The Low Down on Teas


The word “tea” is a broad term and we may be aware of a couple, but do we really know the difference and how to best brew them? The differences between teas arise from processing, growing conditions, and geography. TeaSource provides descriptions of the five basic tea categories: black, green, oolong, white, and puer.

1. Black Tea

Black tea is allowed to wither, which precedes a process called oxidation (sometimes incorrectly referred to as fermentation). Water evaporates out of the leaf and the leaf absorbs more oxygen from the air. Black teas usually undergo full oxidation, resulting in the characteristic dark brown and black leaf and the typically more robust and pronounced flavor. When brewed appropriately, a higher caffeine content compared to other teas (50-65% of coffee, depending on the type and brewing technique).

2. Green Tea

Green tea is allowed to wither only slightly after being picked. Then the oxidation process is stopped very quickly by firing (rapidly heating) the leaves. Therefore, when brewed at lower temperatures and for less time, green teas tend to have less caffeine (10-30% of coffee). Green teas also tend to produce more subtle flavors with many undertones and accents that connoisseurs treasure.

Matcha tea is a finely ground powder of specially grown and processed green tea. One serving of matcha tea is the nutritional equivalent of 10 cups of regularly brewed green tea which attributes to its higher caffeine content. When you drink matcha you ingest the entire leaf and receive 100% of the nutrients. Matcha powdered green tea has 137 times more antioxidants than regularly brewed green tea.

3. Oolong Tea

Oolong tea (also known as wulong tea) is allowed to undergo partial oxidation. These teas have a caffeine content between that of green teas and black teas. The flavor of oolong (wulong) teas is typically not as robust as blacks or as subtle as greens, but has its own extremely fragrant and intriguing tones. Oolongs (wulongs) are often compared to the taste and aroma of fresh flowers or fresh fruit.

4. White Tea

White teas are the most delicate of all teas. They are appreciated for their subtlety, complexity, and natural sweetness. They are hand-processed using the youngest shoots of the tea plant, with no oxidation. When brewed correctly, with a very low temperature and a short steeping time, white teas can produce low amounts of caffeine. Of course, steeping with hotter temperature and longer time will extract more caffeine. But by definition, white tea does not have less caffeine than other teas.

5. Puer Tea

Puer is an aged black tea from China prized for its medicinal properties and earthy flavor. It is perhaps the most mysterious of all tea. Until 1995 it was illegal to import it into the U.S., and the process of its production is a closely guarded state secret in China. It is very strong with an incredibly deep and rich flavor, and no bitterness, and an element that could best be described as almost peaty in flavor.