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What’s the difference between black, green, white, oolong & red tea?

Tea Leaves

Black tea is called “red tea” in China?  Red tea is not really Black tea?  Tea is “fermented” but it is not really fermentation?  And what is oxidation and what does that have to do with tea?

Suffice to say, understanding the different types of tea can get a little confusing and overwhelming.  We’re here to help!

The world of tea is vast and filled with wonderful combinations of various ingredients and nuance.  But when it comes down to the core teas types, it can be broken down into the following: Black Tea, Green Tea, White Tea, Oolong & Red Tea.  Yellow Tea is an honorable mention as it is similar to and can be classified as Green Tea.

We made a helpful chart below which highlights the key characteristics of each of these tea types.  And for those who are even more inquisitive, we dug into more details lower on the page.  Let’s dive in!

The Bottom Line

Tea Type


Plant Origin


Oxidation Level

Some of our Favorites

Black Tea

Earl Grey, Assam, Darjeeling

Camellia Sinensis


Heavily Oxidized

TWG Tea’s English Breakfast Tea

Green Tea

Matcha, Sencha, Jasmine

Camellia Sinensis


Not Oxidized

TWG Tea’s Grand Jasmine Tea

White Tea

Silver Needle

Camellia Sinensis


Lightly Oxidized

TWG Tea’s White Sky Tea

Oolong Tea

Tie Guan Yin

Camellia Sinensis



TWG Tea’s Milk Oolong Tea

Red Tea / Rooibos Tea

Aspalathus Linearis



TWG Tea’s Vanilla Bourbon Tea 

More Details


When it comes to Black Tea, Green Tea (& Yellow Tea), White Tea & Oolong Tea, these teas all come from the same plant Camellia Sinensis.  This plant is grown and harvested all over the world.

Rooibos Red Tea comes from a completely different plant Aspalathus Linearis, which originates from South Africa.

TEA Production & Oxidation

One of the main key differentiators among the various types of teas is how much it is oxidized during the tea production process. 

What is oxidation?  At a high-level, this is the process where tea leaves absorb oxygen, resulting in a chemical reaction that produces the various unique tea flavors and appearances.  Sometimes the word “fermentation” is used in place of oxidation when referring to the tea making process.  This is a misnomer though as true fermentation involves micro-organisms like yeast, which tea production and oxidation does not have.

Green teas are not oxidized at all, resulting in its iconic and natural green color.  After being picked from the Camellia Sinesis plant, Green tea leaves are steamed and rolled into various shapes before drying. 

Compared to Green tea, Black teas are heavily processed and oxidized, resulting in its darker tea leaf appearance.  This means that the Black teas are rolled/crushed after being picked to maximize the exposure of the leaf to oxygen. 

White Tea is lightly oxidized and processed in a more delicate manner to maintain a more light and subtle taste.  

Oolong tea leaves are left whole at the beginning of production (compared to other teas which are crushed/rolled), resulting in less oxidation.  

Red Tea / Rooibos Tea

Known as “Red Tea” because of its color (not to be confused with Chinese “Red Tea”, which is actually by definition “Black Tea”), Rooibos tea is unique compared to the other aforementioned teas.  The plant Rooibos tea comes from is the South African Aspalathus linearis plant.  As a result, even though it is processed and oxidized similar to other teas, the resulting Rooibos tea flavor and attributes are different: Rooibos tea has a sweet and light flavor as well as no caffeine. 

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