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.
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.
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
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
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)
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
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
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)