Types of Tea
There are hundreds of types of tea in the world, each with their own unique flavor profile influenced by the variety of tea, where it was grown, when it was picked, and how it was processed. Furthermore, since each country produces and categorizes its teas differently, there is no worldwide labeling system for tea. While this can be confusing, it also makes things more exciting for the new tea explorer.
Tea is generally categorized into six types: black, green, white, yellow, oolong (also spelled "wulong"), and fermented. These categories are born out of a Chinese understanding of tea (the world's 'home of tea') and are based on how the raw leaves are processed. Some teas specific to a culture or region may fall outside these six categories, and other teas are in-between categories, but overall the six types hold up fairly well as a way of organizing tea.
White tea is the least processed of all the teas. The leaves are simply picked, then dried, and packed. Once brewed, white tea can look almost as clear as water, right down to a deep orange. White tea can usually be aged with fairly good results as the flavor changes over time.
Green tea retains its vibrant character due to a process that prevents the leaves from oxidizing after they are picked. Japanese green teas are also steamed before drying, which breaks down the structure of the leaf, giving a jewel green, cloudy brew and grassier taste. Green teas are best consumed fresh, although with good storage you can still expect two years out of all but the fussiest green teas.
Oolongs are known for their strong fragrance and variety of taste, which can be anything from silky and floral to buttery and toasted. Somewhere between a green tea and a black tea, this diverse category can be made from a large number of cultivars and can be smoked or roasted to add different flavor elements. Rolled oolongs (those that come in a ball shape) need hotter water to help them unfurl than their unrolled counterparts.
Black tea is bold, sometimes sweet, and ranges in brewed color from a bright red to a deep brown. Black tea is also the only kind of tea apart from matcha that we would ever recommend drinking with milk!
Yellow tea is a rare kind of tea made exclusively in China. There is also a Korean 'yellow tea' which is very different and is one of the rare examples of a regional tea that falls outside the usual six categories. Yellow tea tends to be most similar to a green tea, but with a sweeter, more mellow and less 'grassy' or vegetal taste.
Pu'er is the most well known type of fermented tea. Tea drinkers are usually divided into those that love and those that loathe its distinctive, peaty taste. Pu'er comes in two kinds: raw and cooked. While some enjoy the sharp taste of young raw pu'er, most raw pu'er is aged for many years before consumption. Cooked pu'er, on the other hand, has gone through an accelerated aging process and is ready for immediate consumption.