With all the various kinds of tea on the market today – black, red, oolong, green, white – it may surprise some people that all tea comes from the same plant. The different kinds of tea are the result of how the leaves are processed after picking them.
The biggest factor that determines the kind of tea is the oxidation – sometimes called fermentation – of the leaves. Oxidation is the natural chemical process that all vegetable matter undergoes after being picked, and the level of oxidation of tea leaves produces the various kinds of tea.
Of the three main kinds of tea, green tea has undergone the shortest oxidation period. The leaves are steamed or fried as soon as possible after they are picked to stop the oxidation process. Green tea is often referred to as an “un-oxidized” or “un-fermented” tea.
Oolong tea is a semi-oxidized tea. The leaves undergo partial oxidation – somewhere between 30% and 80%. The more the leaves are oxidized, the darker they become.
This brings us to the final and most popular of all the kinds of tea – black tea. Tea leaves for black tea have been fully oxidized, and that is why they have a dark color and brew to a dark liquid.
We skipped white tea in our discussion of the oxidation of various types of tea. White tea is in a special class, because in addition to the low oxidation, only the youngest leaves of the tea plant are used. In addition, the tea plants may be shaded for a month or so before picking the tea leaves.
This results in a tea which is low in chlorophyll and subsequently higher in health promoting catechins. Catechins are natural antioxidants – substances that combat free radicals that can cause many types of disease.
Of all the kinds of tea, white tea is the least popular in the west, although in China and other parts of Asia it is considered to be a delicacy. It requires more hand processing than other types of tea and consequently carries a heftier price tag.
White tea has a long history. It was originally produced during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D) and it was only in 1891 that the Chinese began to export this kind of tea.
The high price tag of white tea has elevated it to a status symbol, much more so than other kinds of tea. Due to its high price, however, it remains the least popular of all the kinds of tea.
The vast world of tea can be broken down into six large categories:
Of course, this is a simplified list as there are indeed many other types of tea. In addition, there are many ways to classify tea, but for the purposes of organizing this website we will stick with these six broad categories.
Of these six types of tea, only herb tea is not "true" tea - that is, it is the only type of tea that does not come from the Camellia sinensis plant.
In each of the six categories, there are hundreds if not thousands of variations. We welcome you to browse through the Tea Genius knowledge base to find out more about the world of tea, or use the search box to quickly find information about a particular topic.