What is Red Tea?

Jul 12, 2020
This post may contain affiliate links. Simple Loose Leaf is a participant in the Amazon Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to Amazon.com. Out of all tea types, red tea may be the most misunderstood category. And the reason why is very simple – because there are many red teas and many teas can be called red.

What is red tea?

Red tea is the word we use for both Chinese black tea and for herbal rooibos tea. In both names, the word „red“ describes the color of infusion. Before the tea was even known in western countries, there were 6 main tea types in China – white or baicha (白茶), yellow or huangcha (黄茶), green or lvcha (绿茶), oolong or wulong (乌龙), red or hongcha (红茶) and black or heicha (黑茶). In the western countries, the last two categories have different names – red tea became black tea and black tea is dark or fermented tea. All of them are made from the same tea plant – Camellia sinensis. Interestingly, all types of real tea contain the liquor color in its name, expect oolong tea. Translated, oolong means black dragon.
The use of liquor color in tea names can sometimes be confusing. For example, an exceptional Chinese green tea Anji Baicha translated means Anji White Tea, and it’s actually a green type of tea. Only young tea leaves are used for this tea and they brew into a very pale delicate liquor.
The other red tea is not made from Camellia sinensis and therefore, it’s not a “real tea.“ It’s made from a completely different plant called Aspalathus linearis or – red bush. Interestingly, both Chinese red tea and South African red tea have red liquor, or a similar reddish color between yellow-copper to red-brown. There is also a third type of red tea–oolong tea. Red oolong tea is the name often used for darker, heavily oxidised oolong teas, especially Taiwanese. All of these brewed teas will have a red color. However, only rooibos dry leaf will be red-brown. Chinese red tea will have black dry leaf with, sometimes yellow or golden tea buds. 

Does red tea have caffeine?

Chinese red tea will always contain caffeine because it’s made from the real tea plant. South African red tea is naturally caffeine free, like almost all other herbal teas. Both of them are antioxidant-rich and may provide numerous health benefits. Antioxidants present in rooibos tea and Chinese red tea may help boost your immune, lower blood pressure[1],[2] You can use both of them for making iced tea or lattes.

How to brew Chinese red tea

You can brew Chinese red tea in different ways. The most common way of brewing red tea in the west is using 2-3 grams of tea leaves per cup of water. Water temperature should be between 194°F and 203°F. Steep for 1-3 minutes and strain. You can add milk or sugar to many Chinese red teas, but they are traditionally drank pure. The other way of brewing Chinese red tea is gong fu style. Use about 3-5 grams of tea leaves and brew in a small tea pot, preferably gaiwan or yixing zisha tea pot. The first infusion should be very short. Depending on the type, it will usually be from 30 to 60 seconds or more. Chinese red tea may sometimes become bitter if over-brewed. Chinese red tea is available as loose leaf or in tea bags. Loose leaf tea can be unbroken or broken. Regular paper tea bags will mostly contain tea dust of small leaf particles fannings.

How to brew South African red tea

To brew South African red tea, use about one teaspoon of leaves per cup of boiling water. Steep for at least 3 minutes. The longer you steep the leaves, the stronger the color and flavor will be. 5-8 minutes should give the strongest and the most flavorful cup. This tea will never be bitter, even if you over-brew it. Rooibos tea is available as loose leaf or in tea bags too. However, unlike Chinese red tea, loose leaf rooibos will always have small leaves. Check out these 5 recipes with pure rooibos tea.  

Simple Rooibos tea

Popular red tea and rooibos varieties

There are hundreds of different Chinese red teas and only 2 types of rooibos tea – red and green. Red rooibos is oxidized and green isn’t, much like green and black tea. Rooibos is often a base for many delicious tea blends. On the other hand, it’s impossible to mention all types of red Chinese tea. The most popular types are:
  • Keemun or Qimen red tea from Qimen county in Anhui province, one of the most popular Chinese red teas in the West
  • Lapsang Souchong or Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong from Wuyi in Fujian that can either be smoked or unsmoked
  • Dian hong or Red Yunnan red tea from Yunnan
  • Jiuqu Hongmei or Red Plum tea from Zhejiang province made from the longjing cultivar used for making famous Dragon Well or Long Jing green tea
  • Bailin, Tanyang and Zhenghe Gongfu red teas from Fujian province
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. It’s not intended to replace medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Every person is different and may react to different herbs and teas differently. Never use teas or herbs to treat serious medical conditions on your own. Always seek professional medical advice before choosing home remedies.


[1] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17080260/ [2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4117505/

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