On the categorisations of tea, pt II: Tea by tastes


Tea category by Jesse Ö., 27.06.2020

Astonishingly complex world of tea has been categorised in many way. Mika Hannola’s blog post introduces the currently established way of grouping tea into six classes. On the first part of my musings I pointed out some observations about it, and this text will introduce a model to group tea’s together by taste.


The goal of the model presented here is to highlight some differences and similarities between different tea classes of the established system. It might thus help you to find new favourites from less familiar tea classes. It is also helpful for tea tastings. If you want to go through the whole world of tea in a one session (quite a challenge!), this model provides one way. On the other hand, these different taste worlds provide interesting themes for more concentrated tastings. I have presented the taste worlds here in approximate order from lightest to more intensive.

  1. Light Chinese type teas
    These teas are all quite light and floral in character. Flower fields, meadows, orchids or other flowers are typical associations. Taste is usually sweet and ethereal, and aromatics are emphasised.

    Chinese green tea is the prime example here, with famous types such as Xihu Longjing with its delicate grassy, nut-like flavour. Huangshang Maofeng and Anjibaicha are few other celebrities. Many yellow teas are part of the same family, Huashan Huangya is very close to green tea. Korean green teas, such as Saejak or Daejak are also part of this family.

    I would say that greener oolongs are also members of this extended family. These days the typical Baozhong from Northern Taiwan is green tea with reduced grassyness, and famed High Mountain Oolongs are also similar tastewise, as is modern Tieguanyin from China’s Anxi. Some Dancong-oolongs from Fenghuang are also very light and green.

  2. White tea and Darjeeling
    Darjeeling is usually categorised as red tea by Chinese terminology (usually referred to as “black tea” in the west). If we look carefully at the processing, we can see that it can be seen as a hybrid between white tea and red tea. This is most obvious for the spring harvests. Both white tea and Darjeeling have some oxidised flavours (fruits, some ripe fruits) while having a light character (floral, fragrant).

    Moonlight White, or Yueguangbai from Yunnan in China, is a typical example of a white tea with some red tea characteristics. Baihao Yinzhen is the lightest and “purest” kind of white tea, furthest away from red tea. First flush Darjeelings on the other hand are the least oxidised teas there.

  3. Japanese green tea
    Green tea of Japan is it’s own world. They are much more lush and full, with rich ocean like flavours. Well brewed Japanese green tea is thick, soupy, bomb of deep green. Kukicha, while considered a lower grade tea, can give a delightful bowl of fresh summer, reminding of the fragrance of cut grass. Gyokuro is the finest, subtlest, deepest example.

  4. Red tea
    Malty, dark, fruity red teas form a very varied genre of tea. Some examples from Hunan are floral, light, aromatic, while some other teas like some Dianhongs have robust, primal power in them. Assamese teas, and most of other teas from all around the world belong to this category. Some Taiwanese oolongs are in my opinion more at home with red teas than anywhere else: Dongfang Meiren (“Oriental Beauty”) and some Hongwulongs (“Red Oolong”).

  5. Traditional Oolong
    Traditionally oolongs have been dark. These days more are familiar with the modern, green style, which I have grouped together with Chinese green tea. Dark, roasted oolongs are their own, very special tasteworld. These teas are defined by the roast, and flavours can have caramelised, chocolate-like, mineral flavours. Burnt taste is a sign of too young or lower grade. Yancha from Wuyi Mountains is the best example, famed for having “the skeleton of rock and fragrance of flowers”. Darker oolongs are also found in Fenghuang -mountains, and on the island of Taiwan. There, the best example is Muzha Tieguanyin, with thick chocolate taste.

  6. Shou pu’er, Liubao, heicha
    Pu’er has a reputation as the tea with the taste of stable, or soil. Teas in this group do have certain earthyness in them, but dung is far from the only option. Liubao tea from China’s Guangxi has a taste of petrichor, the air after a rain. Aged pu’er can taste like old arbour, or the floor of a rainforest. Good shou pu’er has certain creaminess to it, due to the thick and smooth mouthfeel. Often these teas have minty, fresh aftertaste.

This way of grouping teas is based on the model me, Eetu Mäkelä and Jari Nousiainen used in our earlier projects. In this iteration I have tried to reduce the amount of groups, while still maintaining utility. Rather large difference between Japanese and Chinese green teas is not apparent in most text sources, as they are both "green tea" after all. Also, "oolong" is a group which I believe appears more coherent than it should, which is why I ended up grouping lighter, greener oolongs together with other Chinese style ligt teas, while separating the dark, roasted, traditional style from them.

Group 2 is probably slightly surprising for many tea drinkers, and I do admit, that it's the grouping I'm least happy about. Nonetheless, I see a clear continuum from Baihao Yinzhen, Baimudan, Shoumei, Yueguangbai to FF Darjeeling, SF Darjeeling and finally Autumn Darjeeling and then other red teas. It's not a perfectly smooth progression, but all these teas play with oxidation flavours in varying degrees, from light to eventually quite developed.

You might also be interested in

How to brew green tea

Of all the tea categories, green tea is the most particular about which temperature you brew it at. Many have been scared away from green tea after tasting a cup that's been brewing too hot or too long, or it was an infuser bag tea which only rarely does justice to green tea's...

On the classification of tea, pt I: tea by processing styles

The world of tea is stunningly rich, and it is easy to get tangled with all the different tea types. Each tea is unique, often having it’s own distinct tea plant cultivar, history, locality, style of processing, and sometimes their own brewing style. There are so many different k...

Jesse’s musings on Teemaa’s blog

I’m writing articles to Teemaa’s blog in the future. Only time will tell what kind of themes will come up, end where my contributions to the blog will end up, but I’m trying to process out what kind of goals I have for these texts, by writing this article here.I myself am a tea a...