When most people think of tea, they think of black tea. But in reality, there are so many different types and varieties of tea. From green tea to herbal teas like rooibos and hibiscus, there is a type of tea out there for everyone. If you’ve ever considered tying a different type of tea, you’ll know that discovering new teas can be a little overwhelming.
There is a rich history surrounding tea in many cultures around the world, from East Asia to the Middle East and Europe. For many centuries, tea drinking has been associated with well-being, relaxation as well as hospitality. Today, tea is also known as one of the best sources of healthy antioxidants.
Despite being one the most popular beverages in the world, there’s so much that people don’t know about this much-loved drink.
If you’re wondering what the difference is between black and green tea (aside from the colour), plus what kinds of benefits you can get from different herbal varieties, then this guide is for you. It will break down 16 different types of teas and explain their benefits and characteristics.
So, boil the kettle, sit back and learn a bit more about how tea can be a part of a healthy lifestyle.
Brief History of Tea Drinking
Tea is the second most popular beverage in the world (behind water, of course) and is now grown on every continent except Antarctica. But where did it all begin? Well, there is an old Chinese legend that dates back almost 5000 years which tells the story of how Emperor Shen Nung first discovered tea when the wind blew some leaves into his boiling water.
The popularity of tea grew first across China and Japan. It was originally considered a medicinal beverage, until it became the number one consumed drink in China by the turn of the 3rd century.
By the 8th century, China was trading tea leaves with Tibet, nomadic groups of the Indian Himalayas, the Arabs and the Ottomans along the Silk Road. These were the pioneers of tea consumption and tea trading. Today, many of these countries continue to have an incredibly rich tradition of tea drinking.
Tea was eventually introduced to Europe in the 16th century thanks to Dutch traders. It became increasingly popular, especially in Britain where it became a national tradition.
And soon, it became one of the most important global commodities of the colonial era.
Definition of Tea: Herbal Tea vs “True Tea”
Tea as most people know it, is grown on a shrub called the Camellia sinensis plant. It is native to subtropical climates stretching from eastern India to southeast Asia and into China. The tea leaves from the plant are what most people drink either in tea bags or loose-leaf form.
The differences in the variety of tea, such as black tea and green tea, come down to slight plant differences, growing conditions and different processing methods. Black, green and white teas are often referred to as “true teas” because they are the most traditional varieties and all come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis.
Herbal teas are better referred to as herbal infusions, as they do not come from the Camellia sinensis plant. Instead, they can be a combination of herbs, flowers, roots and grains which are steeped in hot water for flavour and health benefits. Herbal teas are known for various medicinal purposes with the most popular types including rooibos, ginger and chamomile.
Most Popular Types of Tea + Their Benefits
The most popular and common types of tea include green, black and white, which are all referred to as “true teas”.
Popular Varieties: Ceylon, Darjeeling, Assam, Irish Breakfast, English Breakfast
Country of Origin: China, India, Africa
Caffeine: 47 mg per cup
Characteristics: Strong, bold, full body
Black tea is by far the most commonly consumed tea in the world. Around 85% of all tea consumed in the United States is black tea. So, it’s no surprise that it’s what most people think of as just “tea”. It also has the highest level of caffeine compared to any other tea, but it’s still only around half of the level found in a cup of coffee.
Black tea is fully oxidized before being dried and packaged, which brings out the most robust flavours. If you consume the highest quality black tea, you will get flavours of malt and chocolate with a slightly fruity twist. Lower grade and everyday varieties can often be a bit more bitter. These fuller flavours are why black tea is often consumed with milk, sugar or other additives.
Black tea is primarily grown in China and India, which is where the Camellia sinensis plant is native. Although, in recent years other tea-growing countries have emerged, including Nepal, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Kenya. The oxidation process for producing black tea was originally developed to reduce the risk of spoiling on the long trade routes to Europe. However, it soon became the flavour of choice for Brits and other Europeans.
Types of Black Tea:
- Assam Tea: A bold flavour with malty aftertaste that is grown in India’s northeast region.
- Darjeeling Tea: A delicate and lighter tea grown in the famous hill station in India’s east.
- Ceylon black Tea: Citrusy with a chocolatey aftertaste and the most famous tea grown in Sri Lanka.
- Keemun Tea: One of China’s most famous teas, there are four varieties of Keemun offering fruity, malty and smoky flavours.
- English Breakfast: This black tea blend often contains a combination of Assam, Ceylon or Kenyan tea leaves. These robust teas are often served with milk and sugar.
- Kenyan Black Tea: From one of the top tea producers, Kenyan tea is very full-bodied with spicy undertones and a chocolatey aftertaste.
- Earl Grey: This popular tea variety consists of Ceylon, Darjeeling or Assam tea leaves with added bergamot oil, a type of citrus grown in Italy. It provides a nicely balanced fruity and floral taste.
- Yunnan Red: Originating from Yunnan province in China, this unique black tea comes in four specific types but is often described as having an earthy taste.
- Lapsang Souchong: Grown in China, this tea has a distinctively smoky flavour with a very strong taste.
Benefits of Black Tea:
- Contains antioxidants, including polyphenols and catechins
- Improves heart health and may lower the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol
- Increases alertness and energy with significant levels of caffeine
Popular Varieties: Gunpowder, Sencha, Gyokuro, Dragon Well
Country of Origin: China
Caffeine: 25-30 mg per cup
Characteristic: Lighter, milder taste, with some hints of sweetness
Green tea is one of the original tea varieties consumed in the world. As with other pure teas, it also comes from the Camellia sinensis tea plant. Green tea has a lighter shade when brewed. It has a light green or even yellow tinge to it, depending on variety and strength. Additionally, Green tea also has only around half the caffeine than a cup of black tea, and is often considered the more “healthier” of the two.
The distinctive colour and flavour of green tea come are a result of the limited processing that the leaves undergo. Once the leaves are harvested they are immediately steamed or heated to stop the oxidation process. The leaves are then rolled and pressed before being dried. This halt in oxidation is often thought to explain why green tea holds greater levels of antioxidants than black tea.
Green tea is primarily produced in China and Japan, with the varying types of tea being explained by slight changes in processing methods. Japanese green teas are steamed after harvest, while Chinese green teas are usually heated or pan-fried.
Types of Green Tea
- Sencha Tea: This is the most popular Japanese green tea and is fresh and soothing with a sweet taste.
- Gyokuro Tea: A darker shade to Sencha, Gyokuro has a rich flavour that is sweet, with an aftertaste of seaweed.
- Gunpowder: A classic green tea, often called zhu cha in China. It has a more smoky or peppery taste.
- Dragon Well: Dragon Well or Longjing is a Chinese tea that is very popular and has a mild and sweet flavour.
- Biluochun: A popular Chinese green tea, it’s known for its tightly rolled spiral shape that has a strong aroma and often fruity taste.
- Genmaicha: A combination of steamed and roasted brown rice with green tea, that provides a nutty full-bodied tea flavour.
- Jasmine Tea: This well-known tea is made from infusing green tea leaves with jasmine flowers.
Benefits of Green Tea
- Contains natural antioxidants, including polyphenols and catechins to help reduce inflammation
- Research has linked green tea drinkers to lower risks of cancer, age-related disorders such as Alzheimer’s and diabetes
- Can increase metabolic rate and fat burning
Popular Varieties: Silver Needles, White Peony, Shou Mei
Country of Origin: China
Caffeine: 20 mg per cup
Characteristic: Light with mild but crisp flavour
White tea is a minimally processed tea variety that has been one of the most sought-after teas by connoisseurs for many generations. White tea is made by using young leaves and buds of the Camellia sinensis plant.
Compared green or black teas, these young leaves undergo hardly any processing. Each leaf is picked by hand and withered within a couple of days either in sunlight or controlled rooms. They are then dried and packed, leaving them much more bulky than their green or black tea counterparts which are rolled.
White tea has often been considered a more superior tea because of its minimal processing and much less caffeine. It’s often referred to as delicate and light, with a bright, fruity flavour. White tea is still predominantly grown and produced in China, where it originated from.
Types of White Tea
- White Peony: Consists of two leaves and a silvery bud, with a rich golden colour and nutty taste
- Silver Needle: Long, needle-like leaves with a sweet, floral and woodsy flavour
- Shou mei: A darker colour and bolder flavour that often consists of the leftovers from white peony and silver needle white teas
- Darjeeling White Tea: A light and sweet brew, made from the fuzzy white tips of the plant
Benefits of White Tea
- Similar antioxidant levels to green tea, including polyphenols and catechins to help reduce inflammation and risk of disease
- Stimulates your metabolism and can promote fat burning
- White tea is a good source of fluoride, tannins and catechins which can help prevent bad bacteria and promote healthy teeth
Popular Varieties: Milk Oolong, Phoenix tea, Bai Hao, Iron Goddess
Country of Origin: China
Caffeine: 30 mg per cup
Characteristic: Wide variety of flavours and colours
Oolong tea is partially oxidized tea that lies somewhere between green and black. It’s often referred to as wulong or black dragon tea and is produced in China and Taiwan. The exact level of oxidation can vary widely between varieties, from as little as 10% up to 80%. This means that the tea’s flavour, colour and aroma can change dramatically.
Oolong teas are very popular in China but are not as commonly found in Western countries.
Taiwan is especially known for its highly sought after Milk Oolong variety. It gets its name from its light, creamy taste that is unique to the small island.
If you’ve ever had tea in a sushi joint or have tried tea in a Chinese restaurant, it is likely that you have already tried Oolong tea without even knowing it.
Types of Oolong Tea
- Phoenix Tea: Produced in China, a full-bodied tea with fruity undertones
- Milk Oolong: Creamy and buttery flavour that is completely unique and only produced in Taiwan
- Bai Hai: Known as White Tip, that has a fruity taste
- Iron Goddess: One of the most famous Chinese teas, it’s light and airy with a floral flavour
Benefits of Oolong Tea
- Immune boosting antioxidants, including polyphenols and theaflavins
- Increases energy with a subtle caffeine level
Popular Varieties: Seng, Shu
Country of Origin: China
Caffeine: 47 mg per cup
Characteristics: Full-bodied flavour, rich and earthy
A lesser-known of the different types of tea, pu-erh tea is an aged and partially fermented tea, that is more similar to black tea in its character. It has a rich colour, a full body flavour and has a high amount of caffeine, similar to black tea.
Pu-erh originates from Yunnan province in China and is still predominantly produced there today. It undergoes a similar process to green tea at first, where it is steamed or heated to reduce the oxidation process. However, it is then put through a long fermentation process that can last years, which produces rich, earthy flavours over time.
There are only two types of pu-erh teas, which are referred to as “ripe” and “raw”. Both begin as a lightly oxidized green tea and then undergo different processes and time of fermentation.
Types of Pu-erh Tea
- Seng cha or green pu-erh: Fresh, woodsy and earthy, that is similar to green tea
- Shu cha or ripe pu-erh: A creamy, earthy brew that is dark in colour
Benefits of Pu-erh Tea
- Promotes alertness with high levels of caffeine
- Contains high levels of antioxidants to help fight inflammation and promote a strong immune system
Herbal Teas + Their Benefits
Herbal teas are best described as herbal infusions. This distinguished them from the tea plant varieties. There are plenty of different herbal tea types, including herbs, spices, roots, grains and flowers.
They have been known specifically for their health benefits and long-standing medicinal uses. But also, they can simply provide a different flavour boost to other teas. While there are endless variations of herbal teas across the world, here are some of the more well known ones.
Rooibos tea is one of the most widely recognized herbal tea types. Made from a native plant found in South Africa, it is sometimes referred to as red tea or red bush tea. It’s naturally caffeine-free and has a rich full-bodied flavour, similar to black tea.
Rooibos teas also come in blends such as Earl Grey Rooibos and Rooibos Chai.
Ginger is a popular herbal tea that is used in a variety of cultures around the world. The ginger root has a spicy flavour that is not easily liked by everyone, but the incredible health benefits of this plant make it a very well-known spice for cooking and tea.
Ginger is known as one of the most powerful anti-inflammatories and ginger tea has been used for centuries to help with nausea, cold and flu and upset stomachs.
Chamomile is one of the most popular types of tea outside of the traditional teas. It’s a fragrant drink that is made from the flowers of the chamomile plant that belongs to the Asteraceae family. It’s known widely as being used to help people relax and unwind, and is often recommended to drink at night before bed.
Mint or Peppermint Tea
Of all the kinds of tea, peppermint is one of the easiest teas to start with before venturing to more distinct tea flavours. The brew, which is produced by simply infusing raw mint leaves, has been used for many centuries for its soothing health benefits.
It’s commonly thought that peppermint tea can soothe upset stomachs and relax the digestive system. This is a remedy found in various cultures around the world.
The hibiscus plant can be found in tropical parts of the world, especially North Africa and Southeast Asia. The sweet herbal infusion of the hibiscus plant makes it a very refreshing summer drink that is often served as ice tea rather than hot. It’s thought to have high levels of antioxidants and the potential to help cleanse the liver.
Lemongrass is a popular herb in India and Southeast Asia. It has a zesty flavour and is commonly added to other herbal remedies such as ginger and peppermint for an added flavour boost.
Other Popular Tea Varieties and Combinations
Teas have been blended and combined to produce desired tastes and flavours distinctive of certain places and times. Some of these teas, like Turkish tea, have become cultural phenomena known around the world.
This popular European-style tea blend has a few different varieties. Scottish, English or Irish Breakfast teas are usually combinations of Ceylon, Assam and Kenyan black teas. The combination provides a perfectly balanced and robust flavour and is often paired with milk. English Breakfast is usually a little milder than Irish or Scottish Breakfast teas.
A very popular green tea variety originating from Japan. This tea comes in a fine powder that needs to be whisked with water into a brew. Matcha tea has a smooth and rich flavour.
Similar to green tea, the fresh tea leaves used in the production of matcha tea are steamed and dried, before being grounded into the popular powder tea. Matcha Tea is known for its great health benefits and is often added to smoothies and baked goods as well.
Chai tea is a blended tea from India. It’s mostly referred to as Masala Chai but has been made popular in Western countries as Chai Lattes. Traditional chai is a blend of Assam black tea, with spices such as clove, cinnamon, anise, cardamom and ginger. The spicy blend is often enjoyed with milk and sugar on the Indian subcontinent and is served throughout the day.
Moroccan tea is a very well-known cultural beverage. It’s a strong combination of green tea leaves, fresh mint and a lot of sugar. It’s served everywhere in Morocco and commonly poured from giant teapots into small glasses.
The Turks love their tea. Turkish tea is grown around the Black Sea coast region. However, it’s the serving tradition that is quite unique to Turkey. They typically brew an extremely strong tea and then pour a small amount into a short, rounded glass. It’s then up to the drinker to add the desired amount of water and sugar to taste. It’s rarely consumed with any added milk in Turkey.
Other Common Questions
How many flavours of tea are there?
There are literally hundreds of tea flavours from more traditional teas like black and green to a wide range of herbal teas that have an almost endless list of combinations. There are types of tea for everyone!
Tea Bags vs. Loose Leaf – what is best?
While tea bags have been the predominant form used in the West, however, loose leaf tea is the more traditional way.
Tea bags are certainly more convenient. However, tea used in tea bags is always of lower quality than the loose leaf tea variety. Tea plantations will generally package the high-quality loose leaf teas first and use the leftovers for tea bags. It is common for bagged teas to be over oxidized resulting in a bitter taste caused by over brewing. The bitterness is often concealed with milk and sugar, which are common additives to bagged tea.
In addition, tea bags often contain high levels of micro-plastic and are mostly single-use, which contributes to the overall pollution of the environment.
Loose leaf tea is a far better alternative to bagged tea. While it is usually more expensive than tea bags, it is generally higher quality and offers a much better tea flavour. more eco-friendly way of drinking tea. There are some great tea leaf strainers that you cqn easily use in your favourite cup for convenience.
What are the Benefits of Organic Tea?
Organic tea is produced without the use of pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides. This means that organic tea will not have any residue of these potentially harmful toxins. However, there is no evidence to suggest that conventional tea is any less healthy than organic tea.
So, is it worth paying more for organic tea? In our opinion, yes. Not only will you be consuming a product that doesn’t contain harmful ingredients but often times you’ll also be supporting a more sustainable tea manufacturer. Many organic teas are manufactured by companies that support fair wages for tea pickers around the world and ensure that they work with Rainforest Alliance Certified plantations.
Here is a list of our favourite organic tea brands