Need a quick, simple reference for the main types of tea? In this Quick Guide to the 5 Tea Types, get to know the 5 most common types of tea with illustrations, flavor notes, and helpful bits of information.
Just remember that this is generalized info about each tea. Look out for future posts that dive deeper into each type.
Young, tender buds or leaves are plucked and dried. The most simple and pure crafting style.
Soft, sweet, grainy, herbaceous, spicy
There is a common misconception that white tea has the least caffeine of all tea types. This is not true. Caffeine levels vary wildly from tea to tea.
Another misconception is that white tea must be drunk fresh. Actually, white tea can be aged, and is sometimes even pressed into bricks for aging in China. Finally, contrary to popular believe, white tea can handle boiling water, if it is good quality.
Young, tender leaves are pan-fired or steamed, to preserve their fresh character.
Lively, fresh, grassy, vegetal, nutty, marine, umami, bittersweet
There are two common types of green tea: pan-fired (more vegetal and nutty) and steamed (more grassy and umami). Japan’s famous powdered green tea, matcha, is steamed.
Use cool water to brew green tea, to avoid bitterness or astringency. Green tea does not age as well over time, so it should be consumed in the first year.
Related Posts: How To Fix Bitter Green Tea
In a nutshell, everything between green and black tea. Rolled and oxidized leaves, often roasted.
Aromatic, flowery, fruity, savory, buttery, nutty, toasty, complex
Oolong tea is a diverse category, where teas can be light and flowery, or dark, almost like coffee. The tea leaves come in many different forms and appearances. It’s important to adjust the brewing style to match each specific oolong tea.
Oolong teas can be drunk fresh, but can also be aged over time.
Rolled and fully oxidized leaves, sometimes broken to increase their bittersweet character.
Strong, bold, robust, malty, chocolatey, fruity, sharp, bittersweet, aromatic, dry
For people in the West, black tea is the most familiar type of tea. It is the base for most teabags, iced teas, flavored and blended teas, and tea drinks. Mid grade, broken black teas are most common.
However, there are also high end, handcrafted black teas. These are surprisingly sweet.
Dark tea / Pu’erh tea
Tea that is fermented, or intended to age over time.
Earthy, intense, bittersweet, herbaceous, sharp, fruity, sweet, complex
Often in compressed cake or brick form, and made to be aged over time. Dark tea in China is often harvested from large leaf tea trees, which results in pretty potent tea.
There are many dark teas, but pu’erh is the most famous type. However, there are other dark teas outside of the pu’erh category, too. Kombucha is not considered dark tea / pu’erh tea, because it is brewed first, and then fermented as a liquid.
What about other types?
You may have heard of other teas like yellow tea and purple tea. Why are they not on this list?
Yellow tea – a traditional category of Chinese tea. Often included as a main tea type, especially in China. It’s a matter of opinion, of course, but I don’t like including yellow tea as a “main” type, just because it’s more confusing than useful for most people. Yellow tea is very uncommon nowadays.
Purple tea – not actually a type, but a variety of tea plant. Purple tea plants are high in anthocyanins. They are usually processed as black teas.
Red tea – sometimes used in the West to describe South African rooibos, which is technically not a tea. Also, in China, the term for black tea is “red tea”, or hong cha, so there can be confusion. If a tea from China is labeled “red tea”, it is a black tea.
Herbal tea – technically not “true” tea, as only leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant can be considered tea. More accurately described as “herbals”, “infusions”, or “tisanes”.
Hope you enjoyed this mini guide! Let me know what you think, or if you have any suggestions for things to add to the notes.