Black tea, green tea, white tea... what's the difference? With unique flavors, processing, and brewing methods, learning the different types of tea is important for anyone who loves this drink. Different types of tea also have different caffeine levels and health benefits, that may even change the way you drink tea every day.
In this guide, we're taking you through all the main tea types, caffeine-free teas, and Zest high caffeine energy tea.
There's more to the world of tea than just green and black teas. Although all the main, caffeinated tea varieties are made from the same plant, the way they are grown, where they are grown, and how they are processed determines what "type" of tea they are.
Tea leaves from the Camellia sinensis tea plant are always caffeinated, unless they have been purposefully decaffeinated.
Black tea is undoubtedly the most popular tea type in the Western world. Earl Grey, English Breakfast tea, and even Irish Breakfast tea are all highly popular black tea blends. We even have our own high caffeine Earl Grey blend at Zest.
These traditional teas are often served with milk, which complements the rich, malty and warm flavor. This is also one of the easiest tea types to brew - simply steep the tea leaves or tea bags in boiling water from the kettle for 3-5 minutes.
Black tea leaves are picked and oxidized. The oxidation process turns the fresh tea leaves from lush and green to darker brown with a richer flavor profile. They are then dried and packaged as loose leaf or teabags.
Learn more in our quick guide to black tea.
Masala chai is one very popular form of black tea. 'Masala chai' is a well-known tea consumed in India, translating as 'spiced tea'. It's made with black tea, spices, milk and sugar to create a rich and sweet milky tea. Toasting the spices and brewing the tea leaves in milk on the stovetop enhances the flavor.
We have our own high caffeine chai tea at Zest that tea lovers can't get enough of.
Decaffeinated tea isn't just one particular tea. Any tea leaf from the Camellia sinensis plant can be decaffeinated to remove the vast majority of caffeine it contains. There will always be a few milligrams that linger, however. Compare caffeine levels in different types of tea using our caffeine levels guide.
Most decaffeinated teas are black tea varieties. There are two methods of decaffeinating tea:
Green tea is known to be lighter in both flavor and caffeine levels compared to black tea, although both green and black tea are very popular and made from the same tea plant. Green tea manufacturing doesn't include any oxidation. Instead, the fresh tea leaves are picked and quickly heated to fix the enzymes, keeping them green and creating grassy, bright, and sweet flavors.
Japanese green teas tend to be steamed while Chinese green teas are more likely to be pan-fired. At Zest, we use Young Hyson Chinese green tea for it's smooth and refreshing taste.
Matcha is a specific type of Japanese green tea. The Japanese tea leaves are crushed into a fine powder that's whisked into hot water. This creates a vibrant green tea with a strong bittersweet flavor and high caffeine level. To make this traditional drink, leaves are selected from shade-grown tea varieties. Learn more about the processing in our guide to matcha tea caffeine.
Matcha is also associated with many potential health benefits, including boosting and protecting cognitive function, reducing oxidative stress to protect the heart, and anti-cancer effects.1 This is mostly thanks to EGCG, a catechin found naturally in whole leaf tea.
Oolong is a partially oxidized tea. The flavors tend to vary depending on how oxidized the oolong is. A heavily oxidized oolong will taste more like a black tea, while a lightly oxidized oolong will taste more like a green tea.
In terms of caffeine, oolong tea also varies greatly from one oolong tea type to the next. Read our guide to oolong tea in-depth to learn more.
Oolong tea is less likely to be found in tea bags and more often sold as loose leaf. If you want to explore the endless flavor profiles that can be produced from cultivars of the Camellia sinensis plant, oolong tea and white tea are a great place to start.
White teas are made with the buds (or bud and first few leaves) of the tea plant. They are very lightly oxidized and barely crushed or shaped at all. Similar to green tea, white tea has a delicate, light and fresh flavor.
The most popular white tea types are:
Just like green tea, white tea is best brewed at a lower temperature to prevent bitterness. Learn more about white tea in our guide to white teas.
Pu-erh is a fermented tea type with an earthy, deep and rich flavor that's quite an acquired taste. As for the caffeine content, puerh tea typically contains more (or as much) caffeine as standard black tea, but still less than coffee and Zest energy tea.
The processing for pu-erh tea involves roasting, drying and compressing the tea leaves into 'cakes' which are then stored and aged to develop the flavor further.
Pu-erh tea is associated with numerous health properties, including anti-diabetic, anti-tumor, and anti-viral effects, but more research is needed to confirm these claims.2
Often missed off lists of tea types, yellow tea is one of the rarest tea varieties. Like green tea, it is lightly oxidized and has a fresh mellow flavor - without grassiness. To create yellow tea, the leaves are allowed to oxidize at a much slower rate, then heated to quickly fix the flavor.
You won't find this tea in tea bag format!
At Zest, you have a choice of green or black tea from our range of plant-powered energy drinks. We take high-quality tea leaves and use additional tea extract to naturally boost the caffeine levels. Whether you drink green tea at work or can't get up in the morning without your cup of black tea, these specific blends will give you a little extra boost.
One cup of Zest Tea contains more caffeine than coffee!
Our bestselling blend, Blue Lady, is a black tea. We use South Indian Flowery Orange Pekoe black tea as a base, then add non-GMO, natural ingredients to create mouth-watering flavors. Zest black tea blends are available in teabags or as loose leaf and provide up to 150mg of caffeine per serving.
This type of tea is perfect to wake you up in the morning and energize you for the day ahead.
Green tea is growing in popularity as a health drink, thanks to the amino acid L-Theanine and EGCG. But generally, standard green tea is low in caffeine and tastes grassy - even bitter, when brewed too hot. Zest green tea blends, on the other hand, are mixed with non-GMO natural ingredients and boosted with extra plant-powered caffeine.
Whether you opt for our green tea as teabags or loose leaf, you'll be hit with a refreshing flavor and up to 135mg of caffeine.
Ready-to-drink teas, instant teas, and bottled iced teas aren't strictly a "type" of tea - they're just a new format that may suit you better than hot tea.
Although our hot tea blends taste legendary when iced, we have a more convenient solution for you: our plant-powered, energizing formulas, ready to go.
One thing we noticed about how many people choose to drink standard black tea and green tea, is that they like it sweet. A spoonful of sugar in black tea, or a good teaspoon of honey swirled through green tea.
But we aren't keen on too much sugar in our tea - did you know it can actually be detrimental to your work-day energy boost? That's why several of our ready-to-drink tea varieties are zero sugar and zero calorie, yet still utterly delicious.
Discover our full range of energy teas to learn more.
If you are interested in different tea types due to their unique health benefits, then you'll also be interested in these herbal infusions. Scientific evidence behind some herbal tea health benefits is a little flimsy, so we've done the research for you.
Several of these herbal tea types, including hibiscus and mint, are also ingredients in our caffeinated energy teas. Unless otherwise stated (yerba mate, we're talking about you) all of these infusions are caffeine free.
Rooibos tea, also known as redbush tea or just red tea, is a caffeine-free infusion from South Africa. It's one of the most popular herbal teas due to the similarities in flavor with traditional black tea. Both are malty, rich, smooth, and have tannin notes. Just like black tea, rooibos tea can be consumed with or without milk.
Honeybush tea is another herbal tea from South Africa, although it doesn't enjoy the popularity that rooibos has. Steeping honeybush tea leaves in water creates a smooth, sweet and slightly nutty flavored infusion. It is also caffeine free and associated with a range of health benefits.
Studies have found that honeybush tea has antimutagenic and antioxidant properties, suggesting that it could be beneficial for cancer treatment.5
Both rooibos and honeybush are made from the leaves of a shrub. There are also many herbal teas that are made from the leaves of herbs and other plants. But there is also a category of herbal teas made from flowers - the whole blooms, petals, or just the calyx - the protective part that grows around the flower.
The most common herbal teas made from flowers include chamomile, hibiscus, dandelion and chrysanthemum.
Chamomile tea is a common ingredient in herbal sleep aid teas, and is enjoyed as plain chamomile tea too. Made from the whole flower blooms of chamomile plant varieties (both Roman and German types), this tea has a very cloying sweetness, mellow hay notes, and a hint of honey.
Most people are aware that chamomile has purported sedative properties, to help you sleep. It may also have anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-lowering properties as well.6
Did you know that the common dandelion weed growing in your backyard is entirely edible? The leaves, flower, and root of the dandelion plant can be consumed by humans! When it comes to dandelion tea, the root is the most commonly used component - although most people brewing fresh dandelion tea use the flower heads instead.
The FDA has stated that dandelion is 'generally recognized as safe' and it very rarely causes allergic reactions.7 As for health benefits, dandelion may have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects that could be used to treat cancer, diabetes, obesity, and coronary heart disease.8
Most popular in Asia, chrysanthemum tea is made from the flower heads of the chrysanthemum herb. It has a slightly sweet and floral flavor, which many people find refreshing. Unsurprisingly, it's a popular herbal tea to consume in the summer.
Chrysanthemum tea has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for generations and supposedly will keep you calm, cool, and lower your blood pressure. There is some evidence that the essential oils made from this plant can lower blood pressure and even provide mental relaxation too.9
At Zest, we love the fruity and tart flavor of hibiscus tea. We blend hibiscus with citrus fruits and passion fruit to create our iconic Blue Lady blend. Hibiscus tea is actually made from the calyx of the hibiscus plant, rather than the petals or stamen of the flower. The calyx is a tough part that protects the delicate flower.
When brewed, this herbal tea produces a very strong tart berry flavor and an intense red colored tea. You'd be forgiven for mistaking it for a fruit infusion. Learn more about hibiscus tea in our article exploring hibiscus tea and its caffeine content.
The following two herbal teas are made from well-known herbs. Many herbs with culinary uses, from basil to rosemary to sage, can also be brewed into tea. You can make herbal tea from fresh leaves or purchase dried leaves in teabag format.
All of these teas are caffeine-free, as they are not derived from the Camellia sinensis tea plant.
Peppermint has a very distinctive and refreshing flavor. It's sweet, bright and has a cooling effect from the menthol content that you can really feel in your throat after finishing a cup of peppermint tea.
We blend non-GMO peppermint leaves with lime, pomegranate and green tea to create our very refreshing Pomegranate Mojito blend.
Peppermint is known to have anti-inflammatory properties that can soothe irritation and inflammation when applied topically.10 Peppermint tea is very popular as an after-dinner herbal infusion, to cleanse your mouth and settle your stomach.
Valerian is another herbal tea type that's associated with better sleep, like chamomile and CBD (learn more about Zest CBD tea sleep benefits). Valerian tea is made from the root and stem of the valerian plant and has been used since the Ancient Greek and Roman times to treat sleep disorders. As a herbal remedy, it's associated with reducing anxiety and stress too.
There's not a great deal of scientific evidence to support these benefits, but some find that drinking valerian tea before bed improves sleep quality.11
Brown rice tea is made from roasted brown rice grains infused with water. It's most popular in Korea and Vietnam. Along with roasted barley, roasted grains are unusual but not unheard of ingredients for herbal tea.12
You may also have heard of genmaicha, a Japanese tea made from green tea and roasted brown rice grains that have been popped. It gives the tea a toasty, popcorn-like flavor. Any brown rice tea blend that also includes green tea will be caffeinated and should be brewed at a lower temperature to prevent scalding the green tea and creating bitter flavors!
Chaga tea is on the more unusual end of the herbal tea spectrum. Made from chaga mushrooms that grow in certain parts of North America and across the northern hemisphere, this tea has an earthy, rich, warm and slightly bitter flavor. Cocoa, coffee and black tea flavors can work well when combined with chaga mushroom, as well as spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. Like many herbal teas, people consume chaga tea for supposed health benefits from curing cancer to heart disease. However, there's only limited evidence that tea made from the chaga mushroom can slow tumor growth and balance the immune system.13
Popular in South America, yerba mate tea is one of the few infusions made from a plant other than the Camellia sinensis plant to contain caffeine. Yerba mate has earthy and grassy flavor characteristics, not dissimilar to a green tea. It's considered a healthy and stimulating drink. There are some associated health benefits that are mostly unfounded, however there is some evidence that it has anti-inflammatory effects and may benefit the cardiovascular system and protect liver cells.14
The five main tea categories are white, green, oolong, black and pu-erh. Yellow tea also exists, but is much rarer. These five main categories are all made from varieties of the Camellia sinensis plant, but go through different processes to create different types of tea.
Black tea and green tea are among the most widely consumed tea types, so they are considered the "main" types by many people. At Zest, we love these tea types and use them as the base to create our plant-powered energy teas. Oolong tea, white tea and pu-erh tea are also popular among more seasoned tea drinkers.
Black tea is arguably the most popular tea type in America, particularly when served sweet and cold. It's also the most popular in the UK and much of Europe. Herbal teas and green teas are typically the next most popular.
We have some satisfying black teas and refreshing green teas in our range. This includes our hot tea blends and ready-to-drink cold energy teas - all of which provide more caffeine than a cup of coffee. Read Switching from Coffee to Tea - 5 Things You Should Know next.