Types of Tea

Cup of White Tea

A "Cliff Notes"
Fine Tea Guide

You can't have a tea party without tea. What will you serve?

Officially, there are only four types of tea to choose from, but what a difference! And what variety within the types!

Take a 4-minute crash course on tea-types, popular teas, and the yin-yang of "herbal vs. real" tea.

The 4-Minute "Types of Tea" Guide

Amazingly, all four types of what is considered real tea come from the same basic plant, Camellia Sinensis. Depending upon the extent the leaves are fermented, all these teas are either...

  • black (fully fermented)
  • green (unfermented)
  • oolong (partially fermented)
  • white (barely fermented)

Some refer to this process as "oxidation" rather than fermentation. It takes several hours at most. In fact, white teas are made from only very young leaves and are processed so little they come practically in their natural state.

Popular Teas

Of course, there are many variations of the basic types of tea based on growing area, climate, use of young leaves or older ones, blending, and so on. Let's put some names to them.

Black Tea Leaves

Among Black Teas you will find Pekoe Teas, Assam, Darjeeling (considered the connoisseur's choice), Nilgiri, Ceylon, and Keemun. These are typically dark, rich and hearty teas, good hot or iced.

The pride of Oolong Teas is Formosa Oolong. It is outstanding, and expensive, as teas go. Pouchong Teas and Pu Erh also belong to this category. Oolong teas are often used in blending because they tend to enhance the flavors of the other teas, even cheaper ones.

Green Teas include Gu**powder actually very mild, (the powers that be don't like that word) Hyson, Imperial, Chun Mees, Sow Mees, and Matcha. They make a distinctive pale grey-green color tea which can be a little bitter, if allowed to steep too long. For brewing, the tea leaves are sometimes rolled into tiny balls resembling lead shot.

Green Tea Leaves

White Teas like Silver Needles and White Peony are very fine and rare. They are a light color in the cup with a very delicate flavor.

Blended Teas include old favorites like Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, Black Currant, Lady Londonberry, Lapsang Souchong, Russian Caravan, Jasmine, and Chai.

All types of tea can be blended with other teas or with oils, herbs, spices, fruit and other tastes to form a brand new tea flavor. But it takes finesse and practice to get it right, so most of us opt for tried-and-true commercially blended teas. Blended black and oolong teas are by far the most popular in the West, but green tea is gaining in popularity because of its healthful properties.

Beyond that, the history, naming, and curing of tea leaves can be tea-dious reading, forgive the pun. In the end, your choice of tea is a simple matter of taste, anyway. Serve what you like.

But What About Chamomile, Rose Hips and Mint?

Chamomile Buds

Herbal teas are not considered real teas by themselves, if that matters to a nation born of rebellion. Some would have them stricken from the roster of possibilities, as with all teas in tea bags. Tea bags are the hot dogs of the tea world; you never really know what all's in them. But to avoid either one altogether is overreacting, and would deprive us of some wonderful tastes. Again, serve what you like.


Time's up! Done? Now it's on to How to Brew All Types of Tea or Return to Tea Party Recipes.

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