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Black Tea Cupping: Lesson 1 – Introduction to the 6 Tea Types

All tea comes from one plant, camellia sinensis.

There are six main types or categories of tea:

White Tea

Oolong Tea

Yellow Tea

Black Tea

Green Tea

Fermented or dark tea

– The colour of steeped tea is called the ‘liquor’.
– The smell of tea is called the ‘aroma’.
– The ‘body’ describes the way the liquor feels in the mouth. A tea can be described as having light, medium, or full body.

Full-bodied teas have fullness and strength and are the opposite of being ‘thin’. A tea’s body will change according to the region in which it was grown. There are many more terms which you will learn later.

But first, here is a brief explanation about each type of tea:

White Tea

White tea is the least processed tea. It is usually only harvested once a year in spring and is predominantly from China. Though, in recent years India and Sri Lanka have also produced some good quality white teas.
  • White tea is made from very young leaves or buds which are often covered with a fine silvery down (fine hairs).

  • The tea is withered and then dried , preventing oxidisation and giving the tea a light, delicate taste.

Pictured: Bankitwangi organic white tea

Green Tea

Green teas are the most commonly consumed teas in Asia. Leaves are immediately steamed or pan-fired after being plucked to stop enzymes from beginning to oxidise.
  • There are many types of green tea, many of which are hand-made. Green tea comes in many shapes and different sized leaves and is processed in a variety of unique ways.

  • Green tea often has a light grassy flavor and usually has light-colored liquor with a seaweed-type (vegetal) aroma.

Pictured: Tai ping hou kui 

Yellow Tea

Yellow teas are rare and delicate, with many varieties having become extinct as their secret processing methods have died out with their practitioners. Some beautiful types of yellow tea remain, however. Yellow tea was developed to be similar to green tea, however with more of an emphasis on sweetness.
  • There is often a nice lightness to the drink and less of a vegetal aroma compared to its green tea brothers and sisters.

  • During processing this  tea type is smothered with a light cloth or paper, which promotes its mellow sweet flavour profile.

Pictured: Yellow Mudan Tea

Oolong Tea

Oolongs are partially oxidised teas, which range in oxidisation from approximately 25 per cent to 75 per cent, although this can vary. Because an oolong’s oxidation percentage is in between green and black tea it has characteristics of both of these types. Oolongs are more full-bodied than green teas and often have light, floral aromas, sometimes like lilac or orchids.
  • The liquor is often pale yellow, green ,amber or golden in colour.

  • In France this type of tea is also known as ‘blue’ tea, because the rolled leaf can have a blue-green colour.

  • Some of the most famous oolong teas come from Taiwan.

Pictured: Tie Guan Yin

Black Tea

Black tea is mostly fully oxidised and is the most popular tea in the western world. It is the most heavily processed type of tea.
The leaf goes through many processing stages, including withering,rolling, fermenting, oxidising and drying.
  • Black tea accounts for about 90 per cent of all tea consumed and is often the base for iced tea.
  • Different countries are famous for their black teas, such as India for Darjeeling, China for Keemun and Sri Lanka for Uva or Kenilworth.
  • In the making of blends, several black teas are blended to form teas such as English Breakfast and Earl Grey, both of which originally were trademarks.
  • Specialty black teas or single origin black teas come from single estates or single origin farms.

Pictured: Geelong Breakfast, By Australian Tea Masters

Fermented Tea 

Fermented tea goes through a completely different type of manufacturing post process microbial fermentation. The most famous fermented tea is Puerh which traditionally comes from the Yunnan Province, China, and can come in either Shou (ripe) or Sheng (raw)tea form. Fermented tea goes through the same methods as a green tea would during the initial processing phases, but in some cases while the tea is still moist it can be stacked in mounds.


Puerh traditionally comes in either Shou or Sheng tea form .The difference is raw puerh is steamed and usually pressed into cakes called a bing and allowed to ferment and mature through time while ripe puerh is made from raw puerh and allowed to ferment by applying water and covering. The air is kept warm and the natural enzymes and bacteria which occur in the leaf slowly start the fermentation process. It is almost like composting, and when it is complete, this process gives the tea an earthy flavour and a sweet, musky aroma.

  • It is a full-bodied tea and naturally improves with age, like a good wine.
  • The Chinese believe that dark tea and puerh has good health properties and that it can lower cholesterol, aid in digestion and assist with weight management.
  • There are two types of puerh: “Sheng” and “Shou”

Pictured: Shu puer tea