Tea and the Color Wheel

Bright yellow Nile Delta Chamomile
Bright yellow Nile Delta Chamomile

Tea color is a key indicator of what you’re drinking, both dry and in the cup. To complicate matters, lots of tea flavoring and blending is going on these days. Reading through a company’s offerings can set your head to spinning and your eyeballs to rolling in their sockets like an old-time cartoon character. By looking at the basic color, you can narrow things down a bit, not to mention saving your poor eyeballs.

Here’s where even a little art education comes in handy. In my color theory class years ago, I learned about the color wheel — primary, secondary, tertiary, etc. Primary colors (red, yellow, and blue) are combined to make secondary colors. Secondary colors (orange, green, and purple) can be combined with each other to form tertiary colors (red-orange, yellow-green, etc.), and so forth. If you’ve ever shopped for wall paint, you know that the colors blended from there are virtually infinite.

Tea comes in several colors, so this bit of knowledge of color theory might be helpful when you want to sort one tea from another. Tea has its own color wheel: white, yellow, green, oolong (sort of blue-green), and black. These color designations are for the dry tea. The color of the tea liquid in your cup can vary much more, based on how long you steep it and which successive infusion it is. Adding in “foreign matter” (anything that doesn’t come from the tea plant Camellia Sinensis) increases the color possibilities. For example, rooibos adds a reddish-orange hue and black currants add a dark purple hue, while chamomile is bright yellow.

So, how do you put all of this color knowledge to good use in selecting and enjoying from the variety of teas and herbals out there? Here’s a general guide*:

  • Silvery gray-green leaves indicate better quality white teas.
  • Bright yellow indicates a fresh Chamomile herbal.
  • Rusty red indicates Rooibos (red bush) herbal.
  • Deep green color indicates a better quality green tea such as Dragonwell.
  • Duller dark green is more common for “everyday” greens like Gunpowder.
  • Bright, almost flourescent green is matcha, a green tea powder.
  • Black teas like Assams and Ceylons steep up a bright ruby red liquid.
  • Golden Yunnan tea leaves are dark brown to tan to golden.

Have fun with color, and taste some wonderful teas in the process.

*Since there are so many teas out there, exceptions to this list are very possible.

See also:
Tea Blends vs Tea Flavourings
Blending Your Leftover Teas
Great Assam Breakfast Blends 
The Advantages of Blended Teas
The Advantages of Unblended Teas
Some Tea Blends I Hope to Never See
All Flavored Teas Are Not Created Equal
The Real Issue with Flavored Teas
Developing Your Tea “Color Vision”
The Colors of Tea
The Color Purple (of Tea)
These Are a Few of My Favorite Flavored Teas

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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