Types of Tea from the Tea Plant

Each of the different types of tea from the Camellia sinensis tea plant - black, oolong, green, pu-erh, yellow, and white tea - has a distinctive flavor, aroma, and appearance.

Many factors influence the taste, fragrance, and quality of tea... the variety of tea plant, the tea plantation with its unique climate and soil, whether the harvesting was manual or mechanical, even the harvest season.

And, of course, the tea processing method affects tea's taste and aroma.

Once tea leaves have been picked, those earmarked for a specific type of tea will be processed in a certain way, resulting in the lovely, delicious tea product you find in your favorite online store or local market.

Types of Tea

Tea Processing Methods for Different Types of Tea

Immediately following harvest, the tea leaves and buds are processed into tea. All 'true' teas originate from the leaves and leaf buds of Camellia sinensis - it's what happens after the leaves and buds are plucked that determines which of these different tea types is produced.

White Tea

White tea has the least processing of all teas. After picking, buds and leaves intended for white tea are simply withered and then dried.

Some high-quality white tea (such as Silver Needles) is made entirely from the tender leaf buds, while other white teas include the first young leaves of the tea plant, as well.

What is 'Withering?'

When tea leaves and leaf buds are 'withered,' they are spread in thin layers and dried until they are wilted and soft enough to handle without breaking. This process usually takes about 20 hours.

Green Tea

Green tea is also known as 'unfermented tea,' which means this tea does not go through an oxidation step.

Freshly picked tea leaves earmarked for green tea are briefly heated or steamed to prevent any oxidation or fermentation. After rolling and drying, the tea is ready for grading and packaging.

Yellow Tea

Yellow tea begins with heating and gently rolling the harvested tea leaves. The leaves are then wrapped in cloth or paper and allowed to rest and oxidize.They may be reheated and rewrapped at set intervals for up to three days, and allowed to cool and continue to oxidize slowly. Then, the tea leaves are dried.

Processing yellow tea is time- and work-intensive, resulting in a rare, costly tea.

What is 'Rolling?'

Tea leaves are rolled by hand or with a rolling machine. During this process, the leaves are broken or crushed lightly to release the chemicals that will result in their final flavor and color. The length and vigor of the rolling affects the resulting tea - for example, a longer, more enthusiastic rolling creates a richer, full-bodied tea.

Pu-Erh Tea

Pu-erh tea is available either as loose tea leaves or in compressed shapes.

Tea leaves intended for pu-erh tea are first dried in the sun. Then, in one processing method, the leaves are softened and compressed into cakes, bricks, or other shapes. 

After drying, the cakes are stored and aged over a period of years to encourage natural oxidation and a rich, deep flavor.

In the alternate processing method, additional heat and humidity are applied to the dried leaves to speed up the oxidation process. After drying, the leaves are sold loose or compressed into various shapes.

Pu-Erh Tea

Oolong Tea

Oolong tea is also called 'semi-oxidized' or 'blue-green' tea. For oolong tea, tea leaves are withered, shaken or 'bruised' gently, and then oxidized.

Oolong tea has anywhere from 10 to 70% oxidation - the longer the oxidation, the darker the leaves and the resulting infused tea.

Finally, the leaves are heated to stop the oxidation process and decomposition of the leaves.

Black Tea

Black tea processing involves four steps - withering, rolling, oxidizing, and firing.

Once the tea leaves are wilted, they are rolled or crushed lightly, fully oxidized, and then fired or heated to stop the oxidation process - and the result is the richly colored, highly flavorful tea we know and love. 

What is 'Oxidation?'

During oxidation (which is also referred to as 'fermentation'), the tea leaves are spread in thin layers in a damp, temperate location, where oxygen absorption will cause them to change color. The leaves are monitored closely during these few hours of oxidation and, when the desired aroma and color have been reached, the leaves are heated or fired immediately to stop the oxidation process.

After processing, any tea allocated for flavored, scented, or fruit teas will be enhanced with flowers, fruit, or spices, such as jasmine, rose, or lemon. Don't confuse these flavored or scented teas with herbal teas or tisanes, which are made from plants other than Camellia sinensis.

Once the different types of tea have been sorted, graded, and packaged, they will wend their way to your favorite online or local specialty tea shop or the shelves of your local grocery store - a world away from the Camellia sinensis plant and the tea plantation that provided the fragrant, delicious beverage in your teacup!

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Interested in learning more about the different types of teas from the Camellia sinensis tea plant? Click here to visit another of our tea plant pages.

The different types of tea from the tea plant are each delicious and aromatic in their own way - and, each provides unique health benefits, as well. Whether you adore black tea, can't imagine life without your beloved green tea, or love to mix it up, trying new and different types of tea whenever the urge strikes, each tea from the tea family will nurture your physical, mental, and emotional health and wellness.

More about Tea

What is Tea? - Learn more about the second most widely consumed beverage worldwide... tea! An introduction to and some basic facts about this beloved drink.

Camellia Sinensis - The simple tea plant - Camellia sinensis - gives us black, oolong, pu-erh, green, and white teas! Learn more about the tea plant - where it is grown, how tea is processed, and some of the health benefits this amazing plant can provide. 

Tea and Caffeine - Did you know that teas from the Camellia sinensis tea plant contain caffeine? If you love black, oolong, pu-erh, green, or white tea, drop by to learn more about caffeine in tea.

Making Tea - Some tips and guidelines for making the perfect cup of tea, including an infographic with brewing and serving suggestions for teas and herbal tisanes.

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