Before we dive into the detailed look at specific teas, it is important to understand the larger categories all teas fall into. For this post, we will be focusing on the main categories of tea : White, Yellow*, Green, Oolong, Black, Dark tea, and Tisanes (Herbal Teas).
Plucked > Dried
This is the least processed of the tea varieties. Leaves are usually just plucked and dried. White teas typically have a light, delicate flavor and notes of nuts, flowers and/or nectar.
Plucked > Fired or Steamed > Shaped > Dried
Green teas are minimally oxidized (if at all) then heated to stop the oxidation process. They usually brew a light green to coppery cup. There are two main categories of green tea: Chinese and Japanese.
Chinese green tea leaves typically have silver-green or yellow-green color and yield a yellow-green or copper-green cup. Typically, the leaves are withered, then pan fired while being rolled.
Japanese green tea are generally steamed instead of being pan fired or roasted like Chinese green teas. This means that the leaves retain their deep green color and yield an intense grassy-vegetable flavor not found in Chinese green teas.
Plucked > Withered/Rolled > Partially Oxidized > Fired > Shaped > Firing and Shaping Repeated > Dried
Wulong are semi-oxidized tea, a somewhat recent development in the history of tea (1600s in China). Primarily, Oolongs are produced in China's Fujian and Guandong Provinces as well as in Taiwan. Leaves are withered and rolled, without the firing. This turns into a sticky mass that is spread out and allowed to dry. At some point before fully oxidizing (black tea), heat is applied to stop the oxidization process. Oolongs can be anywhere between 10% - 90% oxidized. The leaves are thrown into a hot wok and stirred quickly, then removed and rolled more. This process is then repeated. At the discretion of the tea master and what type of tea is being produced, the leaves are allowed to dry in baskets over a low heat.
This variation in processing leads to oolongs being difficult to categorize, as one can produce many sizes, shapes, and colors, all with different varietals of tea! However, there are two general categories of oolong shape: rolled and twisted. Rolled oolongs tend to be less oxidized and thus greener. Twisted oolongs are typically darker and roastier.
High-quality oolongs are renowned for their ability to yield multiple infusions, and depending on the style of brewing can be steeped upwards of 15 – 20 times.
Plucked > Withered/Rolled > Fired > Rolled > Shaped > Dried
What we call “black tea” is known throughout China as “red tea” because of its reddish-brown infusion. Black tea is a fully oxidized tea. This means that the leaves undergo 100% oxidation before they are heated and shaped. Black teas are known for their dark up color and intense flavor. There are a range of “typical” flavors in black tea including honey, spice, fruit, citrus, smoke, earth, malt, cocoa, and tobacco.
Plucked > Cured > Fired > Formed > Dried > Naturally Aged/Wet Piled.
Dark tea is a large tea category including any teas that have gone through aging and fermentation. The most common dark tea in the west is Pu'er. These teas are formed into various shapes and were used as currency in ancient China. These teas can be aged for decades, many say that the older the dark tea, if well preserved, the richer the flavor.
Herbal teas do not include Camellia Sinensis, therefore are not actually considered "tea". These herbal infusions are prepared in the same manner as tea using hot water and infusion to achieve a final beverage.