Tea characteristics can vary from harvest to harvest, region to region, and even between tea estates within a region. The following chart, which lists general descriptions of common appearance, taste, and aroma characteristics, will help you become more familiar with some of the most common black teas. Similar charts will follow the descriptions of oolong, green, white, and pu'erh teas.

As you review these charts, please keep in mind that taste is a subjective experience and that the descriptions here are very brief. There's a whole world of tea out there. Sampling many teas is the best way to find your favorites.

Name Origin Characteristics
Assam Assam, India

This tea-growing region produces more tea than any other similar-size geo- graphical area in the world. A strong, hearty, robust, full-bodied tea with a malty flavor. Perfect for breakfast and takes milk well.



Ceylon (Sri Lanka)

When Ceylon gained independence from England and renamed itself Sri Lanka, its government retained the Ceylon name to describe and label its teas. There are two primary types of Ceylons: a crisp light- to medium-bodied tea and a medium- to heavy-bodied tea, characterized by a pronounced sweet, ripe-fruit flavor. Served for breakfast or afternoon tea. Takes milk well.

Darjeeling Darjeeling, India

Called the "champagne" of teas, Darjeelings are the highest grown teas in the world (40~ feet). Light body and golden or amber in color, Darjeelings can have a sweet muscat (grape) flavor or a more crisp astringent flavor. Served in the afternoon without milk. Requires the most precision in steeping.

Keemun China The original English breakfast tea, also referred to as the "burgundy" of teas, keemuns are deep, rich, black teas with an earthy sweetness and a hint of smokiness. Can be served with milk, but not the higher grades.
Kenyan Kenya Hearty, strong black breakfast tea. Great with milk and sugar. Generally machine processed.
Lapsang souchong China One of the world's most famous teas, this black tea is smoked over pine fires. A strong tea with a smoky, tarry aroma and flavor. Can be served with or without milk. Winston Churchill took his with Scotch.
Nilgiri India One of the best values in black tea. Nilgiris are smooth, medium-bodied teas with just a hint of sweetness. Served with or without milk. Simple to steep as inaccurate timing won't ruin the brew.
Russian caravan China This blended tea is a milder version of a Lapsang souchong, with a hint of smokiness.
Yunnan China Strong, smooth tea with a velvety, almost silky texture and lingering taste.


Oolong tea falls in between black and green tea in terms of processing, taste, and other characteristics, and as a result, shares qualities of black and green teas. During processing, the withering and fermentation (i.e., oxidation) stages are combined, and last only four or five hours rather than the twenty-four-hour fermentation process used to make black tea. Then the leaves are fired to halt fermentation, sorted, and packed. This process results in semifermented tea that contains less caffeine than black tea. Below are a few types of oolong teas from China and Taiwan.

Name Origin Characteristics
Formosa oolong Formosa (Taiwan) Smooth, medium-bodied with a hint of ripe fruit taste, golden amber liquid.
Wuyi China Lighter in color than Formosa oolong, with a hint of green peeking through the amber. Floral flavor.
Ti Kuan Yin China Not as dark as Formosa oolong with a floral flavor.


Green tea is made from unfermented tea leaves. Immediately after picking, leaves are panfired in a large metal wok or steamed to break down the enzymes in the leaf that cause fermentation. Panfiring also softens the leaves for rolling. Next, leaves are rolled, then dried, sorted, and packed. This process generally takes twenty-four hours or less.

Because green tea is the least processed tea, except for white tea, more of the tea leaf's beneficial properties remain intact. Green tea has half the caffeine of black tea and varies widely in appearance and taste. Some green teas are light, mild tasting, and pale green or yellow in color. Others can have a bitter or grassy taste. Matcha, the strong tea used in Japanese tea ceremonies, is characterized by its frothy jade liquid. Most of the world's green teas come from Japan, which produces only green teas, and China, which produces black, oolong, and green teas. Below are several well-known green teas.

Name Origin Characteristics
ChunMee China Also called "precious eyebrows." Light green (with a hint of golden hue) liquid with a sweet, musty taste.
Dragonwell China Also called "dragon's well." Yellowish green liquid with a sweet grassy taste.
Gen mai cha Japan Some call this "popcorn tea." Blended with roasted and puffed brown rice, it has a roasty, toasty flavor like popcorn.
Gunpowder China Named for the appearance of the individually rolled leaves, which resemble pellets or gunpowder. A strong-bodied green tea with hints of sweet and earthy flavors. Medium color green liquid.
Gyokuro Japan Also called "precious dew," this is the finest tea made in Japan. The leaves are a very deep green and, once brewed, produce a luminescent liquid, light green in color. A sweet taste with hints of the sea.
Hojicha Japan Made from toasted green tea leaves, it produces an amber or light brown liquid. Hojicha has the most body for a green tea, with a taste reminiscent of almost burnt toast.
Hyson China Small, slightly curled green/gray leaves. An earthy, medium-bodied tea.
Matcha Japan Thick, frothy, bitter, bright green. Used in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies.
Pi Lo Chun China Also called "green snail spring" or "astounding fragrance." Small leaves curled like snail shells. Tea has a pronounced sweet flavor and aroma.
Sencha Japan Fresh taste, pale green, relaxing afternoon tea, with a hint-of-the-sea taste.


The purest of all teas, white tea is made from the fresh downy buds of the Camellia sinensis bush. White tea is the least processed and rarest of teas, drunk primarily by tea connoisseurs. You won't find white teas at the supermarket, only at fine specialty tea shops. A premium white tea like Yin Zhen (silver needles) can cost $120 or more a pound.

Name Origin Characteristics
Yin Zhen China Also called "silver needles." The most exotic and expensive tea, harvested by the imperial plucking method.
Pai Mu Tan China Smooth, mellow, flowery taste made from large leaves.


Originally produced in China's Yunnan Province and named after the ancient trading town of Pu-er, Pu'erh tea is a favorite in China. In Yunnan, Pu'erh is considered a medicinal tea, drunk with or after a meal to aid digestion. It is also believed to reduce cholesterol. Pu'erh is the only tea that is aged before processing and whose taste improves with age. Premium pu'erh teas are aged from twenty to sixty years. This mystery tea is processed under vigilant security and secrecy. Nobody outside of its manufacturers in China knows exactly what makes this tea so remarkable. In fact, during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) trespassers caught on the plantation were executed.

Name Origin Characteristics
Pu'erh China

Dark black tea with smooth, rich, earthy (peaty) flavor.


Technically speaking, herbal teas, called "tisanes" in Europe (tisane is the French word for infusion), are not considered true teas since they are made from dried herbs and do not contain tea leaves. However, for simplicity, all of the warm beverages mentioned in this book will be referred to as "teas."

Like tea, herbal teas have been consumed for centuries as healing tonics and traditional medicines. Their use as refreshing beverages is a relatively recent development, and in Germany, where pharmaceutical-quality herbal teas are sold as over-the-counter drugs, 60 percent of packaged teas are medicinal teas. Peppermint, chamomile, and ginger are just a few types of herbal teas. (See chapter 5 for more information on herbal teas.)


Rooibos tea (pronounced "roy-boss"), grown only in South Africa, shares the best qualities of black and herbal teas. This herbal tea resembles strong black teas in appearance and flavor, but it is naturally caffeine-free, low in tannins (a type of polyphenol in black tea responsible for its sometimes bitter taste), and, like tea, a source of vitamins, minerals, and disease-fighting antioxidants. Rooibos is sometimes referred to as "redbush tea" (not to be confused with red-colored tea consumed in China). Honeybush tea is another herbal tea grown in South Africa.

Source: The Little Book of Healthy Teas

recipes for tea