Tea is one of the most ancient beverages on the planet, and it's made by soaking dried leaves in water. Many people choose to drink tea instead of coffee because certain blends are refreshing without the same level of caffeine. From matcha tea made for Japanese tea ceremonies to old-fashioned sweet tea you'd find in the South, tea is complex and offers a huge variety of flavors.
These teas are the most common types of tea consumed globally. There are many varieties of each kind, and it's common for other flavors to be blended with these varieties.
About fermentation and oxidation: Some types of teas are fermented and oxidized, 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.
Black tea, or red tea in China, is one of the most common tea types and is fully oxidized. The leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant are withered, rolled, oxidized / fermented, 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.
Flavor Profile: strong, bold, full-bodied flavor that can be bitter, sweet, vegetal, fruity, or spicy depending on the variety.
Chai TeaChai tea is essentially black tea paired with warm spices and ingredients like cardamom, vanilla, and chocolate, and many drinkers flavor it with milk and sugar. This is truly a blended tea rather than its own variety, but its global popularity, especially in Indian culture, warrants a special mention.
Green tea is the most popular tea globally, is unoxidized, and has less caffeine than black tea. Camellia sinensis leaves are picked, dried, and heat-treated to prevent oxidation. Chinese people often pan-fire leaves, which creates a duller green color, while Japanese people will typically steam them and achieve a brighter green shade.
Flavor Profile: milder flavor than black tea; can have a citrus-like, vegetal, sweet, or smoky flavor depending on variety.
Herbal tea doesn't come from tea leaves like other varieties. It's made from dried herbs, fruits, and flowers, which can create a wide range of delicate flavors. These tea types are caffeine free, making them ideal for customers with dietary restrictions. Rooibos, mate, and herbal infusion teas are all herbal teas. Common ingredients for herbal infusions include chamomile, ginger, lemongrass, peppermint, rosehips, hibiscus, and dried fruits.
Flavor Profile: often has a delicate flavor that can be vegetal, naturally sweet, citrus-like, floral, minty, or spicy depending on the variety and blend of ingredients.
Mate TeaMate tea comes from the South American yerba plant, and the leaves are blanched, dried, aged, and cut into loose leaf tea.
Flavor Profile: has a bold, vegetal flavor.
Rooibos TeaRooibos tea, or African Red Tea, comes from the South African Red Bush, and the leaves are ground and bruised before they're fermented and dried. Green rooibos tea doesn't go through an oxidation / fermentation process and has a lighter flavor.
Flavor profile: naturally sweet, and can have warm, nutty, or vanilla tones.
Matcha is made by grinding up green tea leaves into a powder, which is whisked together with a small amount of water. You ingest the whole leaf, which makes this variety extremely healthy, and it's especially popular in Japanese tea ceremonies.
Flavor Profile: has a grassy, vegetal flavor.
Oolong, or wulong, tea is semi-oxidized and picked later in the season than green tea. The leaves come from the Camellia sinensis plant but are bruised by being tossed or shaken in baskets, which changes the oxidation process. They're heat-treated to stop the oxidation, which can vary based on region and create different flavors.
Flavor Profile: can taste flowery, naturally sweet, fruity, or smoky.
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 has very little caffeine.
Flavor Profile: naturally sweet, delicate taste with a balance of floral and fruity undertones.
It's common for all tea types to be combined with other flavors, especially lemon, mint, peach, raspberry, and ginger. Sometimes, flavored teas require different brewing methods, as well. You can also blend two or more types of teas, but you should follow the steeping method with the shortest time and lowest temperature to avoid bitterness and over-steeping.
Some tea producers claim that loose leaf tea is of higher quality because whole tea leaves are used rather than small pieces. The tea used in tea bags is often smaller pieces of the leaf that have been chopped up. This tea may lack the fuller-bodied flavor of loose leaf varieties. Still, bagged tea is more popular in foodservice businesses for its convenient packaging and quicker brewing time. It's also easier to store bags in tea merchandisers at convenience stores where guests can help themselves to their preferred blend. If you'd rather use loose leaf tea, you can place it in a strainer or a bag for steeping.
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 depends on the type of tea. It's important to stick to steeping times to prevent tea from becoming bitter. If you want a stronger tea, use more leaves instead of longer steeping time.
|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|