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What’s the difference between green and black tea? And who is the “Earl” in “Earl Grey?”

Black tea and green - what's the difference? Whether you start your morning with coffee or tea — it’s part of who you are, but how much do you know about either caffeinated beverage?

If you want to learn the mysterious origin of coffee’s name and more, click here. This is about the drink that comes from leaves, not beans.

Tea” comes from the Chinese d’a, and transformed into tea or ch’a depending on where the drink migrated. All tea comes from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant and the six basic varieties are white, yellow, green, black, oolong, and pu-erh. The differences are determined by how they are processed.

Green tea, for example is dried, but not wilted, and it doesn’t go through enzymatic oxidation, which the tea industry calls fermentation. Black tea is wilted and also fully oxidized. The process to make oolong tea is somewhere between the two. It is wilted, bruised, and partially oxidized. The taste of green tea is often described as light and grassy, while black tea usually has a stronger, sweeter taste. Oolong tastes more similar to green tea with a sweet aftertaste.

Many Americans may not have heard of oolong. The Earl Grey tea blend, though is far more familiar. Its distinct flavor and aroma comes the addition of an oil that has been extracted from the rind of the bergamot orange.

(Do you know how Starbucks got its name? It has to do with a nasty whale. The amusing story is here.)

The tea is named after the second Earl Grey, who was the British Prime Minister in the 1830s. One disputed, though charming, legend behind the tea says that one of Lord Grey’s men rescued the son of a Chinese mandarin from drowning. In a gesture of gratitude, the man presented Lord Grey with a scented tea.

Are there other food or beverage questions you would like us to explore, like what is “soft” about a soft drink? Let us know.

38 Comments

  1. Green Tea Lover -  July 11, 2014 - 12:11 am

    Hi guys,
    A great little summary of teas. I often think the American population is missing out on tea with its ongoing obsession with coffee. This seems to be changing a little in recent years with some big retailers coming into the market. But tea really does change the pace of your life. Cheers

    Reply
    • Guozhi Liu -  August 12, 2014 - 10:30 pm

      Yeah, you are right,I am from china , I love the green tea in summer , But apart from that it ll also helps in Polyphenols as well as Flavonoids are very helpful in building the immunity of a body as they are the agents that help in boosting the immunity. Vitamin C is also present….. So it’s really good and having no side effects.

      Reply
  2. Helga -  March 23, 2012 - 9:43 am

    It’s a black tea flavoured with bergamot and it’s named after Charles Grey (the Earl Grey) who was a British prime and recieved it as a gift.

    Reply
  3. Flo -  November 9, 2010 - 3:36 pm

    Yo Bill Turner (Nov 9) Your observations re Steve’s (Oct 5) observations are purely brilliant. I’m glad I married you.

    Reply
  4. Bill Turner -  November 9, 2010 - 3:29 pm

    Yo Steve (Oct 5), re your comparison with the (ugh) tea party (no caps, mind you): Very astute and original. They are typical ultra-right republicans. Fortunately, they are harmless except for the GOP (Greedy Obstructionist Plutocrats). The real problem are the rich-right republicans under the guidance of NO Boehner and company. Let’s see how they solve the unemployment problem. They shan’t, of course, and thereby insure a second term for Obama. Thank you, over and out.

    Reply
  5. rajendar nookapally. -  October 17, 2010 - 10:03 pm

    I see only black tea.no green tea. black tea so tested.nomber of vilages in telangana tested black tea.rajendar mudiraj.NOOKAPALLY

    Reply
  6. sweetpea -  October 8, 2010 - 5:08 pm

    Sorry Te all-american girl-next-door but I despise sweet tea, especially when it’s cold. Hot tea is more elegant and sophisticated-like, not to mention the healthier benefits.

    Reply
  7. sweetpea -  October 8, 2010 - 5:04 pm

    I love tea and hot chocolate. In fact, I have several unopened Earl Grey tea bags.

    Btw, there is no grammatical mistake in the “coffee…more info” sentence.

    Reply
  8. Soraya -  October 6, 2010 - 8:18 pm

    I would like to know what exactly is alcohol? Is it a common ingredient or a process which contributes to a beverage being classified as alcoholic

    Reply
    • tarsieg -  June 22, 2014 - 9:09 am

      Alcohol is a particular chemical produced by bacteria through fermentation. It is neither an ingredient nor a process. Simply an extra chemical that appears during fermentation.

      Reply
  9. The all american girl-next-door!!! -  October 6, 2010 - 6:57 am

    HEY JOE SO WHAT IF YOU LIKE UNSWEETENED TEA IT DOESN’T MEAN YOU ARE SO MUCH MORE HEALTHIER THAN ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  10. Clay -  October 5, 2010 - 10:46 am

    to John of the Jungle. Puerh is a full fermented, aged tea from Yunnan provence China. The tea (Camellia sinensis) leaves grown in Yunnan are a longer, thinner leaf. After wilting it is often pressed into bricks, rounds, or nest-shapes put in earthenware pots and aged for two to ten years. It is distinctfully earthy with a dark red wine-like color. It can be very expensive. The Tea bricks have in the past been used as money. They certainly are some of the first to travel out of China. The Mongolian forces sought them. It is still an active part of Mongolian culture. The Chinese see puerh as a desirable gift and assign many health benefits to it. Among these are that it aids: digestion, long-life, lowering cholesterol, awareness, and weight-loss.There is also a “fresh” Puerh that is a steamed green tea pressed into the aforementioned shapes. I personally find it lighter in color and slightly bitter to taste. BTW Roobios isn’t a true tea at all. It is the dried leaf of the South African Red Bush(Aspalathus linoaris). So it would be a tisane or infusion.

    Reply
  11. Wondering -  October 5, 2010 - 8:47 am

    Growing up, my mom would make us tea from various plants she’d grow in the yard, a practice still followed in many countries. Since you state that “All tea comes from the Camellia Sinensis plant”, are you saying that all plants used to make tea are related to this plant, or is your statement too broad?

    Reply
  12. Dc loy -  October 5, 2010 - 7:36 am

    @Jon Stewart obviously you need to learn to spell phonics…

    Reply
  13. angel-of-knowledge -  October 5, 2010 - 7:19 am

    The tea is named after the second Earl Grey, who was the British Prime Minister in the 1830s. One disputed, though charming, legend behind the tea says that one of Lord Grey’s men rescued the son of a Chinese mandarin from drowning. In a gesture of gratitude, the man presented Lord Grey with a scented tea.

    lol that’s rather funny and perhaps Lady Grey is named after his wife or they just named that because there was an Earl Grey and felt like there should be a feminized version people are weird like that. I also have never heard of yellow or pu-erh and am curious as to what they are.

    Reply
  14. Saf -  October 5, 2010 - 6:55 am

    Lapsang souchong is my favorite. It has a definite pine/smoke/creosote flavor — certainly not the tea of choice for everyone (especially if you’re accustomed to foofy chamomile/lemon sleepytime stuff). Darjeeling will do on the off-days.

    In China, teas that we consider black are called red, and pu-erhs are the true black teas.

    ~Saf

    Reply
  15. Steve -  October 5, 2010 - 6:52 am

    Where does the Tea Party fit in here? It consists of white tea, no blakc or yellow, and they have nothing to do with green.

    Reply
  16. Kurt Cannon -  October 5, 2010 - 6:39 am

    I drink enough Earl Grey tea to float a boat. I have about 4 cups in the morning and then ice water the rest of the day. It is heavenly to me and I carry tea bags with me so that if an eating establishment does not have Earl Grey, I still do. I have 2 male cats, one is all black and named Stagger Lee, the other is a fluffy grey cat whom I named…Earl Grey! The next best thing to the taste of Earl Grey is the cost as compared to any drink other than water.

    Reply
  17. TeaLady -  October 5, 2010 - 6:33 am

    I found this very informative, as I have wondered about the different types of teas. What about the red teas, though? I didn’t see anything on those here, but since a good portion of the time, those have less caffeine where I get my tea, I buy that often. I have a tendency to get migraines from caffeine withdrawal, but not so much with those.

    Reply
  18. aa fasina thomas -  October 5, 2010 - 2:51 am

    Oh my,oh my! What an xciting expose on tea. Whether it is Earl Grey, Decaffeinated,Typhoo,Herb tea or what hav u,the Chinese & the Indians are pnly remembered in history…the English have stolen their tea, the flavor, aroma & all, not yesterday but centuries ago. C’mon, there, somebody get me a cuppa tea!

    Reply
  19. Green Tea Time -  October 5, 2010 - 1:57 am

    I love green tea, I used to bring it with me wherever I go. There are different kind of tea, chinese and japanese tea for example which are different from others kind of tea.

    Reply
  20. ms.karma -  October 4, 2010 - 8:49 pm

    oh, great. i drink tea for detoxicating purposes. hehe. it’s good. :P

    Reply
  21. John of the Jungle -  October 4, 2010 - 7:35 pm

    I think more Americans are becoming aware of oolong tea, but what the heck is “pu-erh?” Also, what is roobios tea?

    Reply
  22. Tea Harris -  October 4, 2010 - 6:05 pm

    Geez Dana,

    Enjoy the subject without the critism. I don’t see any constructive information from you :(

    Reply
  23. SweetMayi -  October 4, 2010 - 4:34 pm

    I knew it! The first time I tasted Earl Grey tea I thought the after taste was very familiar; it has that orange taste to it which brought me back to my childhood. My grandmother was to make me “orange tea”, that’s what she would call it. She lived in the countryside and had orange trees, she would picked the leaves of the orange tree and boiled it w some cinnamon sticks. OMG I still can taste it in my mind; it was wonderful taste and she claimed it was good for when I was coming down with a cold. So today, Earl grey tea is the closest I have to my Grandma wonderful tea; I just never knew there was really orange in it.

    “Its distinct flavor and aroma comes the addition of an oil that has been extracted from the rind of the bergamot orange.”

    Reply
  24. Rykan V -  October 4, 2010 - 3:54 pm

    Unlike the traditional ways of squishing berries with your feet to make the juice, a punch is a slang for the untraditional way of making the juice.

    Reply
  25. Luong -  October 4, 2010 - 2:43 pm

    I thought tea came from India, not china

    Reply
  26. OD -  October 4, 2010 - 2:16 pm

    WOWWWWWWWWWWWW!

    Reply
  27. TEA COLORED EARLS | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  October 4, 2010 - 2:10 pm

    [...] BLACK TEA, GREEN TEA and tea that’s made from mushrooms — We had tea in X’ian, China at some very beautiful TEA ROOMS — We got more education outside of HANGZHOU at a plantation. — Earl Grey can keep his scented Pee — Such is our explanation. –>>Rupert L.T.Rhyme [...]

    Reply
  28. May -  October 4, 2010 - 2:07 pm

    “Many Americans may not have heard of oolong”… where the heck are you getting that from?

    Reply
  29. Maddy M. -  October 4, 2010 - 1:26 pm

    I drink hot cocoa in the morning. =)

    Reply
  30. Joe -  October 4, 2010 - 1:04 pm

    I like unsweetened tea because i am healthy!! Go me!! hehehe

    Reply
  31. Jon Stewart -  October 4, 2010 - 12:54 pm

    @Dana M uhhhhh obviously its not gramer.com its dictionary.com you need to learn to read use hooked on phnoics i heard it good for kids and also tea sucks do something cooler

    Reply
  32. Quentin -  October 4, 2010 - 12:52 pm

    Seemingly related but not mentioned in the article (which was a very interesting read btw); was ‘Lady Grey’ tea named after the wife of Earl Grey?

    Reply
  33. essy -  October 4, 2010 - 11:53 am

    Earl Grey was the lover of Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire (biopic: The Duchess).

    Reply
  34. mark V -  October 4, 2010 - 10:51 am

    19 kittens.

    Does Sprite have anything to do with pixie-like entities?
    Why is Fruit Punch “punch”?

    Reply
  35. Dana M -  October 4, 2010 - 10:23 am

    “If you want to learn to the mystery of origin of coffee’s name and more, click here. ”
    I guess this is not grammar.com

    Reply
  36. The all american girl-next-door!!! -  October 4, 2010 - 10:20 am

    This blog was really cool to read I myself would rather drink sweet tea.
    I love me some sweet tea with a slice of pecan pie while i’m swinging on the fornt porch swing. It’s good to be a southern girl!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply

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