A cup of tea is defined similarly throughout the world – it’s a plant-derived infusion in water, and often enjoyed with condiments such as milk, honey and lemon. However, the variety of teas in the tea universe is surprising – a simple search for ‘tea’ will yield at least 20 different types of teas, each with their own taste profiles, roots, and health benefits.
In this article, we want to break down the three main categories of ‘tea’ that cover almost all the teas you’ll see online or in a store. We’ll get into details of how these three types of teas differ. If you’re new to tea (or want to step out of your current tea-comfort zone), this guide will help you figure out which tea to try next!
Black tea is the most common type of tea, according to the National Cancer Institute. It is also the most highly oxidized of all teas.
It’s harvesting process begins with picking leaves of the Camellia sinensis. The leaves are withered for about 10 hours, during which time they lose moisture and dry out – the level to which they are dried is controlled by tea farmers, based on how humid the drying-room is. Following this, the tea is rolled or massaged (by hand or by machine), to extract and expose its natural oils. This last step is extremely important for catalyzing the oxidation of the tea leaves. After being rolled, these tea leaves are left, exposed to air, for 6-8 hours, during which time they darken and become a familiar shade of dark-brown to black that we’re familiar with. Think of these last steps somewhat like cutting a banana in half and allowing it to oxidize (darken) for a few hours. The oxidation is halted during the next stage, when the tea is dried using hot, dry air.
Black tea, due to its high levels of oxidation, has a slightly nutty and smokey flavor, along with the highest concentration of caffeine compared to other teas.
The variation in teas doesn’t just end here, of course. There are in fact multiple varieties of black tea, largely based on where they originate from and how they are harvested.
Two of the more common black teas are Indian and Chinese. Indian tea has a comparatively more robust and notable flavor, and is usually prepared with milk and sugar (like in English Breakfast tea) or with spices (like in Masala Chai).
Chinese tea is grown in relatively lower temperatures, with high moisture, at higher-altitude areas (compared to Indian tea) – this slows the overall growth process of the tea, and leads to a more subtle, slightly less bitter taste. Chinese tea is thus often enjoyed pure, without any additions to the water.
If you’re someone looking for a powerful brew (and if you’re a long-time coffee drinker), black tea is an ideal choice.
Some common black tea blends you might see are: Masala Chai, Assam Tea, Darjeeling Tea, Earl grey, Keemun, Irish Breakfast Tea, English Breakfast tea, Pu’er tea
Caffeine rating: ★★☆☆☆
Flavor profile: Floral and fruity – often earthy and smooth (not usually bitter)
Color profile: Light yellow to dark orange-green in water. Usually found in the form of dried green leaves, either rolled or crushed
The next most commonly consumed tea is green tea. This is a less oxidized version of the same tea leaf – Camellia Sinensis. Unlike black teas, which are exposed to air and dried, green tea is heated in either a pan or steamed right after being harvested to prevent the tea from oxidizing too much. This preserves the flavor of the freshly-picked tea, along with some helpful other compounds such as chlorophyll (which is what makes green tea green), polyphenols and other antioxidants, and fiber.
Green tea, due to not being highly oxidized, also contains less caffeine and has a largely subtly, rounded flavor. It’s recommended that boiling hot water isn’t used with green tea, as that can burn the leaves and make it taste astringent.
Green tea tastes different based on its origin and preparation, too – Indian and Chinese green tea is usually fried in a pan after being harvested, and tastes stronger, sharper, and slightly acidic. Japanese green tea (among the most famous in the world), is usually steamed, and is a lighter tea with a more subtle, fruity flavor profile. In comparison to black teas, all types of green teas are usually enjoyed with just water.
If you’re someone just beginning to enter the world of tea, or if you enjoy a slightly milder, less caffeinated drink – green is likely for you!
Some common Green-tea blends you might see are: Matcha (a powdered form of green tea), Sencha, Hojicha, Gyokoro, Dragonwell
A fun fact: the first four of the teas above are Japanese. If you’re looking specifically for a subtle and mild Japanese green tea, you’ll usually find the word ‘Cha’ appended – the Japanese word for tea.
Herbal or Floral Tea
Flavor profile: Entirely dependent on the herb, flower, or spice.
Color profile: Usually a light yellow to green in water, sometimes pink, depending on the herb or spice.
Before we get into herbal teas, it’s important to clarify that by the usual definition of teas – that is, a processed leaf originating from the Camellia Sinensis plant – Herbal tea isn’t actually tea. Herbal tea is made with either dried or fresh flowers, spices, or herbs like mint. Its flavor is defined by what you add to the hot water. Rose petals or saffron, for example, will yield a slightly sweet and floral tea, while mint would, well, taste like mint, with a sharp and cooling flavor.
Herbal teas come with a range of health benefits, and can help you make the best use of the healing powers of spices and herbs. Like green tea, it is usually consumed on its own, in water. Due to the absence of any actual ‘tea,’ it is entirely free of caffeine.
If you’re someone who’s looking for a healthy drink, or if you want to switch to a caffeine-free daily-driver, herbal teas are for you!
There’s a long list of teas that would fall under ‘herbal,’ including: Chamomile, Ginger, Peppermint, Lavender, Turmeric, Lemongrass, Cinnamon, Basil, or Sage.If you’re undecided about which tea to try, hybrid teas also exist! We sell a Saffron Masala Blend that is the best of both worlds: it draws on the floral notes of premium saffron and dried rose petals, and combines it with the usual Masala Chai base (which itself comes with spices like ginger and cinnamon), to give you an earthy, fruity, and luxurious tea experience.