As the most widely consumed beverage on Earth, next to water, tea is found in 80% of American homes, according to Tea Association of the USA, and we’re still far behind other countries that drink far more tea, such as China, India, and Japan. Millions, if not billions, of people sip it every day, praised for its light and pleasant taste, its health benefits, the soothing comfort it brings through its heat, and that it is a effective self-care ritual. The good news? You don’t have to choose just one type of tea, as there are tons of varieties.
“Drinking tea is more than just drinking leaves in water,” says Reem Hassani, brand manager and co-founder of Numi Tea. “Drinking tea is part of the daily routine of many people as an everyday beverage and as a therapeutic aid in many illnesses. The history of tea, its importance in cultural ceremonies, health and wellness, and the myriad of tea varieties deepen the tea drinking experience.
Offering numerous health benefits, such as providing wellness-boosting antioxidants and reducing the risk of certain diseases, such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, tea has been drunk for thousands of years. years, during which different countries have developed different ways of cultivating, processing and brewing tea leaves, as Joonas Jokiniemi, founder of Yerba Mate Culture points out.
Hassani says there are around 3,000 varieties of tea in the world, each with their own characteristics. She says that, just like wine, factors such as location, climate, soil conditions and how the tea is processed can affect its overall flavor.
“Since tea comes from the camellia sinensis plant, the differences between tea types are mainly due to how they are processed after the leaves are picked,” she says.
Whether you choose to brew with tea bags or loose leaf tea, here are the main varieties of tea found around the world.
What is tea?
Simply put, according to Jokiniemi, tea is an infusion made from hot water and the leaves of camellia sinensis, otherwise known as the tea tree.
“The tea tradition is rooted in ancient Chinese history with the first known green tea process being perfected and widely known before 200 CE,” Hassani remarks.
Tea, a small shrub that reaches about three to six feet tall, is mainly grown in Southeast Asia as well as parts of Africa. When the plant is about three years old, it blooms with “little white flowers that have a delicious fragrance”, as Hassani puts it. “This is the typical time when the tea leaves are harvested.”
After the leaves are picked, the tea is processed. The processing determines the type of tea created and its taste.
“The differences are in the processing methods, not the tea plant itself, which creates different types of tea,” Hassani says.
Does tea contain caffeine?
The short answer? “Yes, tea leaves naturally contain caffeine, as do all teas,” says Jokiniemi. “Even decaffeinated teas contain traces of caffeine.”
“The caffeine content varies depending on when the tea is harvested, the steeping time and the temperature,” says Hassani.
The hotter the water, the longer the soaking time? More caffeine will be extracted in brewed tea, such as black or oolong tea. On the other hand, cooler water and a shorter steeping time means less caffeine, like green or white tea. But generally, green tea contains less caffeine than coffee.
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Types of tea
Green tea, which may be known as matcha tea, is one of the most recognized teas in the world for preventing disease, aiding weight loss and generally promoting good well-being. With its distinctive green hue, tea leaves are air-dried quickly at high temperatures to prevent oxidation, a process where something is exposed to air and changes a substance’s electrons. Less oxidation or more oxidation can result in a different flavor for each tea – green tea is the least oxidized of all teas.
With its earthy, somewhat bitter taste, there are several subtypes of green tea, like the Jokiniemi share, which include:
- matcha, a Japanese green tea reduced to a fine powder.
- Sencha, a Japanese green tea with a sweet, herbaceous flavor and seaweed aroma.
- Jasmine, a Chinese green tea flavored with jasmine flowers.
- Gunpowder, Chinese green tea processed so that each leaf is rolled into a small pellet.
- Longjing Where Dragon Well green tea, a famous hand-produced high-quality Chinese tea.
Finding green tea is relatively easy, as it is served in most coffee shops and can be found at grocery stores, Amazon, or specialty tea stores.
When brewing green tea, do not use too hot water. Jokiniemi says it can result in “a very bitter brew.”
Related: Here are 50 reasons why you should drink green tea
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Hassani says that in China, black tea is called “red tea” because of the color of the tea when steeped. These teas are fully oxidized, resulting in a very different flavor profile than green tea with its “bright, malty and full-bodied” taste, as Jokiniemi describes it. Like green tea, it also has many health benefits, such as lowering cholesterol and lowering blood sugar.
Black tea can be harvested several times a year. The leaves are kept in a humid environment for many hours, which promotes oxidation before they are dried. Jokiniemi presents the subtypes of black tea:
- Darjeeling the tea comes from the West Bengal district in India. It is made from the Chinese variety of tea plant and has a lighter, more floral taste than other black teas.
- assam Tea is a different plant variety from the Chinese tea plant and is grown in the Indian province of Assam. It is a plain tea with rich, malty flavors and a high caffeine content.
- Keemun the tea comes from China and has a sweet and relatively light taste with some fruity notes.
- Ceylon the teas are grown in Sri Lanka and can have different taste profiles ranging from fruity to floral depending on the altitude of the plantation.
- kenyan black teas often have a balanced taste with sweet, earthy and woody flavors.
- Earl Gray The tea is a blend of black tea flavored with bergamot oil.
- English breakfast The teas are full-bodied blends of different black teas.
Sipped all over the world, it’s very easy to find black tea to drink, whether you drink it in a coffee shop or buy it in a grocery store. “If you want to make something special, look for a tea shop or order online from Amazon,” says Jokiniemi.
As a variation on a Chinese word (“wulong,” which means “black dragon,” as Hassani points out), oolong tea the leaves are repeatedly rolled, bruised and oxidized before being dried. It’s a similar process to making black tea, but it’s not completely oxidized.
“Instead, the oxidation process is stopped when the desired level has been reached,” says Jokiniemi.
Experts say this tea can decrease inflammation and improve brain activity thanks to its high amounts of amino acids, and its flavor profile can vary widely.
“The taste of oolong tea largely depends on the level of oxidation,” says Jokiniemi. “The less oxidized oolongs taste similar to green tea with floral notes while the more oxidized have complex flavor layers, with hints of stone fruit, figs and toasted charcoal.”
This leads to the two different subtypes of oolong tea, as Jokiniemi puts it:
- Greener oolongs are usually about 20% oxidized.
- Dark oolongs are usually oxidized to around 40-50% and then roasted over charcoal.
You can discover oolong tea anywhere, from Amazon to grocery stores to specialty tea shops.
Related: The tea expert’s guide to the perfect cup
As indicated by his name, white tea is the least processed tea, as it is very slightly oxidized. Hassani describes the flavor as delicate, floral and slightly sweet, adding that it gets its name from a silvery down that coats the unopened leaves and buds. It can lower blood pressure as well as the risk of heart disease.
After harvest, “the leaves are withered and then dried,” Jokiniemi explains, adding that these subtypes exist for white tea:
- Silver needle white tea is one of the most expensive varieties of white tea and does not contain stems or leaves. It consists of closed buds of the tea plant and is silver in color.
- white peony tea is popular due to its bright floral scent and fruity flavor.
Although it may sound exotic, white tea can be found easily in grocery stores, online, or in specialty tea stores.
Other styles of tea
Certain categories of tea exist in the world but are less known to the general population. This includes puer tea, named after a specific type of tree found in Yunnan, China. Hassani says that at first it’s treated like green tea, but it’s not oxidized – instead it’s fermented for 60 days. Deep and earthy (and even chocolatey in some cases), it is said to aid digestion and scavenge free radicals from the body. As for the subtypes, Jokiniemi says that traditional pu’er tea is aged for at least 7 to 10 years, while modern pu’er tea is aged for only weeks or months and carries a different aroma than its traditional counterpart. This one might be a little harder to find in, say, green or black teas, but it can still be found online or in specialty tea shops.
Then there is yellow tea, which Jokiniemi says is “rare and expensive”. For this process, the tea leaves are harvested and air-dried quickly at high temperatures; then they are rolled up, piled into heaps and wrapped in damp rags before being dried, as Jokiniemi details. There is only slight oxidation for yellow tea, which appears yellow in color and has a “mild taste with some herbal notes,” says Jokiniemi. There are no subtypes of yellow tea, and it’s packed with polyphenols and catechins, compounds that promote antioxidant activity.
Finally, you can always turn to herbal tea varieties, which often do not contain caffeine.
“Other types of tea include herbal teas, herbs, fruits, flowers, roots, and spices,” Hassani says. “These alternative teas contain no tea leaves at all and most are caffeine-free. It’s important to distinguish between tea that comes from the camelia sinensis plant and herbal teas that are anything else steeped in hot water.
Next, discover 10 teas that help you lose weight.