While this may seem like a silly question, tea has come to mean different things to different people.

Tea By Any Other Name
The words for tea comes to us originally from a Chinese character: 

This character is pronounced in two different ways—te from the Malayan word for the drink and cha from the Cantonese and Mandarin meaning ‘to pick.’ Minor variations of these two words appear in languages across the globe.
In the US, the word “tea” comes from te while the word “chai” stems from cha. In India, chai is a cup of tea simmered with milk and sugar. Masala chai—what most Americans think of as chai—is created when Indian spices are added to the tea as it simmers. So asking for “chai tea” is really like saying tea-tea.

Tea vs. Tisane
Besides having more than one name, tea also comes in a surprising number of varieties, including herbal infusions that are not, in fact, tea. True tea is made from the leaves of a particular type of camellia bush, the Camellia Sinensis. Every other tea-like beverage is an herbal infusion, also called a tisane.

Types of Tea
The four main categories of tea include black, green, oolong, and white. These are categorized by the color of the final, processed tea leaves. Of course, in its original state, all tea leaves are green. Within these four categories of tea, there are a myriad of variations with fancy names, shapes, flavors, aromas, and colors. These differences stem from the way the leaves are processed and the differences in the soil and growing conditions.

  • Black teas, the most popular category in the U.S., have lustrous blackish leaves, which create a rich red or brownish liquor.
  • Green teas have green leaves and create a greenish or yellowish liquor. Chinese green teas are pan-fired and have a nuttier flavor, while Japanese green teas are typically steamed which gives them a more vegetal flavor.
  • White teas typically have grayish-white leaves and produce a very pale yellow or pinkish liquor.
  • Oolong teas have either blackish or greenish leaves, depending on how they are processed. In fact, the word oolong comes from the Chinese “Wu Long” meaning black dragon, which evokes that blackish/green sense without having to say “blackish green.”
  • Puerh teas (pronounced poo-heir) are those with a taste for the adventurous. This black tea is allowed to age for years and is renown for its rich, earthy flavor and medicinal properties.

Rooibos. You may hear the term “red tea.” While this sometimes refers to China black tea, it usually refers to an infusion from the African red bush, or rooibos (pronounced roy-boss). Redbush is not a tea at all, but rather an herbal infusion made from a shrubby member of the legume family native to South Africa.