Red Tea, Black Tea, and Rooibos, whats the difference?

by on Sunday, February 5, 2012 1:19:00 AM

One of the biggest questions we get at the shop is "What is red tea?", when customers see the three red teas that we offer. Or they mistakenly believe that we are selling a South African herb called Rooibos. In this article, I am going to help clear up the difference between red tea, black tea, and rooibos.

So first of all, what is the red tea that you find at our store or at our online shop? This red tea is made of our fermented (oxidized) white tea leaves. The leaves of our red teas (Golden Needle, Tangerine Blossom, and Bai Lin Kung Fu Classic) are almost fully oxidized (85-95%) and have a richer, bolder taste than our other teas.

The important thing to note here is that what we refer to as red tea in our shop and what is called red tea in China would be referred to as black tea in most other countries. The distinction in color depends on whether you are talking about the color of the leaves or the color of the brew. The color of the brew is typically a beautiful amber, red color thus leading to the name “red tea”. The color of the leaves though are typically dark black, thus leading to the name “black tea”. Thus the terms can be used interchangeably. Red tea is oxidized/fermented for about 6-10 hours until the leaves turn an amber/black color and then they are dried to stop the oxidation process.

In China though, the term black tea or dark tea typically refers to a tea that we call Pu-erh in the United States. This tea is fermented anywhere between 2 weeks to two months and then aged for 2 months to 20+ years in order to create dark black leaves and a dark color to the brew. In this fermentation process the leaves are intentionally kept damp to encourage good microbes and bacteria to slowly oxidize and ferment the leaves. This is distinguished from red tea which typically only takes about 6-10 hours to oxidize. Pu-erh tea typically has a strong fermentation taste but high quality pu-erh should not taste overly earthy as this is a sign of low quality production techniques.

Neither red nor black tea is to be confused with Rooibos, often called “Red Bush Tea” or “Rea Tea” for short. Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) is a South African plant that is a member of the legume family and is not related to the tea plant (Camellia sinensis). Rooibos has a very different taste and feel than red (or black!) tea, it is much sweeter and lighter than black tea, although it is often mixed with sugar and cream or a lemon as you might find heavy black tea drinking countries such as England or the United States.

Hopefully this helps clear up the difference between red tea, black tea, and rooibos. If you have any follow-up questions, please feel free to leave a comment or send us an email at support@shangtea.com.

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