The process for making black tea is defined by allowing the leaf to fully oxidize during production (which means water evaporates out of the leaf and the leaf absorbs more oxygen from the air). The results are the characteristic dark brown and black leaf with typically more robust and pronounced flavors.
As with all “true teas,” black tea is derived from the Camellia sinensis plant. Leaves of the plant are crushed, curled, rolled, or torn and then left to oxidize before they’re dried and sold.
The fact that the leaves are fully oxidized accounts for black tea’s strong, dark flavor profile. The oxidation process also decreases black tea’s flavonoid content a bit, but this brew is still loaded with beneficial properties.
Black tea is often sold in some kind of blend, which will determine its flavor profile. The season and place where a tea plant was grown will also impact its flavor. As a general rule, black tea is produced in China, India, Sri Lanka, or Nepal.
As we mentioned above, black tea is the most common type of tea (at least in the US) and comes in many varieties. Here are some of the most common types of black tea:
- Assam black tea, which has a malt-like flavor
- Ceylon black tea, which features bold flavor with hints of chocolate or spices
- Darjeeling, which is a more delicate form of black tea that features fruity or floral elements
- Earl Grey, which consists of black tea flavored with bergamot and/or citrus
- English Breakfast, which tends to be full-bodied and may most closely resemble Assam or Ceylon black tea in flavor
- Flavored blends with fruity or floral profiles, such as lychee or rose
- Irish Breakfast, which has a reddish color and malty flavor
- Keemum black tea, which is fruity and almost wine-like in its flavoring
- Kenyan black tea, which features a dark, slightly astringent profile
- Lapsang Souchong, which is distinguished by its smoky flavor
- Masala Chai tea, which is blended with a variety of spices such as cardamom, cloves, and peppercorns
- Yunnan black tea, which is chocolatey, malty, and perhaps spicy
Benefits of Black Tea
Black tea is steadily attracting more and more attention from researchers. While studies are still ongoing, so far research suggests black tea may:
- Support heart health
- Help support the body’s protection against oxidative stress (which happens when damaging free radicals are left unchecked in the body)
All tea starts out green. The green tea process is defined by preventing oxidation. Shortly after picking, the leaves are “fired” (rapid heating) to arrest oxidation and keep the leaf “green” for the duration of production. Green teas are typically steeped for shorter amounts of time and at lower temperatures which will produce a lighter cup with less caffeine.
Green tea is prepared from the fresh or withered, lightly heated or steamed leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. This preparation stops the oxidation process and accounts for green tea’s flavor profile, which is best described as light, fresh, and maybe slightly grassy.
Of course, different green teas may boast slightly different flavors, which can range from nutty to fruity to almost seaweed-like. Different flavors are usually explained by where the tea was grown as well as the specifics of how it was processed. Here are some of the most common types of green tea:
- Biluochun, a Chinese-style green tea with a strong aroma and vegetal, sometimes fruity taste
- Genmaicha, one of several Japanese green teas that’s often considered a lower grade of Sencha (see below). Puffed rice or sorghum are added to achieve a “toasty” flavor
- Gyokuro, another Japanese-style tea with a strong, savory flavor akin to seawood or soup stock
- Laoshan, which makes for a creamy, smooth brew and a sweet-and-buttery flavor
- Longjing or Dragon Well, a hand-roasted type of Chinese tea with a fresh, slightly sweet, slightly nutty, flavor profile
- Matcha tea, a Japanese-style tea and one of the most popular green teas around. It boasts a creamy, savory, and almost bittersweet flavor
- Sencha, one of the most popular types of Japanese tea, which is usually savory, grassy, and slightly bitter and may carry a scent of melon or pine
Benefits of Green Tea
Green tea is the most heavily studied type of “true” tea, and research into this brew is overwhelmingly positive. So far, research suggests green tea may:
- Support mental alertness and acuity (thanks to its caffeine content)
- Support heart health
- Help support the body’s natural protection against oxidative stress
- Support brain health
- Green tea is also a great tea to help support fasting.
Oolong teas are roughly defined as any tea that undergoes partial oxidation (10-90%), but this fact is not useful by itself. “Baking” (take the term literally) is also a common technique in making oolong tea so it is impossible to summarize categorically. The regional styles and cultivars used tend to define them more than anything else.
Otherwise known as wulong or “black dragon” tea, oolong tea is semi-oxidized and is always produced as a whole-leaf tea. The level of oxidation can range widely, and so can the tea’s flavor, color, and aroma. The less oxidized the tea, the lighter it is in color; the more oxidized, the darker the color.
Different types of oolong tea include:
- Bai Hao (aka White Tip), which has a fruity, crisp finish
- Baozhong or Pouchong, which undergoes minimal processing and boasts a delicate, subtle flavor
- Da Hong Pao (aka Red Robe), which is very oxidized and has a rich, earthy flavor
- Feng Huang Dan Cong, which is on the sweeter, more floral side of the flavor spectrum
- Tie Guan Yin (aka Iron Goddess), which features fruity, sweet flavor notes
- Tung Ting (aka Frozen Peak), which has a nutty flavor with a smooth finish
Benefits of Oolong Tea
Oolong tea is less popular than other “true” teas, and that’s kind of a shame — because this beverage is packed with good-for-you qualities:
- It has several antioxidant compounds including EGCG, theaflavins, and thearubigins. These compounds can help support the body’s protective measures against free radicals and oxidative stress.
- It may support heart health.
- It may support brain health.
Pu-erh, a fermented tea, is often more expensive than other “true” teas, and it boasts a loyal (borderline fanatic) fan club. As with the other entries on this list, pu-erh tea is derived from the leaves and stems of the Camellia sinensis plant. It mostly originates from the Yunnan province of China and may be sold in the form of a brick, cake, or dried leaves.
Once pu-erh is harvested, its leaves are hand-tossed in giant woks to stop oxidation in its tracks. It then undergoes an additional processing step during which it’s aged in a very humid environment. This process is supposed to bring out the tea’s distinct flavor, which is generally dark, rich, and less astringent than other teas.
This flavor may vary a bit depending on how long pu-erh has aged. For instance:
- Young raw pu-erh is aged for less than two or three years. It tends to share some flavor characteristics with green tea in that it tastes fairly fresh and grassy. Depending on where it was grown, it may be on the sweeter or more bitter side.
- Aged raw pu-erh is darker than its young raw counterpart. Its flavors tend to be earthy, woodsy, and perhaps a bit fruity.
- Ripe pu-erh, which is produced by letting dried pu-erh leaves “compost” in piles for several months, thereby speeding up the fermentation process. The result is a creamy, earthy brew.
Benefits of Pu-erh Tea
Pu-erh isn’t as well-researched as other “true” teas, but there’s still plenty of evidence to suggest it may have several positive effects:
- Because of its caffeine content, it can help support mental alertness
- It is high in antioxidant properties
- It may support heart health
- It may help support healthy skin
The easiest way to define white tea is by its minimal processing – no pan firing, no rolling. The leaves are picked, then slowly and methodically dried. Since the leaves are not shaped by rolling the finished product tends to be quite bulky, but because they are not pan-fired there will be some incidental oxidation.
White tea is created from new buds and young leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, which helps explain why it has the most delicate flavor profile of all the “true” teas. (The silver hairs on the new buds account for the tea’s whitish hue.) Right after harvesting, these buds and leaves are steamed or fried to stop the oxidation process. Then the leaves are dried.
This style of processing leads to a light, delicate, and fruity flavor. White tea is also lower in caffeine than other “true” teas.
Different types of white tea include:
- Bai Hao Yin Zhen (aka Silver Needle), which is a rare tea made only from buds. It has a floral scent and sweet flavor.
- Bai Mu Dan (aka White Peony), which has a slightly stronger flavor than Silver Needle thanks to the inclusion of young leaves as well as buds.
- Darjeeling White tea, which is grown in India and is usually less expensive than white teas grown in Yunnan.
- Gong Mei (aka Tribute Eyebrow), which is derived from more mature leaves and has a richer, earthier flavor than most other styles of white tea.
- Shou Mai (aka Long Life Eyebrow), which also is derived from more mature leaves and undergoes a longer oxidation process than other types of white tea.
Benefits of White Tea
Because it’s minimally processed, white tea is thought to have especially high levels of good-for-you catechins. It also boasts plenty of other health benefits:
- It has antioxidant properties, meaning it can potentially help protect against oxidative stress
- It may help support the body’s response to inflammation
- It may help support dental health thanks to the fact that it contains fluoride, catechins, and tannins. Fluoride is known to support teeth strength, while catechins and tannins may support the management of plaque bacteria in the mouth
- It may help support brain health