It has been consumed for almost 5,000 years. It has provided an alertness of thought to many a poet, reader, and weary traveler. It is believed to offer powerful health benefits, including the reduced risk of many types of cancer. It is the world’s most popular drink besides water. Its rare and expensive “first flush” varieties attract the most consummate of tasters who, like wine aficionados, sip with careful attention and remark on the fullness of body and presence of floral notes; while its lower-grade leaves allow every level of consumer to drink its tasty brew. It has the ability to bring people together in conviviality in elaborate ceremonies or in trading banter at coffeehouses; and it can just as readily provide a soothing cup of solace when quiet self-reflection is sought.
There are a limitless variety of paths to discover in the world of tea, and there are just as many countless varieties, blends, and tea suppliers. In the next few paragraphs, we will look at some of the delicious blends and varieties available today. Keep in mind this list is simply meant as a guide to get you started in your journey to discover the blends and varieties that you’ll most look forward to brewing up throughout your day. Be sure to visit the helpful tea information websites Steepster and RateTea, which maintain entire databases full of different tea varieties, reviews from customers, and links to the myriad tea suppliers.
I’ve been an avid loose-leaf tea drinker for about 15 years, ever since a relative gave me a tin of loose-leaf tea as a gift. While I don’t claim to be an expert taster, I have been on the lookout for some of the tastiest, yet affordable, blends around, and I’d like to share some of the gems I’ve found along the way.
The following chart provides the recommended steep times for different types of tea. Experiment to find the brew time that best suits your taste. Steeping too long will result in an over-bitterness of flavor, which is especially true of green and black varieties, while too brief a steep time will, of course, result in a brew that is too weak and unsatisfying.
white tea, 2-3 min
green tea, 2-4 min
black tea, 3-5 min
oolong tea, 5-7 min
red/herbal, 5-7 min
Source: The Republic of Tea
Black tea is the favorite variety among European and American consumers, perhaps because its bold taste makes the best iced tea and its high caffeine content keeps people fueled up throughout the day. The amount of different offerings in this category ensures there is a flavor that is perfect for every taster, whether one is looking to break free from the morning-coffee routine or simply desires the occasional cup of bold brew or an exotic black tea blend.
If you’re looking to make the transition to tea as your new morning beverage, you need the most bold for your buck. Any variety with the word “breakfast” in the title-Irish Breakfast, British Breakfast, China Breakfast-is sure to do the trick, as well as tea leaves of the Assam variety. Stash Tea offers a nice and affordable Irish Breakfast blend, though if you’re looking for something straight from the motherland, you’d do right to go with Barry’s (caution: do not steep too long, due to generous teabag size and strong taste). For those making a quick dash out the door, Tazo’s Awake blend offers an unbelievable taste from a teabag and a strength of brew that lives up to its name.
The deep, full-bodied flavor of black tea allows for almost a limitless amount of variations and blends that will keep sippers intrigued with complex tastes. The Republic of Tea’s Vanilla Almond and Ginger Peach black tea varieties offer exquisite, award-winning flavor. ESP Emporium’s perfectly named Magic Moon is an enlightening blend of black and green tea and fruit flavors, an ideal cup to drink before going out to hear the symphony to ensure you stay awake as you are transported into the magical world of music. For those looking for a black tea mixed with a diverse array of uplifting herbs to get you going, Climber’s High by The Tea Spot offers a potent blend of black, green, and white tea, yerba mate, and ginseng. This blend is a bit more expensive than some others, but one taste and you’ll be hooked, and it does, after all, contain saffron, one of the world’s most expensive spices. Finally, if you’re truly indecisive or miss the kick you used to get with coffee, ESP Emporium offers the best of both worlds in its Cafe Latte Black Tea Blend, a mix of black tea, chocolate chips, and roasted coffee beans.
Generally regarded as offering some of the strongest health benefits with a lower amount of caffeine, green tea is a healthful beverage perfect for the afternoon hours. While not as popular in the United States and Europe, it is the tea most favored in Asia. The green tea category offers a wide-range of possible flavors for the palette, including pale, robust, or deep and earthy. If you find green tea lacking in punch and robustness, consider a green tea blended with fruits, flowers, or other herbs to reinvigorate the taste. Jasmine green tea is one of the most popular and appealing tastes, and both expensive and affordable varieties are available. Rishi Tea’s Jasmine Green offers both a wonderful taste and affordable cost.
Green tea mixed with mint is a match made in heaven, the perfect drink during summer when cool refreshment is needed, soothing to the stomach, and awakening to the senses. Too many good blends are out there to mention, but Republic of Tea’s Moroccan Mint sets a pretty high standard, with just a pinch of its gunpowder leaves required for its full flavor to explode into the cup. Meanwhile, ESP Emporium’s Enchanted Forest is brilliantly blended with flower petals and strong overtones of cherry, producing an intoxicating blend that is satisfying to even those with the severest of sweet-tooths. Recommend buying in bulk, as you will likely return to this tea day after day. And if you’re looking to get even more health benefits from your green tea cup, try one of Yogi Tea’s offerings that are blended with Ayurvedic herbs, such as its equally delicious and healthy Green Tea Kombucha.
Landing somewhere on the fermentation scale between green and black tea is oolong, a tea with an often deep, earthy, or smoky flavor, perfect for afternoon self-reflection and philosophizing. Rare and exquisite varieties are quite expensive, with the highest grades coming from Taiwan. If you have the financial resources and the sophisticated palette to match, there is an endless world to discover in this category. If you’re looking for an oolong that is accessible, delicious, and affordable, try the Republic of Tea’s Milk Oolong. Just a pinch of these tightly compacted leaves is enough to fill your cup with a delectable flavor.
As with oolong, white teas can be quite rare and expensive. They have a delicate, mild flavor, but careful blending with jasmine or other flowers can make them quite appealing. Although they probably have some of the least amount of caffeine among all teas, white tea can provide an alertness of mind that is conducive for reading, writing, or studying. The Tea Spot’s Meditative Mind, mixed with big cuts of jasmine flowers, is a beautiful blend, very tasty, and not out-of-this-world expensive.
In its own unique category is pu-erh, an aged tea that is made using a special secondary oxidation process. As surely as they are not as widely available as other kinds of tea, pu-erhs can be quite expensive and rare. In addition, some tasters may find the flavor of pu-erhs a bit more sour than other teas. The Republic of Tea solves both problems by offering a tasty, affordable Coconut Pu-erh. Pu-erhs have been anecdotally (and not necessary scientifically) tied to weight loss, and you might find that this Coconut Pu-erh lives up to that reputation, if only because its full-bodied taste is so satisfying that it washes away your snacking urge.
Herbal tea is really a category unto itself, because these “teas” do not come from the tea plant at all. Herbal tea is an excellent choice for calming nerves, counteracting colds with invigorating spices, maintaining physical health with herbal “tonics,” or offering a satisfying brew to those who are caffeine sensitive. Finding the right herbal tea blend is really a matter of researching how different herbs affect the body and what conditions different herbs are believed to be beneficial for. Let’s briefly mention some of the most common.
Chamomile is an herb valued for promoting relaxation, a restful sleep, and having anti-inflammatory properties. There are certainly many varieties and brands available, but consider starting with Rishi’s Serene Dream blend, which contains not only chamomile but other relaxing herbs including valerian and lavender. Rooibos, also known as “red tea” and hailing from South Africa, is a revitalizing, zero-caffeine herb that is increasingly being studied for its healthful properties. Rishi’s Organic Blueberry Rooibos is not only brimming with antioxidants but has a satisfying taste. Chocolate lovers look to ESP Emporium’s Chocolate/Orange Rooibos for an afternoon pick-me-up. Yogi Tea, meanwhile, offers many different Ayurvedic herbal blends designed to remedy specific conditions. Mint and ginger are two of the most commonly used herbs in herbal tea blends, but really we’ll leave it up for you to try out the many different varieties and to see which ones you best respond to as your zero-caffeine, healthful alternative to Camellia sinensis