Choosing Your Tea: Defining the Types

When starting to dabble in tea or even branch into new flavors, all of the varieties available can be intimidating. What’s the difference between white tea and black tea? Is green tea supposed to be bitter? It can make you just want to run back to the familiar types you enjoy. While there is nothing wrong with staying in your comfort zone, there are many varieties of teas that are beneficial. It is worth it to explore some new varieties and try new things.

First, it’s important to remember that tea is tea. It all comes from the same plant. Where you get the different distinctions between white, black, green, and so on is more about how it’s picked and/or dried. Tea is also ranked (superior orange versus regular orange pekoe) - you may want to take this into consideration when choosing tea as the quality of the leaves will affect taste.


White Tea

White tea is a very delicate tea. If you’re just starting out with teas and learning which flavors you like, this may be a great place to begin. It’s quite flavorful, but subdued. The leaves are the very first bud and leaf. The delicacy in the tea comes from the fact that the leaves used are these new growth leaves. Subtle flavors occur because the leaves haven’t had a chance to age.

Another factor in the refined flavor of white tea has to do with how it’s processed. There is minimal processing and oxidizing. Some oxidation does occur naturally in drying, but it isn’t manually oxidized, like green and black teas, which have a punchier “tea” flavor. There are also higher antioxidant levels than compared to other teas.

If you’re sensitive to caffeine, you may prefer white tea. It has the least amount of caffeine in it. Switching to white tea in the afternoon may help with sleep since you aren’t stimulated by the caffeine. Personally, I love drinking white tea in the late afternoon and evening; it warms me up and also relaxes me so sleep comes easier.

Green Tea

Most people think of the health benefits of green tea first before considering flavor. I’m sure you’ve heard the benefits: antioxidants which can lower your risk for cancer, fat burning qualities, compounds that lead to improved brain function.

Green tea is an acquired taste for many people. Depending on the region in which it was grown and the quality of the leaves, green tea may be quite bitter. There’s also an earthy flavor depending on how it’s dried. If it tastes too bitter, it may have steeped too long.

Even though green tea may have a lackluster reputation, there are still smooth-tasting green teas. It’s not oxidized, but it has a different drying process than the white teas. You just have to try a few green teas from various regions and see what you like.


Oolong is in between green tea and black tea. While it has that earthy taste like green tea, it’s a bit smoother. In other words, may not be as bitter.

It has some tannins in it because oolong is getting towards the black tea end of the spectrum. This is what will make it bitter if it’s over-steeped because of the oxidation process.

Many people may associate oolong with going out for Chinese food because oolong is typically the type of tea served at many restaurants. Even then, there are a lot of varieties out there and the end flavor is greatly affected by where the leaves are grown and how they’re picked.

Black Tea

Most people associate or think about black tea when they think of tea. It’s the kind of tea that we’ve become accustomed to in bags from the grocery store.

Black tea is intentionally oxidized and is more oxidized than white, green, and oolong teas; it’ll be stronger in flavor because of the oxidation. There are also tannins in black tea that can produce that strong flavor and possibly even bitterness. As with the other teas, the longer it’s steeped, the more bitter it can become.

Black tea is good after a meal as a digestive aid. The tannins help with that. Generally, in India they drink black tea afterwards. Think about chai tea: it’s a black tea that contains cardamom and cinnamon. All help with digestion.


Pu-erh is a tea beyond black tea. It’s been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years and quite the status symbol in China and among elite tea drinkers. This tea has been encouraged to ferment using microbial fermentation. It ages quite dynamically and is a very robust tea with lots of caffeine.

Pu-erh tea is packed into a brick (this is a traditional way to package it as it makes transportation much easier) and will age quite nicely. In fact, it’s meant to age whereas other teas just lose their flavor and become stale.

I’ve tried this tea and it makes me quite giddy because of the caffeine!


If you’re interested in trying new flavors and experiencing new tea worlds, look to the different regions. Just like wine grapes differ based on where they’re grown, the same is true for teas. Different regions will produce teas that have a variety of tastes smells, and looks.

Personally, I prefer black or white teas. The main thing to remember is that tea, just like anything else, is very subjective. What I may think tastes delicious could be very off-putting to your taste buds. Overall, experiment with new flavors to see what you like!