The Colors of Tea

Tea is a colorful sort of substance, as you may have noticed. But forget about the many colors of our teaware and all of the other ancillary equipment that comes with tea drinking for a moment and think about the actual colors of tea itself.

There’s black, of course, the old tried and true workhorse of the tea world. But if you’re a tea drinker from China, what the rest of us know as black tea is more likely to be referred to as red tea. But red tea is also a term that’s used to refer to rooibos, or redbush, which is not actually a tea at all, at least not in the strictest sense of the word. Rooibos is an herbal beverage that’s produced in South Africa and, as the name suggests, is known primarily for the red color of its tiny leaves and for the deep red color of the infusion made by steeping them.

The next best-known of the colors in the tea rainbow is green, a type of tea that’s come close to surpassing the old black warhorse in popularity in recent years. Green tea can be a little bit of a deceptive term in some cases. The actual colors of steeped green tea can range anywhere from the vivid, almost fluorescent hues of some types of Japanese green tea all the way to the other end of the spectrum, with some Chinese greens being closer to yellow in color.

Speaking of yellow, there’s actually a type of tea known as yellow. It’s one of the rarest of the breeds and is made almost exclusively in China, with processing methods that make it a close cousin to green tea. Or to white tea, which is yet another color in the spectrum and which is a tea that’s known for its understated, delicate flavor.

You don’t hear the term blue tea too often, but it’s a term that’s sometimes used refer to oolong tea. There’s not much information available on the origin of this term, but one source suggests that it may be related to the blue-gray rocks in the Wuyi region of China, where many popular oolong teas originate. One of the most recent additions to the tea rainbow is one that’s been in development for a while in Africa. Read more about purple tea here.

And, of course, there’s orange and brown tea. Well, no, not really. Just kidding. Out of all of the major colors in the crayon box, these are probably the only ones that don’t have a tea associated with them – at least not yet.

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6 thoughts on “The Colors of Tea

  1. Pingback: The Perfect Shade of Tea | Tea Blog

  2. Pingback: Tea and the Color Wheel « Tea Blog

  3. Bram

    Actually the Chinese also use the term black tea. But they use it for Pu Ehr teas instead of the red teas that we call black teas.

    1. A.C. Cargill

      Thanks, Bram. I believe that Lengeman was referring to what folks in the U.S. call black tea. Gets confusing when dealing with other countries. I see people all the time on Twitter calling something “red tea” and meaning the non-tea rooibos. Thanks for reading!

  4. I have seen oolongs described as brown tea. Not sure if it’s a regional thing or specific to a certain tea or vendor.

    Blue oolongs — rolled pouchongs — often have a bluish or purplish cast to the dry leaf.

    And don’t forget the teas that are pink in the cup. Various white teas produce made tea that is pale pink. Curiously, so does the baked Taiwan oolong that I’ve been drinking of late. Hmmm …

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