Tea TypesWhat is Tea?
Tea 101: Each Tea, Explained
There are ten general styles of tea - though there are complications with that statement already (we know, we know — bear with us). First, let’s talk about real tea vs. “tea-like drinks.”
All “real” tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant; while each of the traditional styles varies in preparation and which parts of the plant they use, this is a shared link between styles. Other “teas,” such as Yerba Mate, Rooibos, Guayusa, and herbal infusions, aren’t technically teas —they’re blends of various herbs and plants.
Now, let’s start with “real” tea:
Tea: Camellia Sinensis Subtypes
White tea is the most gentle flavor of all teas from the Camellia sinensis shrub. It uses the early buds and leaves from each plant and can only be harvested for a handful of weeks; in comparison to other teas, white tea is one of the most limited in availability and production.
The most sought-after white teas from Portal Tea include our Rose and White Peony blends and Chrysanthemum Blossom Silver Needle Tea. Each has varying floral, sweet, and fruity notes though they’re equally incredibly refreshing and light.
Black tea is, along with green tea, the most commonly grown and consumed tea in the world. It has one of the more robust flavor profiles out of all styles of tea, though this varies heavily based on the type of tea and preparation. Most black teas are fire or pan-roasted, allowing oxidation and, more importantly, a richer flavor and color.
Our most popular black teas include classic Assam, Ceylon, and NW Earl Grey. The former is a rich, malty Irish Breakfast-style tea; the middle is a mildly sweet and full-bodied Sri Lankan tea, and the latter is a classic blend of bergamot oil and luxurious black tea.
Green tea is the other most commonly grown tea. It varies drastically in preparation and style, depending on its home country, though one thing remains the same - green tea is generally harvested from younger tea tree leaves. The flavor profile of green teas can vary greatly, offering grassy, herbaceous notes and nutty, floral notes alike.
Our most popular green teas include our classic Gyokuru, Gunpowder, and Dragon Pearl Jasmine blends. Dragon Pearl Jasmine Tea is a delicate, floral flavor reminiscent of white tea. In contrast, the Gyokuro and Gunpowder variants (from the same plant and leaves) are entirely different in flavor profile, aroma, and appearance, offering woody, smoky, and umami flavor profiles that change as the tea steeps.
Oolong tea is a Chinese and Taiwanese tea subtype that combines green and black tea (at least in terms of preparation). Oolong tea uses leaves that are less oxidized than black tea and more oxidized than green tea, resulting in a highly variable flavor profile. Additionally, oolong teas generally have a different mouthfeel than other teas, boasting an almost buttery flavor and texture.
Some oolong teas have fruity and floral notes, while others are more rich and malty in taste. Most oolong teas will have some level of grassy notes, though they will be far less noticeable than those in green tea.
Our most popular oolong teas include our Bao Zhong oolong and the Iron Goddess of Mercy blends. The former is a sweet, buttery, and earthy combination of addicting flavors, while the latter tastes of ripe fruit with earthy undertones that balance the more floral initial taste.
Puer tea (also known as Pu er or Pu-erh) is a post-fermented Chinese tea named after the city of the same name. These replace the oxidation process that most teas undergo with a long-term (often upwards of 30 years) fermentation. While a shorter-term, more modern process allows the fermentation to occur far more quickly, puer teas vary significantly in aroma, flavor, and appearance, often evolving their taste over time.
Our Ancient Puer and Ginger Puer blends are among Portal Tea’s most popular puer teas. The former is incredibly rich and earthy, boasting a depth of flavor that’s quite difficult to replicate. At the same time, the latter is bolstered with ginger and orange peel to grant some more delicate flavors to balance out the robust maltiness of its puer base.
Tea: Non-Camellia Brews
This is where things get interesting. While the most commonly sought teas are listed above, many regional styles are growing in popularity. A common theme shared across all subtypes is the (often regional) belief in their medicinal properties across cultures worldwide.
While the science behind these claims is constantly evolving, the truth remains that the antioxidants and vitamins present in many of these brews are always welcome. And let’s be honest - they taste great, too (so we can forgive the technicalities).
Chai blends come from India and often use black tea blended with multiple spices and milk to create a rich, complex, and creamy latte-like hot beverage. While most chai blends make use of Indian Assam black tea, it’s not necessary; what makes chai is the blend of spices.
Masala, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, mace, star anise, fennel, and cardamom are all standard, as are peppercorns, vanilla, allspice, and many other similar spices, depending on the region in which it’s prepared.
Our most popular chai blends include Masala, pumpkin spice, and Kashmiri chai. Each consists of a slightly different combination of spices; the former uses Masala (obviously), while the pumpkin spice option combines everyone’s favorite fall flavors with our signature rich, creamy chai. Kashmiri chai, in contrast, is made with green tea and comes out pink in color, using peppermint and tellicherry peppers to deliver a powerful, spicy combination of aromas.
Rooibos (pronounced “roy-bows”) is a South African herb prepared similarly to Camellia-based teas to create a warming and rich tea-like drink. The oxidation process of rooibos allows it to develop a sweet, herbal, and occasionally smoky flavor that’s far different from that of traditional teas.
Unlike “real” teas, rooibos is entirely caffeine-free. It boasts an extremely high level of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, making it especially popular for alleviating minor pain (such as headaches or arthritis) and temporarily lessening cold symptoms.
Some of Portal Tea’s most popular rooibos brews include our Vanilla Rooibos and Rooibos Red Bush blends. While the vanilla blend delivers an equally sweet and earthy aroma and flavor profile, the red bush blend is citrusy with woody, smoky notes that provide an entirely different experience.
Yerba Maté is a South American plant of the Ilex paraguariensis A genus. It’s used in indigenous rituals across Uraguay, Paraguay, and Argentina and is thought to contain multiple spiritually-awakening properties. Perhaps most advantageous to the modern drinker, though, are Maté’s stimulant properties. It naturally contains more caffeine than a standard cup of black tea (though slightly less than that in a cup of coffee), along with Mateine. This stimulant is very similar (though chemically distinct) to caffeine.
Traditionally, Maté is brewed in a gourd and passed around a circle as a communal ritual. While modern-day Maté’s preparation is nearly identical to that of traditional tea, this tradition is still alive with the indigenous Guaraní and Tupí peoples of South America.
Portal Tea customers consistently love the Chocolate Chai Maté and Hangover Maté blends. The former (perhaps obviously) offers a rich, chocolatey flavor bolstered with coriander, ginger, clove, and cardamom. In comparison, the Hangover blend combines Maté’s natural stimulants with ginger, lemon myrtle, peppermint, and several other herbs and spices to settle the most furious of night-after headaches and unhappy stomachs.
Guayusa (Ilex guayusa) is in the same genus of holly as the Maté plant and is also native to the South American jungles of the Amazon. Primarily found in Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, and Argentina, this plant is grown from cuttings rather than seeds like its Maté cousin. Both are generally processed in near-identical fashions and are traditionally prepared in a gourd to be passed around a circle.
The primary differences between Guayusa and Maté lie in their flavor profiles and stimulant content. Maté has a slightly (~5-10 mg) higher caffeine content, whereas guayusa lacks the mateine present in Maté. Additionally, guayusa is generally less bitter in flavor than Maté, allowing it to explore more smooth, earthy undertones.
We’ve just recently begun to delve into the depths of flavor that guayusa offers — though our initial results (such as Guayusa No. 100) have been quite promising.
Herbal & Apothecary Infusions
The last type of “non-tea” that’s standard worldwide is herbal infusions. While these vary by name (often called apothecary teas or infusions) and content drastically, each has several common characteristics. The most common thread between all herbal infusions or teas is that they use various flowers, herbs, and spices to create a brew that often boasts medicinal qualities and benefits, such as anti-inflammatory or sleep-inducing properties.
While some may claim herbal infusions are, in fact, tea, they would be wrong — only drinks made from the Camellia plant are considered tea.
This means that drinks such as Maté, Guayusa, and Rooibos are technically herbal infusions rather than “tea.” So while that mug of chamomile “tea” you drink before bed or the throat-calming tonic for sick evenings may taste delicious, just remember - it’s not technically tea.
That’s not to say they can’t be both delicious and beneficial, though! Some of our most popular beverages include apothecary and herbal infusions that offer an incredibly diverse array of styles.
Our most popular herbal infusions include the Forest Park and Lavender Sunset blends, which vary in flavor, aroma, and effect; the Forest Park contains various dried fruit blended with hibiscus and strawberry leaves to bring an herbal, fruity, and slightly tart profile, while the Lavender Sunset is floral, fruity, and incredibly gentle in flavor.
In contrast, our apothecary blends take herbal infusions' delicious flavors and warming aromas and amp up their medicinal benefits. Allergy sufferers love our Allergy Blend for its sinus-clearing properties. At the same time, the PNW’s more outdoorsy individuals regularly delight in our Hiker’s Blend thanks to its warming, spiced flavor, and sense-enhancing properties.