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Types of Tea

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. 

Tea Varieties

Some of the most common tea varieties include black tea, green tea, white tea, oolong tea, herbal tea, and rooibos tea. Most tea types are all derived from the Camellia sinensis species of plant, whereas some do not actually come from tea leaves at all! There are many varieties of each tea type, 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.

Types of teas and popular varieties infographic
Tea bag next to a brewed cup of tea

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

Green Tea

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 of Green Tea: vegetal/grassy, earthy, bright

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

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

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 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

Herbal Tea

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. 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

Cup of rooibos chai tea

Rooibos Tea

Rooibos tea, or African Red Tea, is an herbal tea that 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 of Rooibos Tea: sweet, smooth, earthy

Popular Varieties of Rooibos Tea: red rooibos and green rooibos

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

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 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 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)

Tea Bags vs. Loose Leaf

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
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 bag to lock in freshness and flavor. 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
  • Takes more time to clean up

Tea Brewing Instructions

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.

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

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