A look inside 4 typical teas: black, green, white and oolong

Eunice Choi/Staff

As the second-most-consumed beverage in the world after water, tea is well-known for its antioxidants, various types with distinct flavors, light caffeine content and lengthy history. There are many kinds of teas, but it may surprise you to learn that some of the “teas” you’ve heard of, such as chamomile and peppermint, are not technically teas but rather known as herbal teas, or “tisanes.” Real teas are made from leaves of the plant Camellia sinensis, while tisanes are often made from herb or spice plants.

Take a look at Eating Berkeley’s guide to understanding the characteristics of four different and popular teas so you can pick and choose what benefits you want from your teas as well as be encouraged to experiment! We’ve listed the teas here according to their caffeine levels, starting with black tea as the most caffeinated and white tea as the least.

Black tea
Black tea is the most popular kind of tea in the West and is more oxidized than the other kinds of tea, resulting in a strong, bold flavor and dark color. It is known for its long shelf life (with proper storage, loose-leaf black tea can last up to three years) and can be combined with a variety of additional ingredients, such as spices, sugar, milk and lemon. One of the most flavorful black teas is Indian masala chai tea, which is prepared with a hearty amount of spices and then sweetened with sugar. (Wikipedia)
Origins: China, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal
Caffeine content (according to this tea guide): high, 60 to 90 mg per 8 oz.
Popular types: Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Chai, Darjeeling, Assam
Steeping method: Steep loose-leaf or teabag in freshly boiling water. Delicate teas with broken leaves such as Darjeeling should be steeped three to four minutes, while whole leaves and tea that will be served with milk and sugar should be steeped four to five minutes.

Oolong (wu-long) tea
Oolong tea, otherwise called wu-long tea, is withered underneath strong sunlight and then oxidized prior to curling and twisting. (Wikipedia) There are two distinct styles of leaves that are prepared: long curly leaves and small beads with a tail. It has a long shelf life like black and white teas do.
Origins: China
Caffeine content: moderately high, 50 to 75 mg per 8 oz.
Popular type: Da Hong Pao
Steeping method: Steep tea in hot water (not boiling) for three to 10 minutes. The same teabag or loose-leaf tea of good quality can be resteeped up to three to five times. 

Green tea
Green tea is a minimally oxidized tea with a light yellow or green tint and earthy aroma. Green tea is actually one of the teas with a relatively short shelf life of less one year and so should be consumed in good time. Unlike black tea, green tea doesn’t work well with additions such as sugar or milk. It is better to drink green tea by itself and enjoy the rich aroma.
Origins: China, Japan
Caffeine content: moderate, 35 to 70 mg per 8 oz.
Popular types: Gunpowder, Dragonwell, Matcha, Genmaicha, Sencha
Steeping method: There are different varieties of teas with a variety of steeping periods, but generally, the rule for green teas is that cooler is better, considering the leaves are delicate. If steeped too long, green tea becomes extremely bitter, so steep for anywhere from two to three minutes.

White tea
White tea is the least processed out of all of these teas, lightly oxidized and with a light flavor and color. The young leaves and buds of the Camellia sinensis are withered in sunlight and then picked prior to oxidization. Out of the four teas listed here, white tea has the most antioxidants. (Wikipedia) White tea also has a long shelf life of up to two years in prime storing conditions and is known best for its delicate, sweet flavor.
Origin: China
Caffeine content: moderately low, 30 to 55 mg per 8 oz.
Popular type: Silver Needle
Steeping method: Boil water, let sit for one minute, and then pour over tea leaves. Steep for five to eight minutes and then two to three additional minutes for extra cups.

Contact Eunice Choi at [email protected].