Nuances of Tea Classification

A tea processing chart refers to a chart that shows the processing steps that different tea types go through after being plucked and before they reach your cup. Tea processing charts have been essential items in the toolbelt of tea educators for years. However, nearly every processing chart that exists today excludes many styles of tea and sometimes entire types of tea.  Let’s take a look at the seven main categories of tea, each defined by the unique processing steps they go through: green tea, yellow tea, white tea, oolong tea, black tea, fermented tea and altered tea.


Nuances of Tea, Source: American Specialty Tea Alliance
Nuances of Tea, Source: American Specialty Tea Alliance

Here is what they look like


The leaves destined to be green tea are heated, via a processing step called fixing, and thus are not allowed to oxidize.

Green Tea, Source:
Green Tea



Yellow tea is defined by a processing step known as Men Huang, which translates to sealed yellowing. During this, small portions of fixed tea leaves are wrapped into bundles either using paper or cloth. While wrapped, the leaves slowly change color from green to yellow-green as chlorophylls are broken down, the vegetal flavors within the leaves begin to mellow and the leaves partially oxidize.

Yellow Tea, Source:
Yellow Tea



During a long withering period, sometimes lasting several days, the leaves slowly oxidize. The oxidation that occurs in white tea production is minimal, but it can not go unmentioned.

White Tea, Source:
White Tea



Here the processing begins with withering. From here we experience some variance where the initiation and control of oxidation is concerned. The goal here is to gently bruise the edges of the leaves, initiating oxidation. The oolong nature of these tea comes from the prevention of oxidation, much of the process resembles black tea production, but the leaves are dried before reaching a normal black tea level of oxidation resulting in a semi-oxidized tea. Some tea experts hold that these styles of tea do not deserve the oolong designation.

Oolong Tea, Source:
Oolong Tea



Black teas are often described as fully oxidized teas. The basic process for making black tea from fresh tea leaves is: withering, rolling, oxidation, and drying. The goal of black tea production is to induce and control oxidation until the tea leaves achieve a prescribed level of oxidation.

Black Tea, Source:
Black Tea



Fermentation in tea production refers to the breakdown of substances by bacteria, yeasts or other microorganisms. the production of fermented tea consists of withered, fixed, rolled andfermented.

Fermented Tea, Source:
Fermented Tea



Any tea type above can be altered. Altered teas refer to teas that go through additional processing steps during or after primary processing before being sold. This can refer to flavoring, scenting, blending, smoking, aging, decaffeinating and grinding. The majority of teas sold across the world are altered in some ways.

Picture Source: CURIOUS TEA