Types of Chinese Tea

Chinese tea was first discovered and used by Chinese Emperor Shen Nong more than 4,700 years ago (in 2737 BC), which was recorded in the tea book <The Classic of Tea>.

According to <The Classic of Chinese Tea> written by Chen Zongmao, an academician of Chinese Academy of Engineering, Chinese tea is classified into six main types:

  1. Green Tea
  2. Black Tea
  3. Oolong Tea
  4. White Tea
  5. Yellow Tea
  6. Dark Tea

Each type of tea has its unique processing and benefits.

1. Green Tea

Green tea (绿茶, Lǜ Chá) is a kind of unfermented tea, of which the tea leaves keep the original color, so it has a green color. After brewing, the color of the tea liquid is also green, which is the reason green tea is named “green”.

Due to not being unfermented, green tea retains many natural nutrients of the original fresh leaves, such as more than 85% of tea polyphenols.

Processing of green tea:

  • Kill-green (杀青, Shā Qīng): destroy the enzymes of the fresh leaves by high temperature to stop oxidation of the polyphenols, chlorophyll, etc., so that prevent the fresh tea leaves from fermenting and from turning red or black. This is why green tea can keep green.
  • Rolling (揉捻, Róu Niǎn): reduce the volume of the tea leaves and lay a good foundation for drying.
  • Drying (干燥, Gān Zào): evaporate moisture of the tea leaves.

Green tea is the most common tea in daily life, and there are hundreds of varieties of it in China.

The common green tea:

2. Black Tea

Black tea (红茶, Hóng Chá) is a kind of fermented tea, retaining just 10% of tea polyphenols, but new components such as theaflavins and thearubigins are generated during the fermentation process.

In China, black tea is called Hong Cha literally meaning “red tea” because the tea color is similar to red. Due to its historical origin, its English name is black tea.

It is said that in the 17th century, while a British businessman imported Chinese black tea to Europe, he saw the color of black tea leaves is black-brown, so he called it black tea. Since then, Hong Cha has been called “black tea” in English-speaking countries.

Processing of black tea:

  • Withering (萎凋, Wěi Diāo): put fresh leaves under sunlight or air circulation place to let them wither naturally. Partial oxidation reactions happen during this step.
  • Rolling
  • Fermenting (发酵, Fā Jiào): the tea polyphenols, chlorophyll, etc. are oxidized by the action of enzymes to make green leaves turn red or black brown and new chemical substances are produced.
  • Drying

The common black tea:

3. Oolong Tea

Oolong tea (乌龙茶, Wū Lóng Chá) also called Wulong tea is a kind of half-fermented tea, first produced in Fujian Province in 1725 (The Qing Dynasty), today mainly produced in Fujian and Guangdong Province, both of those two cities in the south of China.

Oolong tea is called “slimming tea” or “bodybuilding tea” in Japan because oolong tea has good effects on losing weight and lowering blood lipids and cholesterol.

Processing of oolong tea:

  • Withering
  • Make-green (做青, Zuò Qīng): it is a very important step and one of the special processes for producing oolong tea. This step is mainly to partially ferment the fresh tea leaves. This is why oolong tea is a half-fermented tea.
  • Rolling
  • Drying

The common oolong tea:

4. White Tea

White tea (白茶, Bái Chá) is a slightly fermented tea, which is made in the most natural way and the least processes among these six types of Chinese tea. It is mainly produced in Fujian and Yunnan Province.

The finished white tea leaves are covered with a layer of white fine fluffs, looking like white leaves, which is the origin of its name.

The name of white tea was first recorded around 1064 (The Song Dynasty), and its producing technology was formally formed around 1796 (The Qing Dynasty).

The chemical composition of white tea is generally close to that of green tea. But white tea is rich in more active enzymes.

Processing of white tea:

  • Withering: put the fresh tea leaves under sunlight, let them wither naturally. Although this step is simple, it requires rich experience.
  • Drying: dry them slowly with a slow fire or dryer.

The common white tea:

5. Yellow Tea

Yellow tea (黄茶, Huáng Chá) is also a slightly fermented tea, but its degree of fermentation is a little more than that of white tea. Its processing was formally formed during 1567-1572 (The Ming Dynasty).

Compared to white tea, Yellow tea just has one more step to make tea leaves oxidized and turned yellow through slightly fermenting. From the chemical point of view, the chlorophyll of tea leaves is oxidized to yellow. So the characteristics of yellow tea are “yellow tea leaves” and “yellow tea liquid”.

Processing of yellow tea:

  • Kill-green
  • Rolling
  • Yellowing (闷黄, Mèn Huáng): it is a unique process for producing yellow tea. When the tea leaves are piled up, in a hot and humid environment, the tea leaves will have a chemical reaction. This is the key step to form the yellow color of yellow tea.
  • Drying

The common yellow tea:

6. Dark Tea

Dark tea (黑茶, Hēi Chá) is a kind of post-fermented tea, which means fermentation occurs in the last few steps of the whole processing.

Unlike other types of tea, dark tea requires external microorganisms to help it ferment. In this approach, dark tea can be fermented thoroughly. This is why dark tea leaves and its tea liquid are dark or brown.

In China, dark tea is called Hei Cha and Hei means “black”; the “black” is used to call Hong Cha, so Hei Cha is called “dark tea”.

The name of dark tea was first found in 1524 (The Ming Dynasty), and it became popular at the end of the 16th century.

In addition, traditional Pu-erh tea belongs to dark tea. But nowadays, according to the processing, many kinds of Pu-erh tea are invented such as Pu-erh green tea, Pu-erh black tea, Pu-erh white tea, Pu-erh yellow tea, and so on. Due to this reason, some people consider Pu-erh tea is a special category of Chinese tea.

Dark tea has strong functions of reducing fat, lowering blood lipids, and promoting digestion, which is the reason why meat-eating people especially like this kind of tea.

Processing of dark tea:

  • Fixation
  • Rolling
  • Piling (渥堆, Wò Duī): pile up tea leaves to ferment with microorganisms. After a few days of fermentation, the leaves will turn dark. This is the most important step for producing dark tea.
  • Drying

The common dark tea:


The essential difference between these six types of tea is the degree of fermentation. The color and taste of unfermented tea are the closest to the natural flavor.

For fermented tea, as the degree of fermentation deepens, the color of tea becomes darker, and the fragrance and taste of it gradually become rich and mellow.

Percentage of fermentation of these six types of tea:

  • Green Tea: less than 5%
  • White Tea: 5%-10%
  • Yellow Tea: 10%-20%
  • Oolong Tea: 15%-50%
  • Black Tea: 70%-80%
  • Dark Tea: 100%