Five main types of tea

Five main types of tea

There are 5 main types of tea: White, Green, Blue-green (Oolong), Black (Red) and Pu-erh. There is also a sixth type of tea, Yellow tea. But this type is so rare nowadays that it is considered a disappearing type of tea.

All six types of tea derive from the same plant. What accounts for their many differences are the length of time it takes for the tea leaves to become oxidized and the processing style. For instance, roasting, steaming, pan-firing and aging.

Below you’ll find an explanation as to how each of these types of tea differ. Furthermore, you can learn about their individual characteristics.


The Five Main Types of Tea


White teas

Among the five different teas White tea undergoes the most minimal processing. In addition, white tea consists of the most tender and fresh buds and leaves. Farmers harvest it only during the spring season. The production utilizes the gentle process of withering, curing, and drying. Consequently, these give white teas delicate flavors and a smooth mouthfeel. Furthermore, a subtly fruity or sweet finish.


White teas tend to have less bitterness than other teas and can be more forgiving of water temperature and infusion times than green teas.


Farmers make the majority of white teas from medium-leaf tea bush varieties that yield silvery-white sprouts and leaves. Furthermore, they are delicately hand-harvested only once a year for a few weeks. This is in early spring when the weather is consistently cool and dry. The withering process of white tea raises an abundance of silvery-white hairs on the dried tea leaves and buds. Authentic white teas such as White Peony are multi-colored like autumn leaves and have a silver-white fuzz that resembles the skin of a ripened peach. Furthermore, Silver Needle, the premier style of white tea, consists of only silvery-white sprouts shaped like needles without attached leaves. 

Most white teas brew best at water temperatures of around 185ºF (85ºC).



Green teas


Tea enthusiasts love Green teas for their fresh flavor and health benefits. Farmers predominantly produce them throughout China, Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia during the spring growing season. That is, March through May. 

Furthermore, tea artisans use various methods of firing the freshly harvested leaves to prevent the natural oxidation process and to preserve the fresh green qualities of the leaf.


Green teas undergo the least oxidation of all the teas. We categorize them by the firing method and craftsmanship technique. For exmample, steamed, pan-fired, oven-baked, half-roasted, half-baked, hot-air roasted, and sun-dried.


When tasting an assortment of green teas, regional nuance, the season of harvest, the style of leaf and the plucking standard all become apparent. 

Most green teas brew best at water temperatures around 175-185ºF (80-85ºC). However, some Japanese green teas, such as Gyokuro, require a much lower temperature – 150ºF (65ºC).


Oolong teas


Oolong teas are a category of semi-oxidized teas (they fall between un-oxidized green teas and fully oxidized black teas). Farmers make them only from certain types of tea bushes growing in specific geographical regions.  Furthermore, only a few regions in the world know of their production methods. Today, the main production regions are in Fujian, Guangdong, and Taiwan. 

Farmers produce oolong teas from larger, more mature leaves. During processing farmers shake the leaves and then the edges of the leaves are left to “bruise”. This brings about a brown or red color, while the middle of the leaves stay green. The finishing amount of oxidation depends on the desired type of tea. Not to mention, the skill of the tea maker. This can result in oolong teas that are lightly fermented. For example, pale delicate-tasting green teas. Or, ones which are almost fully fermented, like dark and bold flavored black teas.


The production of oolong tea requires some of the most artisanal and sophisticated skills of tea making. Oolong tea artisans are much like boutique winemakers.


Most producers sell oolong teas under simple trade names (e.g., Tie Guanyin, Shui Xian, Dong Ding, Dancong). However, experts categorize and understand oolong by its region, age, bush variety and season of harvest. Just like wine.

Most oolong teas brew best at water temperatures of around 195-212ºF (90-100ºC). 


Black teas


We say “Black Tea” in the West, or "Hong Cha" ("Red Tea") in Asia. This tea is popular as an afternoon tea thanks to it’s mellow and sweet flavor.

Unlike green tea processing, which attempts to preserve the green color of fresh tea leaves, black tea processing encourages the tea leaves to oxidize and change color from green to coppery red. We call this change oxidation.


Being fully fermented, black (or red) tea has dark leaves and produces a deep colored liquid. As well as tender, yet profound characteristics. 


Most black teas brew best at water temperatures of around 195-205ºF (90-95ºC).


Pu-erh teas


Originating in Yunnan Province of southwestern China, pu-erh tea has an ancient history of more than 2,000 years.

There are two different types of Pu-erh: Sheng Pu-erh (the raw or green type) and Shu Pu-erh (the ripened or black type). Farmers produce both Shu and Sheng Pu-erh from a sun-dried Camellia sinensis var. assamica. After fermentation and roasting, farmers age pu-erh tea, often for many years. This results in its dark color and bold, mellow flavor.


Like Champagne or other regionally specific foods and beverages, pu-erh is a geographically indicated product. Farmers can only produce and ferment this tea in southern Yunnan using sun-dried green tea from specific tea varieties found in Yunnan, Laos, Burma and some parts of Thailand and Vietnam.


Being fully oxidized, pu-erh tea has significant health benefits, especially for weight loss. Throughout Southeast Asia, where it remains an integral part of the food culture, people think of pu-erh as a slimming and naturally safe dieter's tea.

Most pu-erh teas brew best at water temperatures of around 212ºF (100ºC).

Reference: "Five main types of tea"