6 Types of Tea to Consider for Your Next Cuppa, from Green to Oolong

Here’s the tea

PureWow editors select every item that appears on this page, and the company may earn compensation through affiliate links within the story. All prices are accurate upon date of publish. You can learn more about the affiliate process here.

types of tea: green, rooibos and hibiscus teas, side by side
ATU Images/Liudmila Chernetska/mescioglu/Getty Images

There’s nothing like unwinding with a steaming hot cuppa. Or maybe you’re an iced-tea-on-the-patio type of person. Either way, you may adore the stuff without knowing exactly what it is. Here, you’ll find details on six different types of tea for every palate, from robust black tea to sweet-tart hibiscus. Not only do we break down the tasting notes, origins and harvesting processes for each, but we also recommend a few favorites to shop, in case you’re in need of a restock.

The 20 Best Tea Brands to Cozy up with This Year

How Is Tea Made?

Sure, you have putting on the kettle and pouring water into a mug down pat. But how does your favorite tea go from plant to shelf? Most tea originates from the camellia sinensis plant, which originated in southern China. There are two varietals: camellia sinensis var. sinensis, which is milder in flavor and grows mostly in China and other East Asian countries, and camellia sinensis var. assamica, which is more robust and grows mainly in India.

Despite most teas being made from varieties of the same plant, unique harvesting and processing techniques give each type its own unique body, flavor and characteristics. For instance, some teas are completely oxidized (which intensifies their flavor and darkens the leaves’ color) and others aren’t at all. Teas can be rough chopped, rolled into tight balls by hand or air-dried. Some are picked early in their harvest while others are picked late. Much like wine, beer and coffee, there’s a ton of delicious tea for your taste buds to explore, all of them one of a kind.

types of tea: types of tea infographic showing six types of teas, their tasting notes and popular varieties
Dasha Burobina

Your Guide to 6 Types of Tea

types of tea: black tea
Stefania Pelfini, La Waziya Photography/Getty Images

1. Black Tea

  • How It’s Made: The tea leaves are harvested, wilted, crushed and fully oxidized
  • How It Tastes: robust, malty, strong
  • Where It’s From: China, India, Kenya, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Vietnam
  • Popular Varieties: Earl Grey, English Breakfast,Darjeeling

Black tea is arguably the most common, at least in the U.S. Typically, it boasts about half the caffeine content of a cup of coffee and has a robust flavor and dark color. It’s the base of many popular breakfast blends and mixes well with milk, sugar and flavors or sweeteners. Black tea also has theaflavins, a polyphenol that’s a product of oxidation. According to a 2018 report published in Molecules, theaflavins are believed to offer a range of health benefits, including “fat-reducing and glucose-lowering capabilities and lifestyle-related disease prevention related to anti-obesity, anticancer, anti-atherosclerotic, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, anti-osteoporotic and anti-dental caries properties.” (P.S.: That masala chai you crave on the reg starts with black tea.)

types of tea: green tea
ATU Images/Getty Images

2. Green Tea

  • How It’s Made: The leaves are harvested and instantly steamed or pan-fired for partial oxidation
  • How It Tastes: vegetal, mellow, floral
  • Where It’s From: China, Japan
  • Popular Varieties: Bi Luo Chun, Matcha, Sencha

Lighter in body and milder in taste than black tea, green tea has about half the caffeine content of its darker counterpart. It’s minimally oxidized and immediately steamed or pan-fired to stop the process. Limiting oxidation is what gives the tea its signature lightness and vegetal taste. Japanese green teas range from slightly savory to briny, while Chinese green teas are usually soft and mellow. You may be most familiar with matcha, a powdered, concentrated Japanese green tea that’s beloved for its rich, grassy flavor.

types of tea: hibiscus tea
mescioglu/Getty Images

3. Herbal Tea

  • How It’s Made: Different herbs, flowers, fruits, leaves, seeds and/or spices are dried, then steeped in hot water
  • How It Tastes: varies by type
  • Where It’s From: China
  • Popular Varieties: Chamomile, Hibiscus, Peppermint

Despite the name, herbal tea technically isn’t tea at all. The category consists of caffeine-free blends of different plants, spices and seeds to create unique flavors. Herbal teas have been used for their wellness and medicinal properties for thousands of years, ever since the Sumerians first grew herbs. Also called herbal infusions or tisanes, popular ingredients include rose, peppermint, ginger, lavender and hibiscus.

types of tea: white tea
Stefania Pelfini, La Waziya Photography/Getty Images

4. White Tea

  • How It’s Made: For some white teas, the tips and buds of the plant are harvested before forming full leaves. For others, the leaves are harvested after they unfurl. Either way, they’re minimally oxidized before being dried
  • How It Tastes: crisp, clean, floral
  • Where It’s From: China, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Taiwan
  • Popular Varieties: Himalayan White Tea, Silver Needle, White Peony

White tea originates from China’s Fujian province. It’s minimally processed, making for a supremely light body and mild flavor. It’s a great option for folks seeking low-caffeine types of tea. The leaves are usually sun- or air-dried and slightly oxidized. Depending on the type, they can range from floral and sweet to delicate and clean in flavor. Silver needle, a popular variety, is made exclusively from unopened buds, resulting in the most delicate white tea. But some coarser-cut types, like gong mei and shou mei, are more robust.

types of tea: rooibos tea
Liudmila Chernetska/Getty Images

5. Rooibos Tea

  • How It’s Made: The leaves are harvested, bruised and oxidized (except for green rooibos, which isn’t oxidized)
  • How It Tastes: nutty, rich, sweet
  • Where It’s From: South Africa
  • Popular Varieties: African Rose, Green Rooibos, Rooibos Chai

Also called red tea or red bush tea, rooibos is a specific type of herbal tea made from aspalathus linearis, a plant native to South Africa. Rooibos is technically a legume, not a real tea. South African farmers gather the bean-like seeds it produces and plant them for more than 18 months; no other country has managed to cultivate rooibos. It’s nutty, full-bodied and pairs well with milk. People who enjoy black tea but don’t want the caffeine may find that they love rooibos. There are two main types: green (which is steamed and dried right after harvesting and minimally oxidized for an earthy, grassy final product) and red (which is oxidized for longer for deeper color and sweetness).

types of tea: oolong tea
Yusuke Murata/Getty Images

6. Oolong Tea

  • How It’s Made: The leaves are harvested, wilted, oxidized, fired, rolled and dried; sometimes they’re also roasted for a warmer, nuttier flavor
  • How It Tastes: fruity, nutty, slightly sweet
  • Where It’s From: China
  • Popular Varieties: Green Oolong, Dark Oolong, Ti Kuan Yin

This one is mostly produced in China, specifically in the Fujian and Guangdong provinces. Taiwan is also prized for its specialty oolong teas, including milk oolong. Oolong is partially oxidized and can often be brewed many times, meaning each consecutive cup will have its own unique nuances. Oolongs have much range in the flavor department; its taste largely depends on how it’s processed. For instance, high mountain oolongs from Taiwan can be extra buttery and floral, thanks to oxidation, while heavily roasted Chinese oolongs are almost whiskey-like with notes of caramel and leather.

Other Popular Types of Tea

Fermented teas can be aged for years (or even decades). Black, white and oolong varieties deepen with bacterial and fungal interaction that occurs during the aging process. While this type of fermentation doesn’t result in alcohol or lactic acid, the processing doesn’t kill the microscopic organisms in the tea leaves, so it’s still fermented. Popular varieties include China’s pu-erh and liua an. Yellow tea is another notable variety that’s processed a lot like green tea, except the leaves are smothered and sweated for a rounder flavor. Chinese and Korean yellow teas are most popular, yet very different from each other. There’s also the rare purple tea, made from a purple-leaved tea plant that’s native to India’s Assam region. It’s only been commercially available for a few years and is now largely produced in Kenya. It’s low in caffeine, light in body and flavor and high in antioxidants.

Frequently Asked Questions

Loose Leaf vs. Tea Bags: Which Is Better?

Loose-leaf tea is largely considered to be fresher and better than bagged tea. Bags are usually filled with small bits of low-quality tea, which is why they’re typically cheaper. Loose-leaf tea is made from whole leaves, which make for a more complex, high-end brew. But there are also plenty of tasty bagged teas out there, so it may come down to how you prefer to prepare a cuppa.

Does Tea Have Less Caffeine Than Coffee?

Yes. Black tea has about half the caffeine content of coffee per serving, and green tea has about a quarter. That said, caffeine levels can vary on both ends. Also, tea leaves surprisingly contain more caffeine than coffee beans, says Healthline. It’s the brewing process that makes coffee ultimately higher in caffeine since the hotter water temperature extracts more caffeine. Plus, you likely use more coffee grounds to make a cup than tea leaves.

Does Tea Expire?

Yes, typically two years from its production. But the expiration date mostly speaks to the tea’s quality. Its aroma and flavor will dull over time, but the tea won’t become unsafe to drink.

taryn pire

Food Editor

Taryn Pire is PureWow’s food editor and has been writing about all things delicious since 2016. She’s developed recipes, reviewed restaurants and investigated food trends at...