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Black Tea, White Tea, Green Tea, Oolong Tea: What's the Difference?

Aug 13, 2019 Most Recent

Tea has existed for thousands of years. The earliest, credible record of tea drinking dates to the 3rd century AD in China! If there were one drink that was universal to many different cultures, countries, and time periods - it would be tea. 

All “true” tea comes from the same plant, called the Camellia sinensis. Any leaf, root, fruit, or flower that comes from a different plant is considered an herbal tea, like chamomile or peppermint. It is important to distinguish between real tea and herbal tea since the health benefits, taste, and nutritional characteristics vary from plant to plant.

There are thousands of different kinds of teas, each with their own individual appearance, flavor, and aroma. To make sense of all the variations, “true teas” can be categorized into 4 major categories: white, green, oolong and black. Generally, these categories refer to how much a tea is oxidized.

1. Black Tea

The first kind of tea on the list is black tea. Black tea is a type of tea that is more oxidized than oolong, green, and white teas. Black tea is generally stronger in flavor than the less oxidized teas. While green tea usually loses its flavor within a year, black tea retains its flavor for several years. For this reason, it has long been an article of trade. Black tea accounts for over 90% of all tea sold in the West.

Early Grey tea, English Breakfast tea, Masala Chai Indian spiced tea are all types of black tea. Generally, black tea is stronger, bolder, and richer than other true teas. A brewed black tea can range in color from amber to red to dark brown, and its flavor profile can range from savory to sweet, depending on how long it was oxidized and how it was it was heat processed. 

2. Oolong Tea

Oolong tea falls somewhere in between black tea and green tea, because while black tea is heavily oxidized and green tea is only partially oxidized, oolong tea is a partially oxidized tea. is neither a black tea nor a green tea; it falls into its own category of tea. Oolong represents a true mastership of tea processing. The appearance, shape, and flavor of an oolong tea can vary wildly depending on the region where it’s grown and how it’s processed. The origins of oolong are claimed in both China and Taiwan, and the tea is still highly revered in both countries today.

Because oolong tea is oxidized at varying levels depending on the processing technique of the tea master, its flavor can range from light to full bodied, floral to grassy, and sweet to toasty. The color of the leaves and the hue of the brewed tea can also vary from green to golden to brown.

3. Green Tea

For green tea, the tea leaves are harvested from the Camellia sinensis plant and then quickly heated—by pan firing or steaming—and dried to prevent too much oxidation from occurring, which would turn the green leaves brown and alter their fresh-picked flavor. A brewed green tea is typically green, yellow, or light brown in color, and its flavor profile can range from grass-like and toasted (pan fired) to vegetative, sweet, and seaweed-like (steamed). If brewed correctly, most green tea should be quite light in color and only mildly astringent.

Green tea is considered to have originated in China. It is said that even today the word “tea” in China refers only to green tea, not to the general category of tea as it does in the West. China’s Yunnan province is considered to be the original home of the Camellia sinensis plant species. In fact, 260 of the world’s 380+ varieties of tea can be found in Yunnan.

4. White Tea

White tea is known to be one of the most delicate tea varieties because it is so minimally processed. White tea is harvested before the tea plant’s leaves open fully, when the young buds are still covered by fine white hairs, hence the name “white” tea. These buds and unfurled leaves from the newest growth on the tea plant are handpicked and then quickly dried, so the leaves are not allowed to oxidize. This minimal processing and low oxidation results in some of the most delicate and freshest tea available.

During the era of early Chinese imperial dynasties, when tea drinking and tea culture was flourishing across the country, a custom for citizens to pay a yearly tribute to the Emperors of the time in the form of rare and fine teas came about, and the most sought after tea to offer was white tea, for its delicateness. Some common traits used to describe the overall flavor profile of the white tea category include floral, grassy, honey, fruity, melon, peach, apricot, vanilla, chocolate, citrus, herby, mild, subtle, delicate and sweet.

5. Herbal Teas

Herbal tea, as we stated above, is not technically a true tea, as it does not derive from the Camellia sinensis plant. Instead, herbal tea is an infusion or blend of various leaves, fruits, bark, roots, or flowers belonging to almost any edible, non-tea plant. In Europe and other areas of the world, herbal teas are commonly known as tisanes.

Herbal teas have existed for a very long time, but have surged in popularity over the past several decades thanks to their vibrant flavor, as well as their myriad of mental, emotional, and physical health benefits. In an increasingly stressful and chaotic world, herbal teas present an opportunity to go back to basics and focus on wellness through a holistic approach. Some of the most common herbal teas include: Chamomile tea, Hibiscus tea, Peppermint tea, Red rooibos tea, Turmeric tea, Spearmint tea, Ginger tea, Yerba maté, and others.

Tea is a universal beverage popular among many cultures, countries, and communities. Offering a plethora of benefits, and a wide array of delicious taste, there is a type of tea for everyone out there. On jlhufford.com, we have a wide selection teas to choose from. The Republic of Tea alone has over twenty tea selections for you to choose from. We have countless tea kettles and makers, along with any tea accessories you would need to make the best tea possible in your own home. We hope you enjoy making your tea, and now with the fundamental knowledge about the different tea types.