Types of Tea
After a long day, few things quite hit the spot like a good cup of tea. Initially a luxury reserved for the upper classes, tea is now a staple of millions of people’s daily routines. Whether it’s a brew with breakfast or a calming cup to unwind in the evening, there’s no question that tea is a favorite way for people to treat themselves. Of course, with so many different types of tea on offer, it can be difficult to know which ones are best to try. That’s why we’ve boiled the kettle and pulled together our list of the best types of tea.
Origins of tea
Tea originated in Southern China, with the first credible records dating back to the 3rd Century. It was initially used as a medicinal drink, rather than one for pleasure, and took many years to become popular across the globe. In fact, at first, the Northern regions of China looked down on tea-drinkers and viewed it as something only slaves consumed. During the Chinese Tang Dynasty, tea drinking began to spread to other East Asian countries and this is where its popularity as a recreational drink started. In the 16th Century, Portugese priests and merchants brought tea to Europe, and the following Century it made its way to Britain, by the East India Trading Company. Initially, due to taxes that the government placed on it, tea was a very expensive commodity in Britain, drunk almost exclusively by aristocrats and royalty. Once those taxes were lowered and the production costs followed suit, tea became a much more accessible proposition for the wider public. Now, tea is the second-most consumed drink in the world; behind only water.
Today tea is grown in almost forty countries. Most of all tea is produced in India, China, Sri Lanka.
Ceylon teas are appreciated all over the world for their special delicate taste and expressive aroma. The generous lands and humid hot climate of this "tea island" are ideal for the tea plant.
Indian teas are divided into two large groups - North Indian and South Indian. You can read more in our article "Indian tea".
The teas grown in China are very diverse, but the common feature is the richness of the aroma range and the velvety taste timbre.
Reasons to love
Not only is tea a calming and refreshing drink, but also comes with numerous health benefits. It includes lots of antioxidants, which help boost your immune system and can help keep you looking healthy. Given that it has almost no calories on its own, tea is also a great substitute for more sugary drinks, and can even help curb your appetite. Green tea in particular is proven to help kickstart your metabolism as well, meaning you’ll burn calories much faster.
Tea contains theine, which is a form of caffeine, but rather than hitting your system very quickly, as with coffee, it is released slowly through tea, meaning the energy it provides is longer-lasting and less disruptive.
As mentioned, for many people a cup of tea can have very calming effects, which can help during times of stress. During colder points of the year, tea also helps warm you up and raises your body temperature. In short, there are countless reasons to love tea.
How to pick the best type of tea for yourself
The best way to find the right tea for you is to try different varieties and see which ones you like best, but even then it’s tough to know where to start. So, there are some considerations you can factor in to whittle the choice down, but it largely depends on your reasons for drinking tea in the first place.
Caffeine levels are often an important factor when choosing a tea; white and green teas tend to have the lowest levels, while black tea will have the highest. As a rough guide, here are the approximate levels of caffeine in a cup of each different type of tea:
- White tea: 10 to 15 milligrams in each cup.
- Green tea: 25 to 30 milligrams in each cup.
- Oolong tea: 30 to 50 milligrams in each cup.
- Black tea: 40 to 60 milligrams in each cup.
Alternatively, you might be looking to find a tea that fits your lifestyle. If you’re currently trying to lose weight, then green tea might be the best choice given its health benefits. Alternatively, if your workdays tend to be quite hectic and you’re looking for something to help you relax in the evening, then chamomile tea is a smart choice.
If flavor is the most important element of tea for you, then black tea is a good choice as it has a strong taste and is the most suitable type of tea to add things like milk and sugar to. Herbal teas also come in a wide variety of different flavors, without the need to add anything to them.
In total, there are countless tea varieties - far too many to list here - so it makes sense to focus on the most popular tea options.
This has become considered one of the best types of teas by many people because of its health benefits and refreshing taste. Unlike black tea, green tea has not been oxidized and so beneficial nutritional ingredients - like epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a powerful antioxidant - are preserved. Studies have shown that green tea can even improve heart health and reduce cholesterol.It’s made with smaller, younger leaves, giving it a more delicate flavor, though most green teas now come with flavored options, like green tea with mint or green tea with matcha.
When you think of a cup of tea, chances are you’re picturing a black tea. The most popular type of tea in the world, black tea is oxidized in the production process, giving it a much stronger taste. The English Breakfast Tea - arguably the most widely known in the world - is a black tea that traditionally includes milk. Other ingredients like lemon or sugar can also be added.
Technically, these aren’t strictly a type of tea as they don’t involve tea leaves, but they’ve been widely accepted as a form of the drink due to their popularity and versatility. Herbal teas come in a wide spectrum of flavors, from berry infusions to lemon and ginger, making them a top choice for those with more experimental tastes.
White tea is essentially another form of green tea and they both share many qualities, but their production process is slightly different. The buds for white tea are harvested at an earlier age than green tea ones and are a lot less processed. Like green tea, white tea includes catechins - a form of antioxidant - and can also benefit overall health in similar ways. That being said, it is nowhere near as popular.
Likewise, oolong can also lower cholesterol and improve a person’s health. The tea leaves are semi-fermented and then left to dry in the sun. The amount of time they’re left in the sun will affect the flavorless time will have the tea taste more like green tea, whereas more time will lead to a stronger, more robust flavor.
Tea packing: does it influence the taste, price or quality?
Tea typically comes in two forms - loose leaf or bags. Naturally, the two options have different effects on the drink they produce.
Loose leaf tea
There has been consensus that loose leaf tea yields a more flavorsome cup of tea than the traditional tea bags, in large part because the steeping process of the leaves is not limited to the size of a teabag. In practice, the difference in taste between the two is not that stark, and the same goes for quality, though the importance is more in the quality of the tea you buy, regardless of the packaging.
Loose leaf tea does tend to be more expensive and takes longer to prepare.
One of the main selling points of tea bags is convenience, as you don’t need to measure anything out and the brewing time is very short. Tea bags come in a variety of prices, which usually correspond to quality, making them a cheaper option than loose leaf tea. However, studies have shown that normal tea bags use a form of plastic to keep them sealed that is not recyclable and has a damaging impact on the environment.
People drink tea for a wide variety of different reasons, making it difficult to pick out a universal best type as so much of this will come down to personal preference. What can be agreed upon though is the general popularity of tea and how it has become an essential part of so many people’s daily routine, regardless of what type they are drinking.
And if you are interested in brewing loose leaf tea with the help of theme makers, you might be interested in the Tea Makers section.
Does tea have caffeine in it?
Yes. Caffeine occurs naturally in tea leaves, so will be in all forms of tea to varying degrees. Herbal tea is the only exception, as it is made without tea leaves and so is completely caffeine-free. Black tea contains the most caffeine while white and green tea contains the least.
Is tea good for you?
Research has shown that tea can boost your immune system, reduce inflammation, and even ward off cancer and heart disease, though different types of tea have different health benefits. While it’s no silver bullet, regularly drinking tea certainly helps your overall health.
Does tea expire?
Tea can go bad, but it typically takes a long time - be sure to keep an eye out for the expiration date on the packaging. Both loose leaf and tea bags are still usable up to a year beyond their expiration date, but the flavor will be impacted.
Does tea dehydrate you?
As tea contains caffeine, it will dehydrate you to a very small extent. Of course, the higher quantity of tea you drink, the more dehydrated you will be. Herbal teas, as they contain no caffeine, will not dehydrate you.
Is tea a diuretic?
Caffeine itself is a diuretic - meaning that it causes you to urinate more frequently – however, the effects of this are very low in tea and will only have an impact on you if you drink it in large quantities.
Is tea acidic?
Most teas are only mildly acidic and so won’t have too much of an impact on your teeth or stomach. Different teas have different levels of acidity, with black and green teas tending to be the least acidic.
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