Tea Classification

Tea classification and processing

Tea is generally available as one of six differing types: Green, Yellow, White, Oolong (Wulong), Black and Fermented (Pu’erh). These are dictated by the processing method. Many more differences within each classification occur as a result of the cultivar, grade of tea, terroir and differences within processing method. The following table describes the processing methods used to come up with the following teas.

Obviously this presents many variables, such as Green tea from Japan, Ceylon or China (highlighting obvious differences in cultivar, terroir & process method). This table can be used as a general classification.

5 types of Tea processing
White Tea (Bai Chan)

White Tea (Bai Chan) aka Bai Mudan, Pai Mu Tan, White Peony, Silver Needle

White Tea is the least processed of all the teas, being made up from the youngest buds or shoots, often where the hairs on the leaves can be seen (hence the name Silver needles) without rolling and generally have a very light sweet taste much lighter than Green or Black tea. 

Yellow Tea (Huang Cha)

Yellow tea is relatively rare, but worth a mention due to the additional step of steaming under moist cloths after the drying/oxidation process of green tea. This is a particularly expensive tea, probably most famous is Junshan Yinzhen (lit. Silver needles of the gentleman mountain from Junshan island in Hunan province). Other teas from other provinces include Huoshan Huangya (Anhui province), Da Ye Qing (lit. Big leaf from Guangdong province). The teas are generally more subtle and less grassy than green teas.

Yellow Tea (Huang Cha)
Green - Longjing tea
Bi Luo Chun (Medium grade)
Japanese Sencha

Green Tea (Lu Cha)

Green is a subject almost deserving of a page on its own, as is black, due to its popularity. The taste & processing of green tea can be radically different. Stating you don’t like Green tea is like saying you don’t like wine, with the many different flavours available. As individual are the teas, so are people’s tastes.  

The processing of Green tea does not include the same withering and oxidation process as Oolong and Black tea. Tasting is obviously subjective and I still haven’t found my favourite! Green teas are predominantly drunk in China, with a generally earthier taste than that in Japan.

Green teas are predominantly drunk in China, with a generally earthier taste than that in Japan. Longjing (Lit. ‘Dragon well’, from Hangzhou, Zhejiang province), Bi Luo Chun (Suzhou), Gunpowder (Shaoxing) and Mao Feng (Anhui) are all examples of typical high-grade green teas, as well as Jasmine tea (Mo Li Hua Cha). There are other countries, such as Japan, who specialise in Green tea with well-known styles such as Sencha (Decocted tea), Gyokuro (Jade Dew) and Matcha (powdered tea)

Black tea (Hong Cha lit. Red tea)

Confusing, as in Chinese what the West regards as black tea, is named after the colour of the brewed tea, i.e. red tea, whilst in the West it is known for the colour of its leaves. Black tea is generally processed from the C.S.var. Assamica, such as its namesake, Assam. Black tea accounts for the majority of tea drank in the West. However, there are some special Chinese styles, such as Keemun (Anhui)

I suggest this is because black tea does not lose its flavour, unlike Green tea and it’s ease of brewing in comparison to Green. It’s not unusual for a green tea to have ‘rolling’ boiled water poured onto it and steeped for too long, rendering the taste too bitter. See here for instructions on making green tea.

Black tea is often blended from many styles to suit the market of the seller such as Earl Grey, English breakfast and Masala. Pure tea includes Darjeeling, Assam, Lapsang Souchong, Keemun, Gong Fu and Ceylon.

Black Tea (Hong Cha lit. Red tea)
Keemun FTGFOP
Builders tea with milk
Oolong tea leaves

Oolong (Wulong)

Oolong is a traditional Chinese tea which after oxidation is rolled or curled many times to achieve the necessary bruising, before being baked or roasted. Whilst Black tea also undergoes a rolling process, Oolong focuses on the timing and exact temperature necessary.

The tea predominantly comes from Fujian (Wuyi mountains), Guangdong province & to a lesser extent, Taiwan. The most famous are Tie Guan Yin (Fujian), Dao Hung Pao (Wuyi) and Dancong (Guangdong).

 

Post-fermented (Hei Cha lit. Dark tea) aka Pu-erh,

Post-fermented teas are quite different to other teas as they are partially fermented. This changes the smell, look & taste of the tea, hence also being called Dark tea, as the liquor tends to be almost black in colour.

Pu-erh has a typical flavour, often an acquired taste. It is generally sold in a compressed cake form, with them maturing, like a good wine, with age.

Apart from Pu-erh (Yunan), other fermented teas include Liu An (Anhui).

 

Pu-erh tea tuocha

Altered Teas

All of the above can be modified or altered in some way by adding a scent, flavour or processing, such as roasting, blending, ground, aged or decaffeinated. This could be classified as a 7th category, which is quite common, such as Earl Grey (adding Bergamot), or Jasmine teas.