) or green tea (less oxidised). Oolong tea is traditionally rolled, curled, or twisted into thin strands or tight balls. With that said, the taste of oolong tea can range from light to full bodied.
#5 Pu-erh Tea
Pu-erh tea is a fermented tea that goes through a microbial fermentation process after the leaves are rolled and dried. The fermentation process makes the leaves dark and gives a slightly sharp flavour. One of the main reasons why Pu-erh tea expensive is the fact that its taste only improves with age, like wine.
According to experts, Pu-erh tea can maintain its freshness for up to 50 years. This type of tea is typically compressed into brick form. However, you will also find loose leaves as well.
#6 Black Tea
Black tea is the most popular of all teas and probably the highly consumed as well. Black tea is often consumed with milk and sugar, with spices like cardamom, ginger, and clove. Upon harvesting, the leaves are allowed to completely oxidise before they are dried and heat-processed.
The process turns the leaves to dark brown or black in colour with a strong flavour. Full oxidation gives the tea smoky, fruity, and malty notes. Black tea comes in that category where the leaves are completely processed. Darjeeling tea is the most popular black tea in the world.
Each category of tea has different taste and aroma, allowing tea-drinkers across the globe to try out new varieties and flavours. It is important that you choose your tea wisely because there are manufacturers selling fake tea in the market. Always buy from a trusted source.