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Types of Tea

Types of Tea

Made by soaking dried leaves in water, tea is one of the most ancient beverages on the planet. Derived from the Camellia sinensis plant species, there are many varieties of tea that range from pure black tea to herbal blends. Unlike coffee, this refreshing beverage also has many uses such as soothing a sore throat, providing a caffeine jolt in the morning, and helping you to sleep at night. From matcha tea made for Japanese tea ceremonies to old-fashioned sweet tea found in the South, the many types of tea provide an appealing option for any menu.


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Use the following links to learn more about tea:

  1. Different Types of Tea
  2. Loose Leaf vs Tea Bags
  3. How to Brew Tea
  4. Tea Guide
  5. Tea FAQ

Different Types of Teas

Though there are many different types of teas, some of the most common varieties include black tea, green tea, white tea, oolong tea, herbal tea, rooibos tea, and pu'erh tea. There are many flavor profiles and benefits to each type, and it's common for other flavors to be blended with these teas to create a new flavor. For example, the ever-popular Earl Grey tea is a blend of black teas and bergamot oil, and it can blend with green, oolong, white, and pu'erh teas as well.

We've compiled a list of the different types of teas with insight into their compositions, flavors, and popular blends.

Green tea bag seeping in a mug

1. Green Tea

Green tea is the most popular tea globally. It’s unoxidized and has less caffeine than black tea. Camellia sinensis leaves are picked, dried, and heat-treated to prevent oxidation. In China, people often pan-fire leaves, which creates a duller green color. In Japan, people will typically steam them and achieve a brighter green shade. Due to its composition, green tea has a multitude of health benefits for fighting viruses and preventing future health issues.

Flavor Profile of Green Tea: vegetal/grassy, earthy, bright

Popular Varieties of Green Tea: Matcha, Sencha, Gunpowder Green tea, Dragonwell (Longjing) green tea

A spiced chai latte

2. Chai Tea

Originating in India, chai tea is brewed with Camellia sinensis assamica leaves. Though it’s technically a black tea, chai tea has a specific flavor profile and preparation process that differentiates it. It’s typically brewed with warm milk, sugar, and aromatic spices like ginger and cinnamon. Like many black teas, it contains caffeine.

Flavor Profile of Chai Tea: largely depends on the ingredients used, but tends to have a spicy and sweet flavor

Popular Varieties of Chai Tea: Masala chai, Adrak (ginger) chai, Elaichi (cardamom) chai, Tulsi chai

Bowl of oolong tea leaves next to a cup of brewed oolong tea

3. Oolong Tea

Oolong, or Wulong, tea is semi-oxidized and picked later in the season than green tea. The leaves come from the Camellia sinensis plant and are bruised by being tossed or shaken in baskets, which changes the oxidation process. They're heat-treated to stop oxidation, which can vary based on region and create different flavors. While oolong tea has less caffeine than black tea, it has more caffeine than green tea.

Flavor Profile of Oolong Tea: ranges from light and fragrant to dark and full-bodied depending on the oxidation level

Popular Varieties of White Tea: Ti Kuan Yin (Iron Goddess of Mercy) and Dan Cong (Phoenix Tea)

Cup of prepared matcha tea next to a plate of matcha tea powder

4. Matcha Tea

Matcha tea is brewed from ground-up green tea leaves, forming a powdery substance. Then, the powder is whisked with hot water to make the tea. Due to the high chlorophyll content of the powder, matcha tea contains a lot of nutrients and health benefits, including helping prevent heart disease. Due to how matcha is made, it contains more caffeine than regular green tea.

Flavor Profile of Matcha Tea: smooth or grainy, depending on the quality, slightly sweet, earthy

Popular Varieties of Matcha Tea: Ceremonial matcha, Culinary matcha

Cup of rooibos chai tea

5. Rooibos Tea

Also known as African Red Tea, rooibos tea is an herbal tea that comes from the South African Red Bush. The leaves are ground and bruised before they're fermented and dried. Green rooibos tea doesn't go through an oxidation process and has a lighter flavor. Unlike other types of teas, it has no caffeine.

Flavor Profile of Rooibos Tea: sweet, smooth, earthy

Popular Varieties of Rooibos Tea: red rooibos and green rooibos

Tea bag next to a brewed cup of black tea

6. Black Tea

Black tea, or red tea in China, is one of the most popular tea flavors and is fully oxidized. The leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant are withered, rolled, oxidized, and dried or fired to produce a strong, full-bodied flavor. Assam, Darjeeling, Nilgiri, and Sri Lanka are a few well-known black tea-producing regions, and the flavor will vary based on the region and type of black tea. It has the most caffeine of all the different tea types.

Flavor Profile of Black Tea: malty, full-bodied, strong

Popular Varieties of Black Tea: Assam tea, Darjeeling tea, Earl Grey tea, and English Breakfast tea

Cup of white tea being poured next to a bowl of loose leaf tea

7. White Tea

Made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant in only the Fujian province, white tea varieties are the least processed of all teas. The leaves are simply left to wither and dry on their own, which gives them a very delicate, naturally sweet, and well-rounded flavor. It also has very little caffeine.

Flavor Profile of White Tea: floral, delicate, fruity

Popular Varieties of White Tea: Silver Needle (Baihao Yinzhen) and White Peony (Bai Mudan)

A pitcher of herbal peach tea

8. Herbal Tea

Unlike other varieties, herbal tea doesn't come from tea leaves. It's made from dried herbs, fruits, and flowers, which creates a wide range of delicate flavors. These tea types are caffeine free, making them ideal for customers with dietary restrictions. Common ingredients for herbal infusions include chamomile, ginger, lemongrass, peppermint, rosehips, hibiscus, and dried fruits.

Flavor Profile of Herbal Tea: delicate, fruity/herbaceous, sweet

Popular Varieties of Herbal Tea: hibiscus, chamomile, peppermint, Yerba Mate

A pitcher of tea on a table

9. Purple Tea

Purple tea is brewed from a strain of Camellia sinensis that grows in Kenya. Purple tea leaves contain a unique genetic mutation that produces the same antioxidant as blueberries, giving the tea powerful health benefits and its unique purple color. Additionally, purple tea has significantly less caffeine than black tea and green tea.

Flavor Profile of Purple Tea: pleasant, sweet, woodsy

Popular Varieties of Purple Tea: Zi Ya (purple bud), Zi Juan (purple beauty)

A cup of pu-erh tea sitting beside a bowl of loose leaf tea

10. Pu-erh Tea

Traditionally produced in the Yunnan Province in China, Pu-erh tea is made from the Dayeh strain of the Camellia sinensis plant. After the leaves are dried and rolled, tea makers will put them through a microbial fermentation process to change their flavor. Known to mature much like wine, Pu-erh tea contains a wide variety of flavors sure to be enjoyed by tea enthusiasts. It contains low levels of caffeine.

Flavor Profile of Pu-erh Tea: bold, smooth, fruity, earthy

Popular Varieties of Pu-erh Tea: sheng (raw) pu-erh and shou (ripe) pu-erh

A cup of tea with a tea bag seeping in it

11. Yellow Tea

Known for its rarity, yellow tea is found primarily in China and only three types are available on the market. Camellia sinensis leaves are harvested and dried in direct sunlight, then wrapped in wet paper for three days to allow for mild oxidation of the leaves. This process provides the distinct golden color and mellow taste of the tea. It also has a similar caffeine content as green tea.

Flavor Profile of Yellow Tea: grassy, mellow

Popular Varieties of Yellow Tea: Jun Shan Yin Zhen (Silver Needle), Meng Ding Huang Ya, Mo Gan Huang Ya

Loose Leaf vs Tea Bags

Not only do you need to choose which types of tea to serve, but you need to weigh the benefits of loose leaf vs tea bags. Some diehard tea drinkers have strong opinions about this debate, so knowing your customer base will help you decide between the two. Below are descriptions of both loose leaf tea and tea bags, including some pros and cons of each option.

Two cups of tea next to a bowl of loose leaf tea
Two cups of tea next to a bowl of loose leaf tea

Loose Leaf Tea

Loose leaf tea is dried, whole-leaf tea that is allowed to fully expand in water. It is typically packaged loose in airtight containers or bags to lock in freshness and flavor. As a growing trend in the tea industry, bulk loose leaf tea is perfect for specialty cafes and tea-centric establishments.

Pros
  • Typically uses higher quality tea leaves
  • Provides a more prominent, multi-dimensional flavor, aroma, and color
  • The same leaves can usually be steeped multiple times
Cons
  • Requires more tools and time
  • Clean-up is more extensive
Cup of tea next to a tea bag
Cup of tea next to a tea bag

Tea Bags

Tea bags typically contain small, cut pieces of tea leaves and tea dust. Bagged tea is ideal for quick-service establishments and self-serve stations.

Pros
  • Conveniently packaged for individual portions
  • Quicker brewing time and clean-up time
Cons
  • Can lose most of the tea's essential oils and aroma
  • Can be bagged in bleached paper material that can affect the flavors of brewed tea

How to Brew Tea

If you're serious about steeping tea correctly, this chart will guide you through the water temperature, amount of tea to use, and the length of the brewing time - all of which depend on the type of tea. It's important to stick to steeping times to prevent the tea from becoming bitter. If you want a stronger tea, use more leaves instead of a longer steeping time.

Iced Tea Brewing Note: If you're making iced tea, follow the iced tea measurements and steeping times using hot water. Then, dilute and chill tea over ice.

Type of Tea Water Temp. Amount/ 8 oz. Water (Hot) Amount/ 8 oz. Water (Iced) Minutes to Steep
Black Tea 195 - 205 F 1 - 1 1/2 tsp 2 - 3 tsp 2 - 3 minutes
Green Tea 175 F 1 - 1 1/2 tsp 2 - 3 tsp 45 sec - 1 minute
Flavored Green Tea 175 F 1 - 1 1/2 tsp 2 - 3 tsp 2 minutes
Herbal Tea / Infusions 208 F 1 1/2 - 2 tsp 3 - 4 tsp 5 - 6 min hot, 8 - 15 min iced
Mate Tea 208 F 1 1/2 - 2 tsp 3 - 4 tsp 5 - 6 min hot, 8 - 15 min iced
Rooibos Tea 208 F 1 1/2 - 2 tsp 3 - 4 tsp 5 - 6 min hot, 8 - 15 min iced
Oolong Tea 195 F 1 - 1 1/2 tsp 2 - 3 tsp 3 minutes
White Tea 175 F 1 - 2 tsp 2 - 4 tsp 4 - 5 minutes
Flavored White Tea 175 F 1 1/2 - 2 tsp 3 - 4 tsp 2 minutes

Tea Guide

Use this simple guide to understand the popular types of tea and add our printable types of tea chart to your kitchen for easy reference.

Types of teas and popular varieties infographic

Tea FAQ

Do you still have questions about tea? We've compiled some of the internet's frequently asked questions and how-to queries about tea and answered them for you!

Does Tea Have More Caffeine than Coffee?

Although tea leaves contain more caffeine than coffee beans, tea beverages contain less caffeine than coffee. Black tea has the highest concentration of caffeine with roughly 47 milligrams of caffeine in an eight-ounce cup, while green tea and oolong tea have low to middling amounts of caffeine. In contrast, an eight-ounce cup of coffee contains roughly 95 milligrams of caffeine.

Does Tea Expire?

Like spices, tea doesn't have an expiration date in the traditional sense, making it safe to drink well after it's bought. However, older tea leaves lose their flavor and brew much weaker cups of tea. Storing tea properly is crucial to prolonging the life of tea and ensuring that you can continue to enjoy it years from now.

How to Store Tea?

Since tea will degrade when exposed to light, moisture, air, or heat, it's important to store your tea in well-sealed, opaque containers. Many loose leaf teas come in tea tins, which work well to keep your tea fresh. You can also use glass mason jars stored in a dark cupboard.

How Is Tea Fermented?

Some types of teas are fermented and oxidized, such as kombucha, while others are not. To ferment tea, leaves need to wither or be bruised by hand. This process allows enzymes on the leaves to interact with the air, oxidize, and change the chemical compound and color of the leaves. The tea flavor can change greatly depending on temperature, humidity, and other air conditions. Heat treatments, like pan-firing or steaming, will stop the oxidation process.

What Is Boba Tea Made Of?

Also known as bubble tea, boba tea consists of a base of black or green tea with milk, flavoring syrups, and sweeteners added for customization. However, the distinguishing feature of this beverage is the chewy tapioca balls that sit at the bottom of the cup. Served cold, the taste and caffeine levels of boba tea vary depending on the different ingredients used. With these supplies, it's easy to add boba tea to your menu.

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